Reflections on An Adult Education Critique of HRD: A Case Study of Training for Atrocities in German-Occupied Europe

Posted: February 1, 2007 in Adult Education, Education, Human Resource Development

There are several review questions found in the book An Adult Education Critique of HRD: A Case Study of Training for Atrocities in German-Occupied Europe. The question I choose to “answer” from the “Discussion and Discovery” section of Chapter 8 “Conclusion” is number two: “List and describe some of the issues the authors have identified concerning adult education. Can you think of more?” (Nabb & Armstrong, 2005, p. 99).

The authors state something that ties directly to information I outline in my paper for this class: “The foremost advocates of learning-organization theory (the latest concept in organizational management) miss the proverbial boat in introducing five disciplines of critical and systemic thought (Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross, & Smith, 1994). These qualities are indeed necessary, but equally necessary is that they be used in a context that is not arbitrarily limited by the interests of a select power group. If context is limited in such a manner, then critical thought does not exist and systemic thinking is so restricted as to be more accurately called single-minded or self-serving thinking” (Nabb & Armstrong, p. 98).

My proposal is that my school’s individual professional development plans should be improved via a systems thinking approach. The problem is, the entire time I have been writing the paper, in the back of my mind I fear it will all fall on deaf ears. The “Conclusion” of this book brought that feeling to the forefront of my mind. To a certain extent I am powerless as simply a teacher in a school that is part of a larger district and so on. As a change agent, which I feel that I have been, I have some influence, but in the end my position is at the mercy of those in power as I am not a manager in particular.

What strikes me the most after taking this particular course are the effects of power groups. I have experienced mostly the negative effects of power groups throughout my teaching career: being threatened that I would lose my teaching job when I shared my dissatisfaction and tried to remedy a situation concerning my child and other students on a school bus, being threatened that I would lose my job when I questioned the amount of money spent per student in our school district as compared to figures shared by the state, being ignored when I share examples of lack of supplies in my classroom and share the amount of personal financing I expend to fund my classroom activities, or being taken for granted and advantage of as I accrued 47 days worth of comp days while functioning as a technology assistant in my school just last year, and I had to use the comp time by May of this year or lose it: I lost it (I could have taken off the entire final quarter of the school year!). I share these examples to outline the hundreds of others that go unsaid by myself and many people who feel that they have no power and no one cares about the demeaning things that happen to them everyday. This is being single-minded and self-serving on my own level, but it cuts at the reality of the situation in much of society today: those in power have control and many are at the mercy of their whim.

So, what to do? My own professional development has been mostly self-directed in my professional career. I feel fortunate to have enough wits about me to function in this manner, but I am constantly concerned about my colleagues who typify what Gilley, et al. identify:

[E]mployees often feel trapped, stagnated, or overlooked in their present jobs or occupations. Many find little pleasure in them, which contributes to increased stress and lowered output. These workers do not work up to their full potential and often fail to meet organizational expectations. Either they have lost their occupational mission in life, or they have been unable to identify their vocational purpose. To further complicate matters, many managers are reluctant to approach employees about performance problems. They hold their breath, look the other way, cross their fingers, and hope that somehow the situation will work itself out, even though these managers are still held accountable for their subordinates. (p. 57)

What becomes glaringly apparent to me is that if I want to really influence change I must become a manager/administrator myself. Without that “credibility” I have found no opportunity for real change. An Adult Education Critique of HRD: A Case Study of Training for Atrocities in German-Occupied Europe shows the extreme effects of a “power group” and how it can influence regular people to accomplish irregular things. Can one change, break through, or influence a power group by gaining power (via education, certification, etc.), or does one get caught up in that group which leads to maintaining the status quo? My fear is that ideals and ethics are good intentions, but it seems, under current circumstances, these things are hidden to gain acceptance by the power group and then lost as one fears losing favor and any influence at all, leading to a continued, superficial state of existence. My thought is that this is a quandary that must be challenged.

What I do personally remains to be seen, but I do know that I have experienced enough bad HRD, and I don’t want to experience successful HRD such as found in Nazi Germany! I’m sure I have been part of the problem to some extent (through ignorance), but I want to be part of the solution. This course, specifically this final book, has compelled me to seek further avenues where I can attempt and continue to make a positive difference in the lives of those around me and beyond. The proposal that I outline in the paper I have shared with all of you is one example of what I can try to do now despite my underlying fears. It is the right thing to do. There is an appropriate introductory quote in the conclusion shared in the text, and it is my conclusion: “To thine own self be true.”


Gilley, J., Eggland, S., & Gilley, A. (2002). Principles of Human Resource Development. New York: Basic Books.

Nabb, L.W. & Armstrong, K.B. (2005). An Adult Education Critique of HRD: A Case Study of Training for Atrocities in German-Occupied Europe. Chicago: Discovery Association Publishing House.


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