Fred Schied: How Did Humans Become Resources Anyway?


Human Resource Development (HRD), a concept barely known until about twenty-five years ago, has become the dominant model for workplace education. Yet the social, historical and political context in which HRD emerged has been little explored. Much of the historical work that does exist has uncritically viewed HRD as the latest and most humanistic phase of an ongoing educational process where an organization facilitates the learning of its employees to become more productive and "empowered". Human capital theory, the theoretical root of HRD, is viewed as the latest and most effective way for organizations to train their employees. Traditional histories have taken an anecdotal and evolutionary approach to emergence of HRD. Thus virtually anything remotely resembling education is seen as a precursor to present day HRD activities. This has lead to some almost bizarre claims as to the historical origins of training and development and its latest manifestation, HRD. Some have traced the origins of HRD back the creation of a "mature" factory system in the 1880s, others back to the apprenticeship system, and still others back to 1630 when efficient "management of the factors of production" created the circumstances in which the workforce was educated. The Handbook for Training and Development begins its discussion of the history of training by highlighting the training involved in building a Summarian Palace in 3500 B.C.!

In contrast to this rather simplistic and uncritical examinations, this paper argues that the field of HRD has emerged from the specific historical, economic and social situation in the United States after World War II. Rather than a chronological history, this paper examines three themes which lead to the creation of the present form of worker discipline, of which, it is argued HRD is a part. The themes are: 1) the emergence of corporate training during World War II leading to the creation of American Society of Training and Development (ASTD); 2) the strength of the labor movement after the second world war and 3) the emergence of human capital theory. Embedded within these themes is the ongoing struggle over who controls workers' knowledge.

The Emergence of Corporate Training

Industrial training was provided through corporation schools as early as 1872. These schools varied in structural and content, provided training in everything from technical skills to English-as a second-language to salesmanship. Influenced by the Frederick Taylor's management theories, corporation schools where a means to acclimate the workforce to a rationalized industrialization process; efficiency was always of utmost concern. In a reveling statement a General Electric executive stated that a corporation school: an elementary school conducted by a corporation to Americanize alien railway labor, for instance; or a commercial school with university class rooms, and sometimes university lectures and credit; or a technical school with a course extending, as in one corporation, through four years of work of company worktime, demanding two hours each day, and a total of 10,960 hours in all, for bonus and diploma.

In 1913, thirty-five large corporations banded together to organize the National Association of Corporation Schools. Largely supported by the New York Edison Company, the NACS became a primary means to educate the workforce without outside control. In fact, while the NACS sought to establish reciprocal relationships with universities for management retraining, the association vehemently opposed any public scrutiny of its activities. The US entrance into World War I provided the NACS, with the opportunity to offer its services to the Council on National Defense for Industrial Training for the War Emergency. A similar organization, the National Association of Employment Managers (later the Industrial Relations Association of America) also brought corporate educators together. Both organizations were enamored with the scientific management theories of Taylor and both organizations saw their importance rise with World War I mobilization.

If World War I was the beginning of a national network of corporate control of formal education, then World War II shaped the form of much of employer workplace education. A major task during World War II was to train the large numbers of workers (many of them women) who were entering the workforce. Out of these experiences the War Manpower Commission, a federal government agency, came the basic ideas, still in practice, of on-the job training. The men who provided leadership for this Commission and who later became important inspirations for the creation of the American Society of Training Directors (later Training and Development)represented the cream of corporate power and prestige: Chan Dooley of Standard Oil of New Jersey; Walter Dietz of Western Electric; Michael Kane of AT&T; Glenn Bardiner of Forstman Woolen Mills and William Conner of U.S. Steel.

Founded in 1942 at meeting of the American Petroleum Institute, the American Society for Training Directors began publishing its journal Industrial Training News in 1945 and by the end of the 1940s training was an important component of many of the newly created personnel departments. Corporate interest in training and the subsequent founding of the ASTD and the rise of personnel departments during after the World War II was not coincidental. Rather, it was in response to the challenges posed by a newly powerful and confident labor movement eager to become involved in fundamental issues of workplace control, including training and other personnel matters.

The Struggle Over Workers Knowledge

John Brophy, a United Mineworker Leader, reflected back on his days of learning to be coal miner by working with his father. Brophy remarked that:

It was a great satisfaction to me that my father was a skilled, clean workman with everything kept in shape. The skill with which you undercut the vein, the judgment in drilling the coal after it had been undercut and placing the exact amount of explosive so that it would do an effective job of breaking the coal from the solid.. indicated the quality of his work.

Brophy notes that the miner in his day was quit aware that all knowledge didn't start with his generation, that miners had lived and worked and struggled and had passed their working knowledge on to their children and they in turn passed this knowledge on to their children. It was scientific management and Fordism which would, of course, threaten this sense of not only the control of one's work but the struggle over who controlled working knowledge. In mining, for example, once the process became mechanized, work could become subdivided. This subdivided work could come under close supervision by the foreman. As one miner put it: "Anyone with a weak head and a strong back can load machine coal, but a man has to think and study every day like you was studying a book if he is going to get the best of the coal when he uses only a pick."(emphasis added)

This deskilling process, with its relentless drive for efficiency, occurred in many industries and at a varying rate. In a short time, a new category was invented. Harvey Braverman has described how the term semiskilled was invented in the 1930s by the U.S. Census Bureau in the 1930s. Anyone working with machinery would now not be considered unskilled but semiskilled. Thus, resulting from a decision made by the director of the Census Bureau, machine operators from now on were defined as having more skills than someone who had spent a lifetime operating a farm. Braverman points to struggle that began with Taylorism before the first World War and reached its peak shortly after the World War II : the attempt to control workers knowledge and skills.

By the end of the Second World War, American organized labor had reached a point where J.B.S. Harman, educational director for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers noted the "...amazingly rapid growth of unionism and of its power potential goes beyond anything ever known." Indeed labor union membership had grown five-fold since 1933. In many of the major manufacturing industries coal, steel, auto, rubber, etc.) union coverage was almost complete Moreover, an attempt to break the coal miners union during World War II had failed and a string of strikes during the first years after the Second World War, resulted in a series of labor triumphs. The attempt to establish a labor extension service was seen as an almost certainty. "Labor unions," Hardman noted, "have become a social power in the nation and are conscious of their new importance." Indeed, during the late 1940s, the labor movement was poised to reassert itself in ways that were to threaten management and harken back to the early days of John Brophy: worker control of the shopfloor and worker control of knowledge.

The issue for unions centered on labor's refusal to agree to any specific functions that were exclusively management. Everything was open for negotiations, including the right to manage. The end result would be, so the unions hoped, a joint management with worker control of the shopfloor, including workers knowledge. The Congress for Industrial Organizations (CIO) advocated a policy that would make government coequal with management with the government acting as an arbitrator. The newness of these demands provoked uneasiness within the existing generations of mangers. First the depression and then to some extent the war had confined the unions ability to move beyond such "bread and butter " issues as wages, hours, vacations and the rudiments of grievance and seniority systems. Now, however, with the end of the war, industrial management was confronted with new challenges from the unions. The challenge to management centered around personnel issues. Unions demanded (and succeed in getting in some industries) the right to become involved in discipline, bonus charges, job assignments, and involvement in training and education programs. Unions wanted involvement in financial policy, wage determination policies and other production issues as well. Unions, in short sought to co-manage the enterprise.

The war, when labor was in short supply, had caused many grievances and attempts at creating more equitable working conditions. The shopfloor had become the site of struggle. Indeed, unionization movement has swept thorough the ranks of foreman, the front line managers. In 1946 one study quoted a management official saying "We recognize that in some of our shops the union committeeman exercises greater authority than the foreman." An automobile executive stated: "If any manager in this industry tells you he has control of his plant he is a damn liar." As labor historian David Brody noted, American industry felt itself embattled on every level; unions felt that they had a right to bargain regarding all functions of management, including training. In some industries, it was shop stewards who decided how rates where to be set and who was going to receive training.

The co-management of enterprises did not occur. While the reasons for this are complex, the refusal of large corporations to surrender at any cost their management function largely revolved around personnel issues. That is, in return for a dramatic increase in wages, and strong pension, health and vacation plans attempts at co-management were surrendered. However, the personnel function itself was totally under the control of management. That is, while the amount of the benefits were negotiabble, the control and administration these functions was under management, specifically under the personnel department, control. The modern training function grew out of this context. Training was a personnel function; it became something that the company largely organized and operated for its own interests.

From Personnel Departments to Human Resource Management

With the establishment of clear-cut distinctions between management and union spheres, management turned to developing ways in which workers could be shaped and controlled. Here to events during and shortly after the second world war played a crucial role. Indeed as several studies have noted, the very idea of the type of workers required in the present day information society can be traced back to military developments in World War II. The Applied Psychological Panel of the National Defense Research Committee stated that "man-machine is the fighting unit, not man alone, not machine alone." It was the Air Force that shaped the concept of a weapon system that incorporated the very new idea of a new species: the man-machine system. Operators, viewed as components within these vast weapon systems came to viewed as decision makers, problem solvers, and information processors. The were, in otherwords, human technologies embedded with a vast technological information system.

Training, too, took on a new face during the 1950s. Rather than focusing on just technical training, corporate trainers began focusing on interpersonal sills training. This "human relations" training fit quit well with in the newly emerged personnel function. With unions removed from personnel decisions, corporations were faced with the task of managing and controlling the workforce. Human relations training with its emphasis on the behavioral sciences became an important vehicle for finding mechanisms to control the activities on the shop floor. Skill in this approach, was secondary to process. How to motivate workers became the dominate issue. Human relations training reached its height with the emergence of human capital theory.

That human capital theory should come to serve as reigning ideology for corporate education comes as no surprise. Generally accepted as having been popularized by (although the ideas have been around much longer) Schultz at the 1960 meeting of the American Economic Association, human capital theory basically holds that long-term benefits or rate of return from an individuals investment in education are superior to other forms of investment. Moreover, according to this theory, education increases the skills and hence the productivity of the workforce.

Human capital theory has had a curious history over the last thirty years. Since the 1970s the theory has been under severe and almost constant attack. In fact, there is little evidence that increased education leads directly to increased productivity and economic growth. While education may be a factor in economic growth, it is far from the most important one.

If the economic rationale for human capital theory does not hold up under close scrutiny, the entire rationale for HRD becomes suspect. What HRD and indeed, the closely allied concept of total quality management does provide is for management to provide even more intrusive measures of control. With unions now playing a significantly less important role, HRD with its emphasis on learning to learn and team-building approaches leaves little room for workers to develop collective action. The end goal is to create a mobile workforce, able to "problem-solve" with sophisticated"people" skills, but with few real technical skills-the very definition of an unskilled workforce.


This paper was originally presented at the Adult Education Research Conference, University of Alberta in Edmonton, 1995.


John Hurst: On Popular Education

Education: A Powerful Tool

When Rosa Parks was asked by the eminent talk show host, Studs Terkel, what the Highlander Research and Education Center had to do with the fact that she chose not to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on that fateful day in early December 1955, she answered quite simply, "Everything." As a result of its educational efforts on behalf of integration, the state of Tennessee closed Highlander in 1960 on bogus charges and auctioned off all of its property, only to have it reopen shortly thereafter under a new name and charter.

A few years ago, possession of the world's most widely read and influential contemporary book on education--and popular education's best-known treatise, Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, was sufficient grounds to be arrested in South Korea.

Paulo Freire himself was immediately arrested and forced into exile for almost two decades after the 1964 military coup in Brazil. His crime? He designed and directed the previously elected government's National Literacy Campaign. The campaign's stated purpose was to enable the illiterate majority to become responsible, democratic citizens.

In the mid-1970s, a South African nun, Anne Hope, was arrested and exiled, and only recently allowed to return home. Her crime? She organized a Freireian-style literacy campaign for Steve Biko, the martyred founder of South Africa's black consciousness movement.

When the Sandinistas finally wrested power from the Somosa dictatorship in 1979, they immediately put a major share of their meager resources into mounting a massive and very successful national literacy crusade to further people's ability to participate in the decisions affecting their lives (V. Miller, 1985). Nicaragua remains a democracy today.

What is Popular Education?

What binds each of these institutions, events, and individuals together? They were seeking to build the capacity for democratic social change through education. Those involved believed that the fundamental purpose of education should be social transformation toward full human participation in society, and they possessed a philosophy, theory, and practice of education that often succeeded.

This form of adult education is now widely known as "popular education." The core of its meaning and definition are clear, while the boundaries are intentionally permeable. Popular education is, at root, the empowerment of adults through democratically structured cooperative study and action, directed toward achieving more just and peaceful societies within a life sustaining global environment. Its priority is ordinary people--the poor, the oppressed, and the disenfranchised people of the world--who comprise a majority of the world's population.

In the words of the well-known Canadian educator, Doris Marshall, popular education is "ordinary people all over the world feeling their own worth and seeing the same worth in other people. It is ordinary people taking responsibility for using what's left of the world's resources, together. This can not be done from the top down, but only by ordinary people, imbued with their own power."

I often encounter educators and others who have never heard of popular education, nor of its principal exemplars like the Highlander Center. In each case, there is the spoken or unspoken implication that, therefore, popular education must not have much impact or significance. We've always been told, and correctly, that the proof is in the pudding. Well, we know of the pudding, because there have been many successful social change efforts in recent U.S. history. Yet few of us know of the critical elements--like popular education--that contributed to the pudding's creation.

Myles Horton, co-founder and director of the Highlander Center for its first 40 years, once told me, "You can accomplish a lot of good in the world if you don't care who gets the credit for it." Certainly his is a very un-American and unacademic point of view. Paradoxically, it is the epitome of a successful popular education effort for the people to say, "We have done it ourselves."

One Example: The U.S. Civil Rights Movement

For example, virtually everyone knows of the Southern civil rights movement, the heroic role of Martin Luther King Jr., and the movement's contribution to achieving greater justice for people of color and others in our society. Yet few know of the Highlander Center's numerous contributions--often subtle and complex--to the movement. Many who played important roles, like Andrew Young, refer to Highlander as "the cradle of the civil rights movement."

The citizenship school movement is a case in point. It was at Highlander that the critical literacy and leadership training program--the citizenship school program--was conceived and developed. Martin Luther King's civil rights organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) adopted the program, and enlisted its co-founder, Septima Clark, to direct it. Not only did it teach tens of thousands of Southern blacks to read and write so they could register to vote. At the same time, it also developed the leadership that formed the organizational nucleus for the movement in countless towns and cities throughout the South (C. Tjerandsen, 1980).

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded at Highlander from a yearly integrated workshop for college students. Even the inspiring anthem of the movement, "We Shall Overcome," was originally brought to Highlander in the 1940s and transformed there by Zilphia Horton and Pete Seeger to be introduced later at a civil rights event in 1959 by Guy Carawan, Highlander's musical director (F. Adams, 1975). Highlander continues to this day to play a critical role in people's struggles for economic and social justice throughout the South, the nation, North America, and the world.

A Worldwide Movement

One of popular education's exciting strengths is that its prototypes have evolved in many parts of the world virtually independently of one another. The most important models have developed outside of the Eurocentric first world. Typically, people from diverse backgrounds become involved in organizations that enable them to retain their autonomy and regional power, while at the same time learning from and supporting the work and struggles of groups of ordinary people from every corner of the globe.

Most noteworthy is the emergence of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) in the 1970's under the leadership of Budd Hall, with its secretariat in Toronto. Latin America has been a very fertile ground for the development of the methods of popular education. Paulo Freire, the best known figure in the field, is a Brazilian professor.

The most active and productive regional organization is the Consejo de Educación de Adultos de América Latina (CEAAL) based in Santiago. CEAAL is the Latin American regional affiliate of the ICAE and thus, an integral part of the international network. The El Canelo Center near Santiago (directed by Francisco Vio Grossi) and its ten development centers throughout Chile comprise one of the most impressive and influential popular education complexes in the world. The El Canelo Center and the network played an important role in Chile's peaceful return to democracy a few years ago.

The Participatory Research Approach

The type of research or knowledge production associated with popular education, called "participatory research," was first articulated in Tanzania in the early 1970s. The most productive center for its scholarly development and promulgation has been the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (SPRIA) based in New Delhi, and under the leadership of Rajesh Tandon. SPRIA also coordinates the influential Participatory Research Network of the ICAE. Another leading figure in the field has been Orlando Fals-Borda of the National University of Columbia in Bogata. He calls his line of research "participatory action research" (O. Fals-Borda and M. A. Anisur Rahman, 1993).

Participatory research is the result of the on-going effort in popular education to come to grips--in both theory and practice--with the question, "What is knowledge, and what gives it credibility in a society that aspires to be genuinely democratic?" It asks and provides working answers to these basic questions: what knowledge is to be produced, by whom, in whose interest, and to what end ? It assumes that in a truly democratic society, knowledge is not simply for the people, but created with and by the people. Thus, it validates each person's right to speak, regardless of such factors as socioeconomic status, class, or race.

According to Muhammad Anisur Rahman, former professor of economics at the University of Dacca, Bangladesh, participatory research "... returns to the people the legitimacy of the knowledge they are capable of producing through their own verification systems, as fully scientific, and the right to use this knowledge--including any other knowledge, but not dictated by it--as a guide in their own action (O. Fals-Borda and M. A. Rahman, eds., 1991)." The objective is always social transformation toward more equitable, just, and peaceful democratic societies.

The Story of Yellow Creek, Kentucky

What happened to the community of people living alongside Kentucky's Yellow Creek in the heart of Appalachia served as the catalyst for their own participatory research work. Back in 1981, residents first noticed that the fish and aquatic life in the creek were dying. Gradually all of their livestock also died. By then they began to worry about what the effect on people might be. They knew the pollution source was a leather tanning factory upstream. However, they had been told repeatedly over the years by industry and government officials that there was absolutely no risk to human health.

Alarmed over the death of their livestock and the loss of much of their livelihood, they organized themselves into the Yellow Creek Concerned Citizens (YCCC) in the early 1980s. They began asking questions and soon discovered that chromium, one of many toxic chemicals used in the tanning process, caused cancer. They attended workshops at the Highlander Center and there met others struggling with similar environmental health problems from polluted waterways. Highlander is well known and trusted by poor people throughout the South, and is typically sought out when problems emerge.

Highlander workshops helped the group to frame questions and assisted them in their search for answers. The resources and expertise available at the Highlander Center enabled the group to conduct its own sophisticated research on the chemicals involved in tanning, as well as a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the pollutants in Yellow Creek.

They soon realized they would need a community health survey and epidemiological study that would stand up to the many industrial and government agencies that opposed them. Vanderbilt University's Center for Health Services agreed to teach the members of YCCC how to prepare a comprehensive health survey. They conducted the survey themselves and analyzed and interpreted the results in consultation with the health service professionals. Then they decided what actions they would take based on their new knowledge. During the survey, they were also able to educate their neighbors along the creek about the issues of the case. In the process, they built public awareness and support, and YCCC membership increased to one-third of the community or some 300 persons.

The YCCC findings were appalling in terms of the number and severity of health problems associated with Yellow Creek. Eventually they had to file a class action suit against the tannery and the city, which they eventually won. Even then, they had to initiate a number of other "creative actions," before anything was done to stop the pollution at its source and to clean up the creek.

For example, the tannery had given people in the community lumber from the cannery floors that was saturated with heavy metals. When YCCC exposed what the tannery had done, officials refused to pick it up. The group then dumped a truckload of the toxic lumber on the steps of the state capitol and held a press conference. The lumber was cleaned up the next day.

Today, some 14 years later, there are again fish in the creek and riparian animals along its banks. But there remain few families along the creek that haven't lost at least one family member to cancer or some other disease related to profound immune system damage.

The YCCC is a group of diverse rural folks, many with little formal education, that runs by strict consensus. They have been meeting regularly, at least twice a month, for over 14 years. During this period, they have undertaken a succession of legal actions. Finally this past February, YCCC was awarded $15 million by a jury, twice what they had asked for. If they actually get the settlement money, they will set up a long-term health surveillance program. They will also use the money to help pay the astronomical health costs of many community members who have no health insurance, and who are plagued with cancer and auto-immune deficiency diseases.

Another, virtually serendipitous outcome of the popular education and participatory research efforts of YCCC is the independent formation of many effective citizen groups in Bell County, Kentucky. These groups have achieved significant victories in a region beset with poverty and environmental destruction, and which had never previously experienced any sustained organized citizen education and action (J. Gaventa, 1980).

YCCC had demonstrated that ordinary citizens could make a difference, even in a very repressive community. People in surrounding areas also sought YCCC's advice and assistance in developing their own community education and action groups.

Bell County is one of the poorest counties in the United States (the real unemployment rate is close to 60 percent). In spite of this, people there are regaining control over their lives democratically, bit by bit, through education, research, and action that is theirs at every point in the process (L. Wilson, 1994).


Adams, Frank. Unearthing Seeds of Fire. Winston-Salem: John F.Blair, 1975.

Fals-Borda, Orlando, and Rahman, Muhammad Anisur, eds. Action and Knowledge: Breaking the Monopoly with Participatory Action Research. Apex Press, 1991.

Gaventa, John. Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1980.

Hurst, John. Looking Holistically: The Conservation of Natural Resources Major. University of California, Berkeley: Conservation and Resource Studies Department, 1981.

Hurst, John. A Pedagogy for Peace, World Encyclopedia of Peace. OXFORD: Pergamon Press LTD., 1986.

McMartin, Flora; Spurlock, Linda; and Hurst, John. Peace & Conflict Studies: A Report on the First Years. University of California, Berkeley: Peace & Conflict Studies, 1986.

Miller, Valerie. Between Struggle and Hope: The Nicaraguan Literacy Crusade. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1985.

Park, Peter,, eds. Voices of Change: Participatory Research in The United States and Canada. OISE Press, 1993.

Tjerandsen, Carl. Education for Citizenship: A Foundation's Experience. Schwarzhaupt Foundation, 1980.

Wilson, Larry. "Environmental Destruction is Hazardous to your Health." Social Policy, 24 (4):16-24 (Summer 1994).



Blanca Facundo: Freire Inspired Programs in the United States and Puerto Rico

Paulo Freire is a widely known and respected advocate of "critical pedagogy". In 1984, Blanca Facundo wrote a critique of Freire's ideas and her own experiences using his methods. Facundo's critique is a strong dissenting view to the largely uncritical admiration for Freire's work.

This document was produced with funds awarded to the Latino Institute by the Fund of the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education (U.S.D.E.), under grant number G-00800606. Any opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of FIPSE, USDE, or the Latino Institute. This document was originally published by Latino Institute, Washington, D.C., in 1984. This document has no copyright and may be reproduced as needed.

This document is available for download by clicking here.

See Robert Mackie's response to Blanca Facundo here.

Budd Hall: Vision and Imaginings

by Budd Hall*

Adult education is about our relationships, our communities, our places of work, our bio-regions, our political structures, our planet, and our universe. It is about us. It is about the kind of work we do. But above all it is about the right to imagine:

  • To imagine a context where we are each respected for who we are;
  • To imagine a life of sufficiency and health;
  • To imagine that everyone would have support to learn throughout their lives;
  • To imagine that all our children could live without abuse;
  • To imagine that violence or the fear of violence in the lives of all women and children could decline;
  • To imagine that race could be a code for creativity and contribution rather than a filter which excludes;
  • To imagine relationships of harmony and rhythm with the earth;
  • To imagine that differences in ability be cherished for the gifts they make possible;
  • To imagine that we have the capacity to transform our lives;
  • To imagine that we have the courage to speak.

But to be able to work in a field of study which is about the right to imagine, we need to accept some quite simple and basic notions:

  • Things are not OK the way they are;
  • The current global economic machine is killing humans, all other forms of life and puts the survival of the planet itself at risk;
  • The ways in which we think constructs our lives; Our lives (including our race, gender, abilities, age, class, and relations with the earth) construct the ways in which we think; and
  • The seeds of a transformed world exist within our communities, our social movements, our locations of resistance, and even within this room.


* Excerpts from a paper prepared for the Canmore Conference, May 14-17, 1995, Canmore, Alberta, Canada. Posted with permission of the author.

Phyllis Cunningham: Let's Get Real

by Phyllis Cunningham*

I want to talk to you today about getting real. Real for me is critiquing what we do and recognizing and naming our social reality, and if we don't like it, doing something about it. To do this I first want to identify some myths of adult education, and then to indicate what I feel is the reality behind the myths. Also I want to analyze why we have these myths because certainly myths have a function. Finally, I want to talk with you about critical pedagogy and participatory research which I believe moves us towards solutions. To repeat, I want to do four things: designate some myths in adult education, identify the reality behind the myths, propose reasons for the myths and to suggest solutions.

Myths and Their Reality

The first myth is about the humanistic goals of adult education. We perpetuate the myth that what we do is to help mature adults reach self-actualization and to reach their potential. Maslow's stages of self-actualization are our code words for this humanistic goal. We make the case that we are making a better society because individuals become better through our humanistic program. The reality is that most adult education has little to do with self-actualization or with building a better society. Our discourse is framed instead by the work place: learning for earning is the goal. This vocationalizing of most of adult education practice is complemented by an array of educational leisure-time offerings. The fact is that most people in our society have little time or little opportunity for leisure in the most robust sense of that word: the ideal of the full development of the personal and social personality. Rather, leisure is often defined as escape from the tedium of work.

A second myth we adult educators perpetrate is that we are narrowing the gap between the most educated and those least educated. We talk about "second chance" learning, lifelong learning and the importance of access. We have turned much of the education of adults into providing more education for the already educated. In fact the one variable that best predicts which adults come into our programs is the years of education they have. The more education a person has, the more likely they will appear in our adult education programs. This is called widening the gap.

A third myth we have as adult educators is that we are learner-centered and that we empower learners. In actuality much of adult education has little to do with centering on and empowering the learners except as part of our processes. So while we may provide for student participation in the classroom, we are often in fact domesticating, not educating, our students. We have bought into the myth of education as a liberating experience to enhance and increase life choices. In actuality, those who had life choices before they came to our classes or program continues to have about the same life choices on completion. Those who had limited life choices before they entered our program often have few choices on completion of our program. We may make people feel better but that doesn't mean that they are liberated. In fact, it may mean we have simply put more nails into the coffin. For example, if we hold an open door to our educational program and individuals come in, try hard, and despite their work don't get that credential or that better job, whom do they blame? Nor us. In fact, we blame them with our language of deficiency, e.g. lack of motivation, poor self-esteem, inability to delay gratification. Our values of individualization teaches our students to blame themselves because success depends on the individual. If you don't get somewhere, then who is to blame? Not the system, not the educators; you are.

A final myth I want to put on the table is the nature of our society--what we believe about how it works. We believe that our society is about equality. In fact, we believe our educational activities are about making society more equal because we do recognize at least some historic problems of inequality. We believe we are a meritocracy and that in any generation any one of us can become the political and intellectual elites, and thus the leaders. We do not own up to the fact that we live in a society in which race, gender, and social class are sources of inequality and these socially constructed inequalities work systematically to keep power relationships in place. Most of us do not question our privilege in society nor do we question the dominance of our knowledge, our culture or the fact that our centered-ness in the dominant discourse means we marginalize those from other groups. To be African American or Chicano or Native American or Asian American is to be often seen as different, though not in any positive sense, for we often conceptualize different as deficient despite the objective reality.

For example, just last week a graduate student told me that she was coming back to nursing and that her last job had been one of "corporate wife." I wondered, is there a concept of "corporate husband?" I doubt it. The fact is that this woman had a name for what she did: her job was to enhance her husband's business career. She didn't say she was a homemaker (which I believe is an admirable occupation) nor did she say her job was to enhance her husband's life (another admirable activity of marriage). No, the "bottom line" was the business success of the male because that's what is important: making money as an individual and making money for the corporation, which now this woman also saw as her husband and thus was defined as a "corporate wife."

You may agree or disagree with me on whether these are myths. I have, in my forty years as a person dedicated to my vocation as adult educator, steadily developed my own analysis of our practice. I believe I have evidence that these myths exist. But I'm open to disagreement and to your critical analysis. What I personally want to do is to engage you in a discourse about confronting reality. For me adult education is about critically assessing our reality, to name that reality, to devise strategies through adult education to change that reality, and to help students to do the same thing.

That change means that we move towards a more democratic participatory egalitarian society where the values of all groups inform our decisions on practical problems. Let us turn to the analysis of our society and to the role of education in that society. Let us look for explanations.

Analysis of the Dilemma

If we are in truth perpetuating myths about adult education, is it a conscious act? Are we doing one thing while saying another? I don't think so. Most of us believe we are and do what we say. Occasionally a contradiction makes us question an activity. But generally we are not consciously deceitful; rather, we tend to uncritically accept our world and its rationality. We uncritically assume that modernity is good and we need to be continually developing as a society into a better and better world. Let's examine our history more critically and become aware.

It was the Frankfurt School in the early 1900s that called modernity into question. Modernity was based on reason and rationality with science and technology as its major driving force. Optimistically, one could view the enlightenment as an opportunity to usher in a modern world in which science and the logic of rationality would mean the good life for all. Over time social live would so improve in quality that we would end poverty and oppression so that all human beings would enjoy a quality of life hitherto unimagined.

The Frankfurt School intellectuals questioned those goals. In the name of science and rationality, the world of modernity produced fascism and the holocaust on the political right as well as Stalinism and the gulags on the political left. It was clear to those intellectuals that science had produced scientism and rationality had produced irrationality. Science based on prediction and the prediction model, when applied to social life, was inexorably leading to a technical rationality which was morally bankrupt. These intellectuals saw the West becoming a one-dimensional society driven by technical rationality. If the language of prediction is flawed, how can we find a language of possibility? This has been the central issue challenging contemporary intellectual thought and I believe it is the central challenge to adult educators today. What is the responsibility of adult education? Is it to promote the goals of scientific rationality? Or is it to provide ideological space so that ordinary citizens can participate in making history through a language of possibility?

I wish to explore the issue of the quality of this modernity in which we who are privileged live. Again, we can be informed by those theorists from the critical tradition established by the Frankfurt School. If science and rationality have produced modernity as we now know it, what is the quality of modern life? Are we more free? Are we more equal? Do we enjoy a more emancipated critical mind? Do we develop social goals to insure growing equity within our societies? Who profits from our educational endeavors? What is the role of universities and community colleges in this society? And what role do those us in these institutions have as we extend ourselves? Are we promoting social democracy? Who profits from what we do? Who loses? Who makes decisions in these processes?

In response to the critique of the Frankfurt School, Jurgen Habermas noted that to date modernity has been powered by science and technology without any clear attention to where ethical decisions are make. It is not enough to crack atoms. What does one do with atom bombs, nuclear power plants, toxic waste? These are important ethical questions. Habermas argued that we have moved to a new form of rationality, a communicative one not based on science. Now language and communication is a dominant feature of our society. Habermas' idea for developing the good society is bringing everyone to the table to communicate, to make decisions. This leads to a third type of learning: emancipatory learning. How do we do this?

It seams to me that technical rationality is a key to our thinking. Technical rationality seems to perpetuate those myths I spoke about. Much of our life and work is informed by science and rationality, as if we can interpret our humanity in terms of rationality, as if we can interpret our humanity in terms of rationality alone. We are people, not machines. We must have visions other than simply being effective, efficient producers so that the U.S.A. can compete with Japan and Germany. And when we think about communicating and power relationships, control of knowledge becomes the issue. It is idiotic to assume that life is only rational and technical rather than political and communicative as well.

If we understand that power operates in our society, making one part of the society more dominant and more powerful, then we can discuss how to distribute that power. But if we believe that society is some system in equilibrium which is moving developmentally towards modernity, then we limit our solutions to technology, rationality and functionalism. I reject the functionalist system's equilibrium model of input-output-throughput, which is how society is explained to us. It does not recognize that science is only one dimension of life. It is my view that we should be working to promote participation in decision making; we should recognize that the way to develop ourselves and our society is to make the society more democratic and the state more responsive to all its people. As for technology, we must begin to bring it under control, to ask whether it is appropriate, and if it is not, to reject it.

Let us note the ideas of Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci spent the last years of his life in prison trying to figure out how Mussolini got control of Italy, why the Italians voted for fascism rather than a socialist democracy, and why Italian peasants accepted the oppression and the degradation heaped upon them by brutal landlords. Gramsci hypothesized that the state was made up of both a political society and a civil society. The political society was how the state controlled its citizens by force, for example the military, the police, the law, the courts, the prisons. Any state having to live by force alone would never last long without the support of a civil society. The civil society, made up of families, churches, schools, and the media, developed the consensus: the rationality for the society. The civil society helped develop the state's internal constraints, thus operating the society by consensus rather than by force. Gramsci called this prevailing view of internalized "ought" or norms--the common sense idea of "yes, this is the way it ought to be,"--hegemony. Gramsci recognized that societies develop their own reality--their own cultures. His concern was how the state or the society developed and maintained this hegemony as things changed in history. Gramsci realized that the role of intellectuals was key and that the knowledge they produced assisted in adjusting the prevailing hegemony so that it continued to make sense. He also noted that all social classes produced intellectuals, some of whom identified with the state and others who critiques its hegemony on behalf of those who were poor an, in Italy's case, peasants.

Let me illustrate. In Reagan's administration there was a growing concern regarding nuclear proliferation. Reagan was trying to build a consensus to promote a military build-up. So we began to hear words like the "evil empire" describing the USSR as our enemy while at the same time the MX missile, the most destructive nuclear weapon imagined, was renamed the "peace keeper." Regardless of what the situation actually was at that time between the USA and the USSR, intellectuals of the state built a hegemony of thought which made sense to most ordinary citizens and allowed us to develop the largest, best equipped, most technically superb military force of all times as our major national preoccupation for twelve years. And though many other intellectuals tried to frame arguments against nuclear proliferation, their counter-hegemonic efforts failed. The debate over changes in state hegemonic control is obviously a power issue.

I want to argue for increasing the democratic capacity of what Gramsci called the "civil society." A strong civil society, which promotes the full participation of its citizens, ensures that we strive toward a participatory democratic goal. It counters the development of a civil society dominated by the powerful interests of the state and those citizens representing a dominant cultural majority. For it is when we have a dominant culture, such as the Eurocentric culture in the United States, that other cultures are pushed out to the margins or marginalized. Organic intellectuals of the dominant group are then able to develop a rationale to make sense of their privilege. A participatory civil society prevents the marginalization of less powerful "sectors," be they based on race, ethnicity, gender or social class. It counters the hegemony of the dominant culture.

To be democratic we must facilitate the right of those who are marginalized to gain access to the decision-making table, to present the knowledge of the "have-nots" in competition with the official knowledge of the "haves." Unfortunately, what we see today is that we have allowed technology to foster unbridled commodity growth and that we are less free because our lives have been commodified. Education is increasingly the handmaid of "work" and is continually being reduced to de-skilling workers in order to increase their efficiency in moving "pig iron/" Fredrick Taylor, the originator of scientific management, demonstrated this de-skilling phenomena a half century ago. Taylor invited us as educators to become complicit with those who are exploitative by focusing education on making workers effective and efficient. We do this by rewarding workers with a commodified life style in exchange for their skilled artisan abilities and control over their work life. Or we provide welfare to the unemployed to ensure the consumption of commodities we produce to further ensure their contribution to the GNP.

In fact, I will argue that adult education has become increasingly complicit with private industry and business. Through workplace literacy, business and industry utilize the adult education profession and government funds to develop their own educational enterprise worth, in the USA, 210 billion dollars annually. Our own educational industry is worth an estimated $50 billion more. I hear your response: Taylorism disappeared with behaviorism. We have brought critical theory to the workplace. Adult educators, through human resource development, are now developing the learning organization or the learning environment whereby all workers participate in learning at work. How is learning defined in this context? Adult educators who now call themselves Human Resource Developers (HRD) claim that workplace learning is more than the acquisition of skills and I believe that they are correct in their assertion. But what they do not seem to realize is that much of today's work is done outside the market, and that we do not question the relationship of work to the life interests of society's members versus the profit interests of capital. Thus, HRD remains captive to learning for earning, and it is framed by the need to make profits.

North American civil society, though more flexible than those in the poorest of nations, is fashioned b the dominant culture which controls the society by its hegemony. This hegemony blinds us to our own lack of control over our lives. If we are poor, it is our fault? To be white and European is to be preferred; English is the dominant language in practice. We accept the social construction of our society by those who, through images and language, want us to accept this bottom line mentality, not only for our work but for our life spaces. But let us remember, hegemony is a social construction; therefore, it can be changed through political action.

I argue that our everyday practice either endorses or counters this hegemony. We cannot be neutral. And, I continue to argue that we ourselves are not free. As adult educators we have been commodified, and we buy into an alienating practice, because we do not critique what we do. Our practice is reduced to techniques. We serve industry by delivering to them compliant workers trained to be efficient producers. This is not education, it is de-skilling. I conclude that we make daily decisions which incrementally and adversely affect the poor, and we often do not consciously understand what we do. We are caught in a hegemonic trap in the same way as those Italian peasants. Is there a way out?

Possible Solutions

For me the problem is clear. The issue is power and asymmetrical power relationships. Power is negated by equilibrium models. There is a dominant culture which has been developed to reproduce the asymmetrical power relationships in our society. One of the major apparatuses which insures the reproduction of this system is the school; and I mean school whether found in the university, the community college, the voluntary association, in business or the factory. This is my starting point. I hope you can thus appreciate the importance I place on critical pedagogy and knowledge production.

I define critical pedagogy as the educational action which develops the ability of a group to critically reflect on their environment and to develop strategies to bring about democratic social change in that environment. Education is not about promoting the existing hegemony; education is about developing counter-hegemonic struggle. Education is not simply about attaining knowledge, education is about the politics of knowledge. Education is not about the preservation of status and elitism; education is about democratization of power relationships.

Critical pedagogy challenges the social reality as it is currently constructed. Some knowledge is privileged; it has become official knowledge. This is not because it's better than some other knowledge; it is because this way of knowing supports the social structure as it is not constructed. We must be able to critique that social structure and recognize that it is a structure of privilege. Do we accept the idea that race, class, ethnicity and gender are socially constructed in society? Do we clearly see the inequities that these constructions produce? Do we see our complicity in reproducing these constructions? I believe this analysis can start within the system by borrowing from the ideas of education for empowerment. These concepts are more often found in the nonformal system and in those systems arising from feminist studies. Specifically, I refer to the ideas of Paulo Freire's liberatory education, feminist pedagogy and the Asian and African views on knowledge production and participatory research. Marginalized groups and the poorest sectors of the world are developing ideas and we need to learn from them.

Let us talk first about liberatory education or education for transformation. First you will not I have not called it transformational learning, although it could well be labeled that. I choose to avoid the psychologism minefield because transformation, in my definition, is social as well as personal. In this I follow Freire rather than Jack Mezirow. Mezirow also draws from Freire. However, he explicitly separates personal transformation from social transformation. He sees the former as the agenda, actually the definition, of adult learning; he sees the latter as a political act which is at the discretion of the learner.

I believe you cannot have one without the other. Transformational education must be contextualized. If such learning requires one to be critically reflective about one's environment and the social relationships that it produces, then it is important to recognize the dialectical relationships between personal and social transformation. Freire says that reflection without action is wishful thinking. Critical consciousness facilitates analysis of problems within their context for the purpose of enabling people together to transform their reality rather than merely understand it or adapt to it with less discomfort. The educational agenda is to critique the intellectual content as it relates to our own social situation and to the power relationships we experience daily. If one does this, then socially constructed inequities are the agenda, not the definition of some internal psychological state. We cannot ignore race, gender, social class, or ethnic origins as if they do not exist. This is our reality and we must critique it, challenge it and change it. This also means that action is a part of learning. When we try to change things we expose the bases of power in our society which profit from existing social constructions. In doing so, we experience personal transformation.

For example, presently the faculty at Northern Illinois University is under attack from the Graduate School and from faculty in the College of Liberal Arts and Science. We are doing some things which they say will bring ruin to the intellectual integrity of the university. The argument is couched carefully in terms of standards for research and the size of the program, e.g. admissions.

There are 25,000 students at NIU. We have 350 graduate students in our adult education program. European-Americans dominate our overall university enrollment, and any unity within the university may have from 0 to 8% non-white students. We in adult education have 43% non-white students. Other departments do not separate U.S. persons of color from international students;we do. We have 17% international students of color and 26% U.S. born students of color. We know the completion rates of these groups. We have found other ways than GRE tests to admit students. We have sought to correct inequities in terms of whose knowledge is in the curriculum. We try to see that women and African and Latino and Native American thought and texts are celebrated as well as male authors and European thought.

We have developed some different delivery systems which are not individualistic and competitive but are communitarian and supportive. Doctoral students are not isolated and left ABD (all but dissertation) if they don't want to be. This means we are graduating, not just admitting, persons from marginalized groups. This means that their knowledge is contesting official knowledge. Is this why we are seen a problematic by our peers? What do they mean that we are violating standards? We are not violating intellectual standards; our student perform at least as well as theirs. The only standard I see us violating is structural racism.

The very existence of a critical mass of marginalized persons in the classroom changes the discourse. I use the work marginalized in the Foucault sense of "the other," meaning that group of persons who can be easily identified as "not one of us" and thus make "the other" from which we then define what is the norm, the accepted. This does not mean that all marginalized students admitted to the program consciously have developed a critical stance. It does mean, though, that through their experiencing of inequity, they can more easily be engaged in a discourse to challenge the hegemony of dominant thought, and how privilege gets defined. When race is put on the table, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans, indigenous Americans by definition now have categories to label European-Americans and not let this group see themselves as "the Americans." Eurocentrism is brought out of the closet when we admit to a concept called Afrocentrism. That is to say the "real American" as opposed to "the other." It is hard for us as whites to think of ourselves as hyphenated Americans just like all those whom we have hyphenated. If you as teacher or administrator challenge this reality, and change the social relationships in the classroom or in you organization, you are transforming both the structure and the persons in the structure, including yourself. You can also reframe problems. Let's look at the problem of "student retention."

Tell me why anyone would want to enter our colleges, or adult programs, but not graduate? One of our Mexican American graduate students laughed at the concern for the quality of the Chicago public school system. When the Chicago school system was criticized as a failure because, among other things, there was a 78% "drop out" rate at the Roberto Clemente School, this student argued that the drop out rate demonstrated the effectiveness and efficiency of the Chicago public school system. Schools are organized to make sure Latino Americans are not retained and graduated and sent on higher education. Is he right? Are drop outs really alienated push outs? And does this alienation occur because of the hidden curriculum, the lack of the right cultural capital and the reproductive nature of schooling as described by economic, social and cultural theories and state hegemonic explanations?

Suppose we stop blaming students if they drop out and instead begin to focus on ourselves and our structures as the problem. Suppose we frame the problem in terms of developing a welcoming structure in the university or our college for persons who don't look like us. What would such a structure look like?

We would be keepers of the dream, not keepers of the gate. We would see to it that our faculty and staff looked like our citizenry because we would think that of all institutions, school is about developing citizen scholars to serve society. There would be competing knowledges in the curriculum. We would have staff persons who would not look puzzled or askance at a non-Anglo-Saxon name, and would have an international curriculum because we would know that we must think globally. We would not tolerate suppression of ideas covertly through a managed curriculum any more than we would overtly deny freedom of speech. We would have staff development seminars to encourage faculty/staff to be inclusive, not exclusive, and to challenge persons who exercise their privilege by oppressing others.

Another major departure for action in critical pedagogy is embedded in the idea of knowledge and participatory research. First, one must acknowledge the social production of knowledge. If knowledge is socially produced, then knowledge can be produced by any group of people. Further, the way any group experiences the world, their culture, their contexts, will affect the way they see and name the world. In our classrooms, then we must clarify the nature of knowledge and our own subjectivity in our position as teacher or co-learner. I find Gramsci's notion of intellectuals as producers of knowledge very robust. First we must not that there are intellectuals in all social classes and in all groups, however gendered, and of whatever national origin. Now we can think about questions such as: Whose knowledge are we studying? Why? Is there an official knowledge? Why? Are some people privileged by the knowledge we study? If so, who? If knowledge is socially produced, am I a producer or consumer? Why? If knowledge is affected by the socially constructed culture and the context from which it arose, then whose culture is being celebrated? If social knowledge is not objective, then how does that affect the way we conduct research? If objectivity is only way of knowing, in what other ways can we know?

These kinds of questions being us directly to the question of who our intellectuals are and to the idea of competing knowledges developed out of marginalized groups.

Let's think of the teacher and student as intellectual. This changes the power relations in the educational setting. Teachers are not just clever conduits of official knowledge. Teaching is not mastering a body of knowledge which is then objectively transferred to waiting skulls. Freire labeled this process "banking," and it has no privileged place in a transformative setting. Teaching is about producing intellectuals from marginalized as well as dominant populations. Education is about producing knowledge; it is about collecting data as a way of life, analyzing these data and their relationships to me and my context, and transforming me and my context to a more egalitarian set of relationships.

Being an intellectual, an organic intellectual in the Gramscian sense, means that you can then choose your political standpoint. Organic intellectuals who identify with those who are powerless work for democratic social transformation. Intellectuals who enjoy their privilege will work for the present hegemonic power relationships. No one can be neutral. You either perpetuate one ideology or another. Education is political. If you choose to ignore power relationships, you have chosen an ideology which is complicit with oppression. And here I identify oppression as socially constructed inequities based on a variety of things like age, gender, race, ability, and social class. This leads us to participatory research.

Participatory research suggests that all persons are capable of being organic intellectuals and of producing knowledge. When we help those who are poor, who are marginalized, who as a group lack power to exercise their ability to critique their social system, to collect their own data, to develop action plans and to critically reflect on that action, then we are encouraging education for social transformation. When we democratize the production of knowledge, the process of determining who gets to be the intellectuals and who defines whom, then we move to a potentially more egalitarian stance.

We at NIU have developed one such program in Urban Adult Education through extension. We have enrolled community-based adult educators in an innovative Master's program which brings 21 hours of a degree program to them as a group. We have a team of six professors who have reorganized and directed content to emerge as several themes around adult learning, participatory research, community, education for work and life, and the socio-historical context of our adult education practice. Students have had to organize themselves to make decisions, to challenge power relationships, and to manage assessment and evaluation. Professors have had to deal with loss of autonomy, loss of power, and new modes for teaching and learning. We have brought in resource persons from the community to teach what we are incapable of teaching; we have utilized weekend residential meetings to democratize our processes, and we have tried to think free of "old skins" as we contemplate "new wine." It is very hard.

We have also worked on developing a new curriculum which will directly engage these issues of power and knowledge. We have developed courses in naturalistic inquiry, participatory research, critical pedagogy, political economy, and the politics of adult education. Afrocentrism and diversity vs. multiculturalism are hotly debated. Our African-American students are forging ahead politically to discuss an African-American research agenda in adult education. Four African-American NIU graduates in the adult education professorate have been pivotal in making race an issue for discussion in the Commission of Professor of Adult Education.


Let me summarize what I have said. First of all I have questioned the current social reality which we find in adult education today. A number of myths were identified. I have tried to demonstrate that believing and acting on these myths is not a conscious act--rather it is that we have uncritically accepted the established hegemony. I have provided analytical tools through theorists such as Habermas, Gramsci, Freire, and dozens of adult educators who have developed a critical practice to challenge us to become more critically conscious of why we do whatever we do. These tools can help us interrogate our own oppression. In particular, I have suggested several strategies: to move from a banking model to a participatory, democratizing model where students and teachers are seen as co-learners who do not separate their analysis from action, who do not champion the individual over the group, and who redefine knowledge from its narrow, self-serving, elitist base by democratizing the role of the intellectual and the knowledge production process. In doing this we challenge power relationships by developing new ways of relating to one another, by introducing and validating other ways of knowing, by putting our privilege up for analysis and for extinction, and by having as our educational agenda democratic social change.

What do you say? Let's get real and open up our practice to critique and transformation.


* Based on a keynote address to the Fifty-first Annual Meeting of the Mountain Plains Adult Education Association in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this text was published in the Journal of Adult Education 22:1 (Fall 1993), pgs. 3-15. It is posted here with permission of the author.

Jack Mezirow: Faded Visions and Fresh Commitments

A Policy Paper prepared for the AAACE by Jack Mezirow

The Issue

In October, 1991, after a mock trial conducted at its annual conference in St. Louis, the AAACE was found guilty by its membership of "negligence regarding the social action focus inherent in the mission and tradition of adult education." This paper will review the evidence, present the arguments and submit policy and program recommendations.

The Evidence

The adult education movement was inspired and had its beginnings in populist movements in Scandinavia and in England. Eduard Lindeman described adult education as an instrument of social action consisting of "increased awareness of the self and other selves, directed toward social justice." The "primary responsibility of adult education," he wrote, was to "...undertake the task of defining democracy in the language of practice." Lindeman shared John Dewey's vision of participatory democracy in schools, families, the workplace, communities and the state. "Adult education will become an agency of progress," Lindeman wrote in The Meaning of Adult Education , "if its short- term goal of self improvement can be made compatible with a longtime, experimental but resolute policy of changing the social order."

In 1952, a year after the establishment of the Adult Education Association of the USA, the Committee on Social Philosophy, co-chaired by Lindeman, published its seven principles "which should guide the American Adult Education Movement." These principles called for the solution of community problems as an aim. Social action on behalf of reasoned social change in the context of the quest for meaning was declared the fundamental raison d'être of modern adult education. The function of adult education was to train citizens. Consequently, the AEA/USA was urged to take a stand on public questions and moral issues.

A decade later, in 1963, Jack Crabtree, President of the AEA/USA, outlined "A Vision of Greatness." Like Dewey and Lindeman, he saw adult education as vested with the imperative of making democracy function to the limits of its potential. This vision was passed to a succession of leaders in the field of adult education, including Wilbur Hallenbeck, Moses Coady, John Herring, John Walker Powell, Jeanne and Jess Ogden, Paul Sheats, Howard McClusky, Roby Kidd, Collie Verner, the Biddles, Paul Bergevin, Jack London, Richard Poston, Eugene Johnson and Myles Horton. Through the 50's community development and social action was the principal identification of a major segment of adult educators active within the AEA/USA. In the subsequent thirty years, the original vision of adult education's mission as fostering rational participation to effect democratic social change has been abandoned by the mainstream of the field and by the AAACE. There has been no effort to articulate adult education's social goals or other leadership by the AAACE to identify common social ideals among its diverse membership. Conference time is not devoted to such considerations.

After 50 years as a profession, we have not agreed upon criteria to judge adult education in terms of social values. We have remained collectively mute as democratic values and human rights essential to adult learning and education have been violated at home and abroad, even when colleagues in adult education have become victims of oppression and political violence. As a profession concerned with democratic values, we have had nothing to say about freedom, human rights, peace, racism, sexism, multipluralism, homelessness, health care, the environment, poverty, welfare or unemployment--all matters of crucial concern to adult learning and education. The terms "education for democratic participation," "civic literacy" and "community development" are no longer heard in AAACE meetings.

As the world moves in this exciting time in history to embrace American- inspired democracy as a form of government, American adult educators have failed to provide leadership to help their counterparts in other countries to prepare their populations to realize the potentialities of responsible participation for social change.

We have long since severed our tenuous bonds to social activists, and very few mainstream adult educators know anything about how to work with drug victims, prisoners, AIDs victims, the homeless, tenants organizations, environmental groups, block associations or how the general public should be reached to foster active participation in critical discourse about pressing public issues. Those engaged in such front-line adult education for the most part have no identification with the profession and certainly not with the AAACE. Even mainstream adult literacy education has been sanitized from any responsibility for helping learners to engage in critical thinking and reflective discourse or to understand how to take responsible social action as adult citizens of a democracy.

Despite recommendations by its own "juntas," the AAACE has failed to provide needed leadership to help the profession formulate social goals and priorities. This nonfeasance has recently resulted in some of its frustrated members acting to create a new North American organization for adult educators, Popular Educators for Social Change (editor's note: this group has now become the North American Alliance for Popular and Adult Education, known as NAAPAE).

Rather than being led by the collective vision which illuminated earlier program efforts, the adult education movement, as reflected in its professional association, has become market driven, preoccupied with issues of increasing worker productivity and getting people off welfare. Its highest social value has become the "bottom line."

Supporting evidence of this social drift includes the dearth of articles and books published over the past decade in North America devoted to adult education for democratic social change, the absence of graduate courses and dissertations devoted to this topic and the absence of materials devoted to social action or controversial public issues in ABE and continuing education classes. Deans of continuing education look disoriented if questioned about how their programs reflect their social goals. Discretionary funds at their disposal are almost never earmarked for courses or programs because of their social value. The market dictates the value of educational offerings. The AAACE has made no effort to foster public policy to encourage that education for democratic participation be included in government sponsored adult education programs. It only pleads for more adult education.

All evidence points to abandonment of significant social goals, the default of leadership, failure of our historic promise to serve as a means of realizing democracy's full potential and the decline of a once idealistic movement to a collective free market mentality with a vested interest in serving only those who can afford to pay and in maintaining the social status quo.

The Arguments

There are two fundamental reasons why adult education must accept responsibility for fostering democratic social change. Both pertain to the nature of adult learning in modern society in which traditional forms of authority have become attenuated and the pace of change requires a high degree of socially responsible adult self-direction.

Most adult educators would agree that, beyond short range instrumental objectives, their goal is to assist learners to negotiate their own meanings and values rather than to passively accept the social reality defined by others. Central to this transformative process of learning is critical reflection and testing new meanings through rational discourse.

Unlike ordinary everyday dialogue, rational discourse involves deliberate reflection on the evidence, on arguments based upon alternative points of view and on critically examining assumptions. For discourse, we turn to those whom we believe will be the most informed, objective and rational. The resulting judgments are useful until we encounter new and more persuasive perspectives, evidence or arguments which subsequent discourse establishes as yielding better judgments. When this process of rational discourse fails, and the issue is not amenable to empirical tests of truth, we turn to tradition or to sources of authority to decide which belief is correct--the courts, politics, religion or brute force.

As adult educators, concerned with fostering democratic social change, our function is to create educational communities of rational discourse in families, formal education programs, the workplace, the community and the state. Social action can involve effecting change in interpersonal relations, organizations or in social, educational, political or economic systems.

Learners who critically reflect upon their beliefs and assumptions frequently come to challenge taken-for-granted social practices, ideologies and norms which they discover have been impeding their development. Adult education cannot ethically abandon these learners who have achieved insights impelling them to act upon what they have learned. To change families, organizations and systems to make them more responsive to those they serve, to foster participatory democracy in these contexts, often requires guided instrumental learning in how to effect change in these settings. Adult education's responsibility extends beyond facilitating learning to see to also facilitating this kind of learning to do.

A second argument for adult education for social action in modern societies has to do with the educator's responsibility for those unable to participate more fully and freely in rational discourse because they are hungry, ill, uneducated, homeless, jobless, discriminated against, or coerced by internal or external forces. Every adult has a human right to understand his experience, to learn to negotiate her own meanings, purposes and values. Consequently, rational discourse is central to adult learning in our society.

The quality of rational discourse is a function of the degree of the learner's freedom from coercion; the degree of mutual respect; access to relevant information; openness to new perspectives; the ability to analyze, to make reasonable inferences and arguments; equally to participate in the discourse; the ability to be critically reflective of assumptions; and a willingness to accept a best judgment in the absence of empirical evidence of the truth of a belief or an assertion. These conditions of effective participation in rational discourse provide criteria for judging both the quality of adult education and social, political and economic issues which effect preconditions for rational adult discourse as well.

Because of the potential contribution each person can make to our own understanding of our experience and to our collective wisdom, we cannot afford to limit participation in rational discourse to those most favored by society. As adult educators, we have a special responsibility to actively work toward a participative social democracy in which the conditions impeding free full participation in learning thorough rational discourse are changed to meet these needs of all adult learners.

Policy & Program Recommendations

The AAACE should provide leadership by producing through its membership a collectively articulated mission statement of social and educational goals for the adult education movement (and the AAACE) which would be reviewed and, if necessary modified every decade. This charge includes a continuing reassessment of the progress of the adult education movement to achieve these goals.

  • Control over the content and themes of its annual conference should be retained by the AAACE's national leadership. This would permit a deliberate attempt to forge and give direction to a national movement with a planned agenda--rather than just let the local sponsor of the conference call the shots on conference themes. The planned agenda should be derived from the organization's mission statement.
  • An annual AAACE conference should be designated a National Directions Conference, convened to formulate a statement of social and educational goals for the field. The conference on goals and principles would devote its major general sessions to dialogue and presentations on the topic of our social goals and the future. Each unit would reserve time for dialogue on this topic and the development of a set of principles and their respective priorities. A panel of leaders in the field would be charged with producing a synthesis for presentation at the final general session. The final statement of principles and goals would be sent to every member for a vote or ratified at the following annual conference. The AAACE should plan a similar National Directions Conference every ten years.
  • If it is not possible within the foreseeable future to devote an entire conference to National Directions, then at least time should be reserved in the next annual conference for a general session devoted to planned presentations on social and educational goals of adult education. Each unit meeting could be charged with discussing these and formulate their own list of goals and priorities for the field, and these lists could all be synthesized by a panel of leading educators and sent for ratification to the membership.
  • A less desirable option would involve the appointment of a special commission of leaders in the field to formulate a statement of the social goals of the adult education movement. It has been decades since this occurred. Such a statement should be ratified by members of the AAACE by mailing a special ballot.
  • The Philosophy of Education unit should be charged with maintaining a continuing dialogue on goals and principles of adult education. This unit should be renamed Social Philosophy and Social Change. A general meeting at each annual conference should be devoted to Social Philosophy and Social Change and be planned by this unit. A Myles Horton Award for an outstanding social change educator should be established. The winner of this award should become the Social Philosophy luncheon speaker.
  • The AAACE should make a continuing priority its vigorous attempt to influence federal and state governments to articulate education for democratic participation as a goal in all adult education initiatives. Its advocacy efforts should extend far beyond commissioning papers for its officers' approval. It should become a dynamic advocate of popular participation and participatory democracy as the means and the end of our government's foreign aid efforts and of its involvement in international agencies concerned with national development.
  • The AAACE should provide the field with an uncompromising voice to protest violations of human rights of adult educators and acts which deprive adult learners of free and full participation in rational discourse. The organizational process by which this advocacy occurs should be instituted without delay.
  • The AAACE should make every effort to extend membership to adult educator activists by drastic reduction of membership rates for these educators whose incomes preclude their joining, by actively recruiting them and by admitting them to its national conferences with only a nominal registration fee.
  • The Commission of Professors should be charged with establishing a consensus on social goals of graduate instruction in adult education, experimenting with and disseminating course syllabi and instructional materials on adult education for social action, fostering dissertations on this subject, amending its Standards statement to include graduate instruction in adult education for social action and arranging a national program of internships in adult education for social action.
  • At least one issue a year of both the Adult Education Quarterly and Adult Learning should be devoted to ideas, issues and actions pertaining to the social and educational goals of adult education for social action. Within the next year, the AAACE should commission a comprehensive book devoted to Adult Education for Social Change and disseminate it widely here and abroad. This publication should be rewritten every decade as is the Handbook of Adult Education.

November 15, 1991

Tom Heaney: Social Justice and Adult Education


History is as much a tale of what could have been as it is the story of what “really” happened. Ours is a recent story, a short history of promises—some kept and many broken. There is a major contradiction at the core of adult education practice in the United States—a polar tension between education for social justice and education for the production of capital.

Linking Adult Education with Social Justice

Adult education is fashionably viewed as timeless—a permanent feature of civilization with its origins lost in pre-history—making us, for those who care about such things, the real oldest profession. But while work now thought of as adult education has accompanied the evolution of humankind from the beginning, the identification of that work as “adult education” is astoundingly recent. Stubblefield and Keane (Stubblefield, & Keane, 1994) place it in the 1920s in their history of the field, claiming that discourse linking “adult” with “education” gained momentum in the United States through a rapid sequence of publications and events which later some called an “adult education movement.”

Adult education in the United States began with democracy and a spontaneous commitment to learning outside the walls of formal schooling—learning linked to building a democratic social order. Literacy in its broadest sense—in the sense Freire speaks of it: “learning to name the world”—was at the center of that movement. Perhaps nothing so well exemplifies this as the Citizenship Schools in the South—the massive and successful literacy campaign that ignited the Civil Rights Movement.

However, since the first professional association for adult education was established in 1926, the net for gathering adult educators has been cast ever more widely, excluding less and less until almost everything is “adult education,” encompassing educators of adults who work toward diametrically opposed social and political purposes. The term “adult education” is applied to highly manipulative and participatory pedagogies alike, from courses designed to correct deviant behavior to workshops supporting the social change agendas of oppressed communities.

There are those who have made the leap from lifelong learning to lifelong schooling. The eventual collapse of the almost-movement was inevitable, given the propensity of many adult educators to link adult education with jobs. Discipline, control, and mandated learning which characterized much of K-12 also began to infect adult education. And so a democratizing adult education grew up alongside a top-down, professionalizing and more lucrative practice—a practice, which devalued learning-in-action and stressed adaptation to the workplace, corporate America, and a consumer economy.

Someone once said that nostalgia is the lingering desire to return to a past that never was. Many of us—teachers of teachers of adults—have been attempting to reclaim our birthright—our history grounded in a democratic practice for social justice. At issue for us is the social purpose of the field—the socially redeeming merit in the work to which we commit ourselves. 

Tom Heaney