Sunday, September 28, 2008

Meaning of Adult Education

While Malcolm Knowles is widely known as the Father of Adult Learning, and the program I am taking will undoubtedly be largely dictated by his work, he is far from the first to study the topic. One of Knowles mentors was Eduard C Lindeman, whose 1926 writing "The Meaning of Adult Education" was described as so fascinating he could not put it down. It is a rather small book, so I set out to see what was so interesting.

It is clear from the start that this is an essay about life. Any reference to the book will almost certainly quote "Education is life." The more you learn, the more aspects of life you are able to enjoy. While the words were never printed, I found myself thinking over and over, "The journey is the destination. Enjoy it!"

Most of the book is quotable in some learning context, but I'll start with some more radical quotes to provide some critical food for thought.

p 170 - "The real distinction between educated and uneducated persons is not to be found in such superficial criteria as academic degrees, formal study or accumulation of facts; indeed, formal learning may, and often does, lead people into narrow scholarship and out of life."

Hang on to your hat. This could be a bumpy ride. I'm starting a degree in Adult Education by learning that someone agrees with my dim view of Academia?

p 195 - "It is perhaps true that no single group in modern life stands in greater need of adult education than experts, specialists: those who continue to know "more and more about less and less."

I chose these quotes not as representative, but rather as an expression that I'd wanted to make but didn't feel it my place. Having made that connection with the author, I'll point out that the majority of the text is NOT about the woes of Academia. It is a rather enlightening view of what makes people so special. "Human nature is predisposed to optimism" he writes. He identifies aspects that are needed for people to lead their most satisfying lives. He reminds us that we need to cultivate our own personalities and experiences in order to truly live.

He discusses the social aspects of learning and what an important role it plays. Then he drops this bombshell about new technologies (1926 remember?):

Does it not bring us closer together? And will we not therefore learn to have more respect and good-will toward each other? This naive manner of placing human relations upon the quantity-contact basis probably stands in the way of our making the best use of communication inventions. It undoubtedly causes us to overlook the fact that highly-developed means of communication are indispensable to highly-centralized forms of social control. Some important differences persisted in the various regions of the United States before we all read the same syndicated news, listened to the same radio announcers, witnessed the same motion pictures, ate the same food, wore the same clothes, et cetera. Rapid means of transportation and communication tend to standardize us and therefore render us easier of control by single authorities...Our personalities can be redeemed if we insist upon a proper share in the solution of problems which specially concern us. This means giving more attention to small groups; it means as much decentralization, diversity and local autonomy as is consistent with order.

I don't take this to mean he was at all a conspiracy theorist. In context, this is related to the fact that each person can and should be able to intelligently form his/her own judgement. It is a development of one's personality based on that person's experience. Advanced communications make it very easy to accept the judgement of another instead of living your own life and enjoying it for yourself.

Experiencing life, learning from it, and then experiencing that much more is likely a vicious circle Eduard C. Lindeman would consider key to the good life. If Adult Education is rooted in that type of philosophy, I guess it is time to learn how to better richen the lives of others.

(If you do read or have read this book, please let me know if you enjoyed it too.)

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