Reflections on Adult Education

Posted: February 1, 2007 in Adult Education, Education

Many times I feel people have ideas and comments that are pent up inside either because they feel uncomfortable sharing their thoughts, or they are put in a position where they are not allowed to share. When someone feels strongly enough about something it seems that eventually those ideas and thoughts come forth in a fashion that others may think is inappropriate because it appears these people are speaking with anger or in a reactionary manner. However, the moment the person speaks their mind can be a moment of truth, a time when the person can take no more and must share what is important to them despite the fact that their thoughts may be misconstrued or misinterpreted. This moment provides an opportunity for others to step back and think about what has come to the surface. It is a time when others must recognize the depth of what is being said, and to analyze the substance of what is being shared. It is difficult to separate oneself from what may be the social norm, but it is paramount that people try to understand where “someone is coming from.”

In the fall of 2003, I sat through another teacher in-service on a particular approach to common assessments. For two hours I listened carefully as the presenter shared his thoughts. I had to slip away for my two sons’ parent teacher conferences. I arrived back at the in-service about an hour later, and the same presentation was taking place. After another hour, I had had enough. The problem with the presentation is that it was the same thing that had been presented for the past five years. I felt like a child as the presenter spoke in a condescending manner to each of us in the room. I had worked on most of what the presenter was sharing for the past five years, and had called several times for time to act on what needed to be done rather than talk about it, and even presented other alternative approaches. I finally spoke up and began to deconstruct the presenter’s “show.” I was not disrespectful, but I shared how I felt and pointed out that this was the same presentation that had been given several times before. I spoke, and shared thoughts and feelings that I had held back for several years. I spoke of thoughts and feelings that most of my colleagues in the room shared with me. In the end I dismissed the meeting, and welcomed everyone to join me for lunch. I got up and left. The presentation was never shared again after that, the presenter never came back, and actually left the district the next summer. The practice, which had been stressed for several years, was abandoned because it had no substance.

I am a person that values the importance of time, and I feel that it is important to point out nonsense when I see or hear it. Granted, I am not always right, and many times I say nothing strictly because I feel I need to give things the benefit of the doubt; however, there usually comes a point where I cannot bear to ignore what I know and must share my thoughts on particular subjects. To a certain extent this ties into transformational learning in that I get to a point where I feel I must take action through the written or spoken word. In other words, I see the need for change and I share it. This often requires taking risks to go against what the majority or my superiors think, and moving beyond things as they are. I also recognize the need to offer or suggest other options or look for alternative ways of doing something. In the end, I think that I, and others, should do this more often and not leave important things unsaid. Regret is an emotion that we often place upon ourselves. To do or say nothing, when you know you should, is a terrible state of being. As human beings, in any field or circumstance, we have a responsibility to share our thoughts, to engage in dialogue and discourse, to learn and grow from each other, and to create situations where we feel we are free to do all of these things. All of this allows for praxis – action with reflection, and it enables each of us to move beyond our limitations and help each other see other ideas or what else can be done.

Adult education in the context of critical theory moves beyond the status quo as established by the system. Adult educators try not to concern themselves so much with the arrangement of the classroom or the objectives of the course, but look to reach out or create learning situations that enable students to have a voice in the educational process. Habermas refers to discourse where bias and prejudice are set aside and people are more open and objective in the educational process. Critical theory works to enable people to “unfold their potentials” and not a potential that has been defined by a dominant society or system. Vella’s twelve principles, I think, are examples of enabling critical theory goals in the idea of quantum thinking: “looking at the world in a new way.” That is how I see adult education, or education at any level, taking place in the context of critical theory.

I believe adult educators should work in socially responsible and relevant ways to actively promote continuous societal change. I look at it from the perspective of a father of five children. My oldest child was one of my middle school students. I viewed my classroom with a critical eye like no other time in my life, thanks to her. I always strive for diversity, to be non-biased, to treat my students equally, but I see more now than ever that I have so much I need to improve on. I want my children, and all of my students to have the opportunity to learn and grow in ways that enable them to unfold their potential. I have noticed now more than ever the un-empowering effects of the curriculum that I am asked to follow, the assessments that I am required to give, and the “socially acceptable” interactions that exist in my classroom that are not acceptable when it comes to stimulating discourse and dialogue. As an educator, I have a responsibility to remedy these things, and to work toward changing society so that it values the thoughts, opinions, lifestyles, and diversity of human beings.

A “classroom” scenario that would illustrate critical theory would be the experience Vella relates in Chapter 10 of Learning to Listen Learning to Teach and the story of Mikaeli Okolo, his Zambian colleagues, and his missionary mentors from Europe. I suggest you get this wonderful book and read about it for yourself!

A classroom scene I viewed in a particular video was a classic example of white male domination of a discussion. This relates to my critical eye on my own middle school classroom and my own child. I at times was pained with guilt during that school year as I realized, or had it pointed out by my best critic, that this trap is a major stumbling block to enabling ALL students to unfold their potential. The situation presented in the video is obviously inappropriate, and is in dire need of what Collins (Merriam page 353) refers to as critical practice: “being engaged in definable concrete projects for social change without which talk of justice, emancipation, and equality becomes hollow rhetoric.” The class in the video is in need of a complete overhaul, and situations of discourse and dialogue amongst all participants must be established to create a safe, respectful, engaging, and accountable learning environment. An ad that I viewed that presented stereo-typical male and female roles to me is simply an example of perpetuating gender definitions. The most telling portion of the ad is a definition of “what little girls are made of.” These are ideas that have been established by the system or “American” society and are continually perpetuated and used in this case to sell goods, a Jeep, to a part of society that is being told they need such a thing to be a man. In a postmodernist society that appears to be fluid and changing, these stereotypes are in a position to be wiped away, and must be if human beings are to be allowed to unfold and reach their unlimited potentials.


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