so a small chunk of this country has achieved same sex marriage. but. it really is historic and significant, but. but it still isn’t for everyone. but the only peole who are excluded are people with a ‘legal gender’ of ‘x’, because even if it’s thoroughly problematic that everyone else is slapped with a ‘m’ or ‘f’, they are. is there even more than one person in this country who has achieved an ‘x’ so far? but even if only one person is excluded, it’s both unjust and insulting, the exclusion having been slapped on a previously inclusive bill at the last minute. hmm.
i wonder how many people will now run off to canberra to get married away from their family and friends. i’d think marriage was about celebrating with them, not getting a certificate, but at least three friends have announced their intentions on facebook already. hmm.
on the other hand, my concerns about success making the movement disappear have not eventuated. the progress towards obviousness is going to be so piecemeal, and so contested, that they’ll keep us fighting for years and years.
i’m glad that my friends who care about this development are happy. whatever happens, whatever it means for the rest of us and the country, if legal recognition makes you feel accepted or vindicated, or you plan to take up the opportunity to get legally married, then i wish you well.
this is my late night contemplation after the emotionally exhausting experience of a long day of election campaigning and an agm.
in other news, it’s raining. hopefully this extends to where it’s really needed.
update: i hear that same sex marriage has been established as something completely separate to ‘normal’ marriage – and if a married person transitions, their marriage is no longer valid and they’ll need a new one of the other sort. ‘different but equal’? ouch.
also, that there are indeed more people who already have a legal gender of ‘x’: some intersex people got shunted onto it by default. so despite all these changes, it seems that the concept of autonomy over one’s own identification is moving much slower than the details.
Essay. First in several years. deadline 8.30am, submitted 6.40am. how’s that! of course that was on the second extension, but still. only nine days since the original deadline!
the sun is shining, the birds are singing – but the’ve been at it all night! i’m doing surprisingly well for having pulled an allnighter – though we’ll see how i am when i have to get up and go out at 1.30… now, i should attempt to sleep.
This is part one of two interconnected assignments – the next one is coming up soon enough. The diagram didn’t copy in, so i described it in place.
Does the analytical framework of Lifelong Education enable greater insight and understanding of learning and change in the context of community group organising?
[figure: two axes. “Old people” up top, “Young people” below.
“Non-formal settings” to the left, “Formal settings” to the right.
Quadrants marked 1-4, clockwise from the top left.]
Dimensions of lifelong education (Boshier 1998, p7)
This paper explores Lifelong Education as outlined in the Faure report (Faure et al. 1972) and in Boshier’s analysis (Boshier 1998). It finds that, despite neglect in Lifelong Learning circles, the Faure report is still engaging, while its goal of developing learning societies and its primary aspects of vertical and horizontal integration and democratisation are relevant and adaptable.
Part One examines how the concepts of Lifelong Learning, combined with later thought on its discourses, can help understand and improve the organisation of contemporary community groups. An example is made of Sydney Queer Atheists (SQA), a small community group in Sydney, Australia which engages in non-formal and informal education and learning. Part Two considers these concepts in a wider lens.
The author is an organiser and participant in SQA, and draws on an anarchist-utopian tradition. The paper assumes that education, broadly conceived, is good for individuals, communities and societies alike.
THE FAURE REPORT
The Faure Report, Learning to be: The world of education today and tomorrow was written in 1972 by Edgar Faure and the International Commission on the Development of Education of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). An ambitious work, it was meant to revolutionise education around the world, advising the governments of both rich and poor countries. Writing 26 years later, Boshier considered “the original report is still an excellent template for educational reform” (Boshier 1998, p5). Now, 15 years further into the neoliberal project, the document and its master concept of Lifelong Education are still relevant and illuminating.
Much as every corporation now has to be a ‘learning organisation’, in 1972 the concept of the moment, from Paris to Ontario, was the learning society (Boshier 1998, p7). In a learning society, education is a fundamental human right for all rather than a luxury, and responsibility for it is also spread throughout society (Faure et al. 1972). The main aim of the Faure report is to develop learning societies, and the vehicle is Lifelong Education.
Lifelong education is a utopian concept which arose from the social changes of the 1960s. It was influential only briefly, and implemented by few governments (Field) yet its inspiring theory has continued to have an impact as a minor tradition and has more recently been picked up by the government in China (Boshier & Huang 2007). It was, however, quickly overshadowed by lifelong learning, where learning becomes the responsibility of the individual, largely as a way to make a corporation more competitive.
There are three main facets to Lifelong Education: vertical integration, horizontal integration and democratisation. Boshier portrays the first two as axes that outline quadrants, as shown in the diagram above. The vertical axis regards learning across the lifespan; the horizontal covers the sites of learning – formal, non-formal, informal, semi-formal (Kalantzis and Cope p31) and in between. The quadrants formed by this schema would each receive equal emphasis and distribution of resources (Boshier p9) such that everyone can access a variety of education options at any age. It is important to note that the axes are permeable; individuals will, and should, participate in all segments over time. The emphasis would be on the quality of learning, not how it is achieved.
Vertical integration regards opening up education for people of all ages. Faure refutes the “traditional” idea that all education should be “provided during the first years of life, before entry into ‘active life’” (Faure et al. 1972, p190). However this is not simply about provision of educational opportunities; in a non-compulsory system, not only must structural barriers such as cost, unnecessarily restrictive prerequisites and lack of resources be dismantled to provide access, but psychosocial barriers must also be tackled, such as “audiotapes inside people’s heads [that] send negative messages about returning to education” (Boshier 1998, p10). Further, “Equal access is not equal opportunity. This must comprise equal chance of success” (Faure et al. 1972, p72).
Beyond Faure, theory on access and accessibility has continued to develop. The term ‘accessibility’ is used to differentiate the need to change systems to meet the needs of people, from ‘access’ which assists people to meet the needs of the systems. (Wright in Rogers 2006 p131). Despite predating the theory and terminology, Lifelong Education requires accessibility.
A horizontally integrated society is one which offers a diversity of settings for education and learning, from formal to non-formal to informal. Currently in western cities such as Sydney, most recognised, funded education exists in formal settings such as schools, universities and TAFE colleges. Access to formal study largely relies on accreditation from previous formal study in a structured system of prerequisites. Non-formal education is available in reading groups, learning circles, learning webs, summer camps, community organisations, prisons, workplaces and homes. However this vast array of learning opportunities often go unrecognised, unorganised and underresourced, even stigmatised. Sites of informal learning such as travel, media, listening to poets and social interaction in general are even more neglected, with the exception in Australia of public awareness campaigns. (Field 2006, Boshier 1998)
In contrast, a learning society with truly “lifewide” (Rogers 2006), horizontally integrated education would recognise, resource and value them all as equal parts of learning. Faure did not want to dismantle formal structures, but develop and mainstream “a more pluralistic and accessible array of opportunities for education throughout the life cycle” (Boshier 1998, p11).
Democratisation, according to Lemaresquier, “has been made synonymous with uniformity and rigidity” (in Faure 1972, p75) in an attempt to provide equal opportunities for all by lockstepping compulsory schooling. However, Lifelong Education’s concept of democratisation is very different, regarding “more widespread involvement of learners in the design and management of their educational processes.” (Boshier 1998, p11) This is integrally linked with access. Practically, this involves the multiple entry, exit and re-entry points of recurrent education, eroding the distinctions between different levels, sites and disciplines and reducing the “inordinate importance given to selection, examinations, and diplomas. The system rewards the strong, the lucky and the conformists [and] it blames and penalises the unfortunate, the slow, the ill-adapted, the people who are and who feel different” (Faure 1972, p75). However, democratisation is also an end in itself, involving a revival of humans’ “natural drive towards knowledge” (Faure et al. 1972, pXXIX) and blurring the boundaries between teacher and learner, while learning participatory democracy.
FAURE OVER TIME
While some of the Faure report’s concepts and more terminology have entered our vocabulary, the main content was quickly overlaid with others more in line with the new order of neoliberalism Edwards illustrates this change by separating out three different discourses that each claim Faure’s term “learning societies”, yet interpret it in radically different ways (in Boshier p12):
– A “learning market” where learners make ‘rational’ decisions to choose educational offerings based on their own needs and the needs of employers
– An “arena for citizenship” where an individual has a responsibility to learn in order to benefit society
– An “arena for participation” “at the centrepiece of an active and socially engaged lifestyle for groups of learners, tribes or collectives”.
This distinction appears some decades later, once theory had progressed further. The first is the most common discourse from soon after Faure to now. The Faure report was intended to sit squarely in the second category, concerned with uplifting people for the purpose of making societies run well and cohesively for the betterment of all. However, the third and newer category has much to offer. This article proposes that, in this time of uncertainty and aggressive capitalism when considerations of citizenship are so badly restricted, the new home of utopian thought and possibilities for radical change, such as Faure once represented, is in the third category. Also, it proposes that plenty of the report and its main concepts are still relevant and useful for adapting to small groups and cultural communities.
EDUCATION FOR PARTICIPATION IN COMMUNITY GROUPS
Edwards’ third point, education for participation is tailor made for community organisations and community organisations are tailor made for fulfilling education for participation.
CASE STUDY: SYDNEY QUEER ATHEISTS
Sydney Queer Atheists (SQA) is a small community group in Sydney, Australia which has arisen out of the organisation of an atheist float in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade every year since 2009. In March 2012 it formalised and started running monthly meetings, subsequently separating from Sydney Atheists Inc. and becoming autonomous. Since then, it has produced another float, one workshop at a student queer conference, one small fundraising dinner, another small dinner event and regular monthly meetings. Now, after a year of trying to anything more than running an annual float, the group is in crisis. Members have no motivation to continue running events as there is no common purpose, no vision of the potential of the group beyond hard work and a small social pool.
SQA has been known to educate the atheist community about queer issues and the queer community, as well as the general audience at Mardi Gras, about coming out as atheist. Internally, it has also encouraged informal learning and occasionally non-formal education, on many topics from minority religions to organising floats. The educational possibilities have been articulated, but have not been seen as core, or worth effort and commitment.
LIFELONG EDUCATION AND SQA
There are several reasons why people join a group like SQA. The biggest portion is to find social interaction with similar people and be part of a likeminded community, or even to find a partner. However most other reasons revolve around learning and education, or the activist flipside of teaching and transmitting messages to others. In the current neoliberal world the social and economic needs of individuals are foregrounded, but there are still people, groups and theories of education which buck the system.
Understanding Lifelong Education and its fate in neoliberalism also suggests why building the group is a difficult task. Not only is it an intersectional minority group, but it is a group formed around identity and difference, which have little place in a world of markets, majorities and individual responsibilities. Despite rhetorics of multiculturalism and diversity, it runs against the grain of the current dominant paradigm. Where the group really fits is within the arena of participation. Operating outside of the mainstream can be difficult, but rewarding. Being independent, the group is free to embody and enjoy it. There will still be pressure from the outside world, but there is the potential to be an oasis within it.
Once the arena of participation is embraced, Faure’s ideas may be able to help SQA by locating it within non-formal education, and thus within a broader project. In the optimistic context of Lifelong Education, SQA needs to fulfil its best possible purposes, which are the educational ones, not just the social ones that have attracted members in the past. If the group needs to find new people who are more interested in this than in current activities, then the new agenda must be publicised.
To establish a charter which clearly locates SQA within Lifelong Education would be particularly helpful, not just for orienting the group within education, but also for focussing it on what it needs to be in order to do education well. It’s not just about providing educational opportunities and hoping people attend, the group needs to work with the axes on a micro scale to create a learning community as well as working towards a learning society: recognise all ages, work with a variety of levels of formality and be democratic.
In SQA, decisions are already made as a collective, but there is a resistance where people want a ‘leader’ to show the way. Lifelong Education suggests that the democratisation is crucial to increasing involvement, so the group needs to educate people about collectives and get them on board with doing things differently from the mainstream.
SQA is mostly a group of adults who have left formal education. Queer atheists in formal education tend to have access to a variety of queer and atheist groups that fulfil their social and intellectual needs. Young people are hard to advertise to because of stigma; double stigma here.
While the intention of the horizontal axis is to map diversity in educational settings, not the instructional processes within them, (Boshier p11), applying the broad concepts down a level can also be worthy of consideration. SQA could benefit from availing itself of a variety of strategies, from the informality of a social event within a queer, atheist context, to excursions, dialogues with other groups, discussions, reading groups, forums, to the formality of a series of lectures or a structured course with a certificate of completion.
Boshier, R. (1998). Edgar faure after 25 years: Down but not out. In J. Holford, P. Jarvis & C. Griffin (Eds.), International perspectives on lifelong learning (pp. 3-20). London: Kogan Page.
Boshier, R., & Huang, Y. (2007). Shuang yu: Vertical and horizontal dimensions of china’s extraordinary learning village. Studies in Continuing Education, 29(1), 51-70.
Faure, E., Herrera, F., Kaddoura, A., Lopes, H., Petrovsky, A. V Rahnema, M. & Champion Ward, F. (1972). Learning to be: The world of education today and tomorrow. Paris: UNESCO.
Field, J. (2006). Lifelong learning: A design for the future? Lifelong learning and the new educational order (pp. 9-43). Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham.
Kalantzis, M., & Cope, B. (2012). New learning: Elements of a science of education (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.
Rogers, A. (2006). Escaping the slums or changing the slums? lifelong learning and social transformations. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 52(2), 125-137.
so my first girlfriend’s little green dot popped up on google chat.
i haven’t thought about her for quite a while. she said some pretty nasty stuff about me online, and never made an effort to be friends. the few times we interacted over the last seven years, i’ve been surprised she’s been civil.
my first thought was to say hi; i guess it would be up to me. but i’d have to be prepared to maybe not be answered, and to find something worth saying.
i think over my life; how i would present myself if asked what i’m up to. always an interesting exercise, a good motivator to make my life something i can own with pride. my current situation would probably not look wildly exciting to her, but that’s just fine. i realise i don’t need her approval, i just need to be able to hold my head up. i can.
then i thought that i really don’t know who she is anymore. i’d rather see if she’s still posting her travel blog, than interact personally with her. but i couldn’t remember the address, and i’m sure it was never bookmarked in this computer, which is only a few years old.
i got as far as typing her name into google; guess what, an interview comes up, which reveals that as of last year, she had been living in one place for a few years. that’s new, and good. an interesting place, too, with a radical queer women’s choir.
that all sounds good, perfect for her, in fact. i’m glad to think she’s found somewhere she can call home, i was always a little concerned about the need to up and move to the other side of the world every six months. she obviously has some kind of community, with queer and musical life, and she can probably speak croatian fluently by now. i’m glad for her.
i may look her up if i’m passing nearby zagreb one day, but until then, i don’t think talking to her will improve my life, and i doubt it would improve hers. my five minutes of nostalgia is over and i’m back to my life, happy in the knowledge that someone i used to know seems to be doing well.
i was going to be married, 36 hours from now. my love affair with my car has been going strong for over 14 years, and i was going to acknowledge it in public, while making a statement about marriage, at the mass wedding at uts’ pride week. however we’ve just been mucked around. and the ceremony has been moved to a lawn, which is inaccessible for cars. sorry, they say.
11am on a tuesday was not an ideal time for people; my parents can’t make it. tim, my bridesmaid can’t make it. my photographer can’t make it. changing the time will be excellent, but will i have the guts to make a stand alone event of it?
it was suggested that i could show up with a photo of my car. that shows how much they think of the love of my life. it also reminds me of the humiliation of showing up to a birthday party at the bike track, with a bicycle photo frame in lieu of a real bike. i’d tried, i’d come to the party, literally and figuratively. but i still couldn’t ride the track.
it was supposed to be a stunt, but as i notify everyone that my wedding is postponed, i just feel hurt.
i know why we use this term, i understand it’s important to support groups of people who are discriminated against and put at a disadvantage. i understand that it’s just as important to catch all the various people who have experienced these things, and not just aim our support at the people who fit into groups big and obvious enough that we can name them. i understand that trying to list them all doesn’t work, even if we keep going, from women to trans women and trans men to genderqueer people and intersex people and sex and gender diverse people (let’s not get started on what it would mean for an individual to be diverse).
still, i’m anxious for the next change in terminology. a non-cis male is, gramatically, a male person who is not cisgendered. that’s about as good as arguing that the term ‘men’ includes everyone. you can insist… or you can look for something better.
this is an article i got published in Querelle 2012.
As I was thinking about writing this article, by chance I came across a word that summed up exactly why I care about atheism: religionormativity.
Just as we’re familiar with heteronormativity, roughly the privileging of heterosexuality, religionormativity is the privileging of religion, religious views of the world and religious interests.
Religionormativity, and specifically christonormativity, is rampant in Australia. It’s why our atheist Prime Minister spends tax money for catholics to visit the Vatican and says that she doesn’t think society is ‘ready’ for marriage equality. It’s why we see churches and billboards displaying crosses like gallows in the town square, and dub it ‘freedom of speech’. It’s why cuts to cities’ christmas budgets generate more outcry than cuts to the country’s welfare budget, and even minority religions feel the need to vocally perform their acceptance of the all-pervasive decorations.
It’s why we accept religious private schools and the fact that they often get more funding than public schools, while even the ‘secular, compulsory and free’ public schools teach christmas as curriculum for three months of the year and allow scripture teachers in to openly teach dogma every week. Primary Ethics has fought hard to run ethics classes in NSW schools for the non-scripture students who are often neglected and discriminated against, but even they dare not touch the religions’ regular access to school students, nor acknowledge any link to atheism. Now our government now upholds the right to put untrained religious ‘chaplains’ into state schools despite the High Court’s ruling against the program. Our government which still has prayers in parliament. It’s all religionormativity, and it’s dangerous. Secular people regularly accept that queerness and nonbelief are matters for adults only, which allows religions to stereotype us as the dangerous ones, who shouldn’t be around kids. Certainly not all religions commit these travesties, but they all support the religionormativity which is why we have to fight for adoption, insemination and even the right to teach. Not only do religions get tax breaks because dissemination of religion is still categorised as charitable in our law, but they also get permanent exemptions to the anti-discrimination laws that keep us out of their schools, adoption agencies and crisis shelters.
The census doesn’t give us data on atheists, as the question is framed religionormatively. However the number of people who marked ‘no religion’ has grown in this latest census to 22.3% of the population, counting us at nearly a quarter of the country, and bigger than any single religious group except catholicism, even without the 8.6% of the population who didn’t answer the question, those who answered ‘jedi’ or ‘pastafarian’ and all the people who put down their family’s religion instead of their own beliefs. Yet people still say ‘but we all believe in the same god anyway’ and really believe they’re being inclusive. And we let them get away with it.
In queer communities, we often think we’re better than that! We can analyse the effects of religious lobby groups on politics and the media, and we’re certainly clued in to the marriage debate and the motives of the players. A high proportion of us are nonbelievers, and an understanding of the destructiveness of intolerant churches and conservative religious families resonates through us, whether or not we’ve experienced the effects personally. Indeed, I’m glad to live within such an astute crowd.
However, all is not perfect. We have our own subtle forms of religionormativity that we often hold dear. In communities so full of atheists and other nonbelievers, we often let this aspect of ourselves remain closeted. We don’t want to recognise this, because we still fall prey to the idea that outing ourselves, declaring our belief structures, is oppressive to those of us who still are religious. Even while we find some people’s beliefs to often be pretty odd, we underestimate them by placing our assumptions about their sensibilities above our own freedom to be out and proud atheists, agnostics, secular humanists or whatever else we want to be.
We need to come out about our beliefs just as much as we need to come out about our sexualities. To name ourselves allows us to build communities where we can openly express ourselves and stand together for what we need. We already know this. So examine your own internalised religionormativity and come out, so that everyone else can too.
Join the Queer Atheists at firstname.lastname@example.org
about four years after i left newtown, i happened to be around late on a wednesday night. i wandered up the road to see if i could catch any of those people who i used to be happy to know, but rarely saw anywhere but the sly fox.
i knew not a single person, the shows were all fairly awful drag queens singing about men. i know it hasn’t officially been girls’ night for a long time, but really. i don’t expect i’ll ever set foot in there again.
so where has the queer women’s community gone? for all its rather serious problems, which i worked so hard to overcome, it sparkled like nothing else. i know plenty of people have moved away. some have settled down, those who’ve done so with boys even more invisibly. some have gotten actual jobs, and hopefully lots have become more responsible and more sober. but can we really have nothing but our previously established friend networks without the alcohol? i waited so long for the day that people grew up, and now they’re not here for me to enjoy it. the scene has been left for the young, but surely queerness doesn’t expire.
one of the things i got to do overseas that i haven’t for ages, was performance. in berlin i joined in a drag king performance at the very last minute, apparently there was footage filmed but i haven’t seen it. i also read out a poem. it was translated from slovenian and it took a lot of editing before it was readable, i only got the printout a day before, and i spent all that time walking around berlin, overshooting my destinations as i read bits out loud, gesturing the emphases with a red pen in hand. noone thought to mention that i’d be juggling a microphone too. five minutes before the show i find out that the translation was done by one of my new friends, and she didn’t like my editing, but she ended up agreeing that i had as much right as her to interpret a translation. and besides, it was about to start. here is the version i read, more or less.
As if we were free
Somewhere in the centre of the small neglected town, which is, at the same time the capital of some small but relaxed East European state, in a newly cobble embellished street in the inner city centre where they just closed two pubs and a bookstore, I have met a man who ordered himself Culture as if he were ordering coffee with milk.
I have to confess, the cobbles are perfectly laid down, all the gaps are carefully clogged with quartz sand, and at the edge it is possible to recognise a slightly rounded pattern. In short, the street of some small neglected town, which is at the same time the capital of some small, cramped, and relaxed South European state, looks like the idyllic image on an old postcard.
Old bakeries arise in all parts of the town like mushrooms after the rain, as if they had decided one day and achingly wrested themselves out from old corner houses where they had modestly waited for decades unnoticed for their grand arrival, and which, on their frontage proudly show the inscription “Old Bakery”, which even more contributes to this idyllic look. I guess I’ve hurried past them for years and years without even noticing. I’ve walked past exactly this old bakery on the corner of this small idyllic street with carefully laid cobbles in the centre of some small neglected town and so on and so forth.
Suddenly an unbearable paranoia came over me, I got the feeling that somewhere out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of crinoline, and suspiciously I glanced towards the boys in white shirts with black bowties who were picking up the garbage. It appeared to me that time is curving itself as to the pattern of the new cobbles and that we will all find ourselves on that everlasting postcard from the end of the 19th century. Hastily I dashed towards the closest boy, that is, to the left edge, I ripped myself through the yellowish cardboard, and with a crash I landed in front of the doors to the pub which had, in the meantime, already disappeared in another reality.
To eat in this slovenly pub, which displayed insignia as a rallying point for all the enthusiasts of the sautéed potato, was akin to some special kind of masochism. Gnocchi Bolognese turned into spaghetti with tomato sauce, omelette with ham and cheese always remained without the latter two. The bills would be circulating around, they would be counted and discounted and finally there would come the conclusion that there are either too many or too few bills, the cash register is too far away and the next group of naïve tourists are just enough confused, hungry and tired and above all helpless in front of the board, on which specials of the day were written in complicated script.
But the slovenly pub that served for some special kind of masochism disappeared in that other reality, which was, to top it all off, mine. And there is no worse misery than when a person loses her own reality and therefore clings desperately to the handhold of some slovenly pub which went bankrupt, together with her lifestyle.
In the reflection of the filthy abandoned windows of my ailing lifestyle, I saw a mayor. All round and contented he was wiping sweat from his working face on the golden chain on which the city keys were jingling. He was shepherding a small squad of captured guest artists, some stoic, homeless ‘erased ones’, and from his pockets electric cables were forcing their way out, cables which NGO workers for the purpose of some obscure literary event negligently left in the middle of the street in the inner centre of the small neglected town, which is at the same time the capital of some small but relaxed Central European state. He ordered Culture as coffee with milk, and then stirred with a teaspoon an empty cup and grumbled about the bad taste.
I might be extremely happy about the new cobbles if I had to cross them in high heels, but, I think, the magic of the moment was ruined in the second when, under the sole of my beaten up sneakers, quartz sand creaked. Maybe my face would have lightened up if I had been on these new even cobbles with nicely clogged gaps and a slightly rounded pattern pushing a pram that would be running smoothly. But I just stood there at the beginning of that small street in the centre of the town in those damn beaten up sneakers, I was pacing around nervously, under my feet, quartz sand was nastily squeaking and I stared at the abandoned windows of the pub. All this with a newly cobble-embellished street of the inner centre of the small neglected town, which is at the same time a capital of some cramped but relaxed newly joined European state, and there was not a single space left for me to go.
i can’t help myself. i’m studying again. i have studied constantly since i was four years old, except for the time between february 2006 and february 2007… and half a semester at the end of the welding course last year while i was finishing off the mechanical engineering. come to think of it, in 2006 i still did the screen printing course. and the upholstery course. hmmm.
anyway, i’m now half way through my first subject in a masters of adult education; understanding adult education and training. it’s been interesting, and though i died over my first essay, i must’ve done a reasonable job, as i got a distinction for it! here it is.
Identifying Your Philosophical Orientation
This commentary is a personal response to taking an inventory on my philosophical orientation regarding adult education. Despite limitations in the instrument, I found the process and my results offered insights into both my philosophy and my practice in adult education. I found the framework to be useful, especially in conjunction with another on a separate axis, but could not locate myself firmly within any particular tradition, whichever way I tried. I was drawn to consider the breadth of purposes inherent in any instance of education, which, I believe, substantiates the broad range of theories and practices in which I find value. Ultimately, the frameworks are only guides to navigate the field in search of all the various theories which one can adapt, use, integrate and enjoy.
Zinn’s (1990) Philosophy of Adult Education Inventory (PAEI) is an interesting instrument. Consisting of a mere fifteen questions, it gives a quick analysis of a person’s philosophy of adult education, according to a framework by Elias and Merriam (Zinn 1990).
In taking the test according to its guidelines, I came out as 97% Humanist, 90% Radical, 88% Progressive, 70% Liberal and 66% Behaviourist. These results are notable for all being quite high and relatively close together as I had difficulty grading the answers. I found merit in almost all of them, and scored everything in the top half of the scale, between ‘neutral’ and ‘strongly agree’. Zinn suggests that this may indicate contradictory philosophies, however I saw answers as appropriate to different situations, rather than challenging each other’s validity.
I had difficulty filling out the inventory with regard to my general philosophy, as without differentiation, half the questions refer to specific practice, such as planning activities, while the rest demand a static philosophy. While both theory and practice are vital and I agree with Grace (2006) one cannot have one without the other, they do not necessarily stay still for examination. My practice varies widely depending on subject and context. Redoing the inventory for five different fields in which I have taught, the variety was more marked that I expected. In fact each one came out with a different primary philosophy, though the range within each was no less bunched than the original.
The radical perspective came up second in general, and top for my Burnout workshops (All scores are tabulated in the appendix below). These workshops, dealing with prevention and management of stress and burnout, are conducted within community groups where the issue is acknowledged as important and very real, both to the individuals and to the group. They are used both to equip individuals for life and participation in the world, and to strengthen community. This is one of the few opportunities I get to confront social action directly, so I’m not surprised it came up the most radical. The humanist element is also strong with facilitation and focus on expanding potential, and working with emotions. Exercises such as role playing ‘saying no’ are effective uses of experiential learning, another focus of Humanism.
When I teach numeracy and mathematics, it is generally because my students perceive a general need or inadequacy. In trying to overcome their fears of the topic, I use plenty of problem solving and discovery methods to show them what they can do. Needs assessment is also very important, as I cannot rely on these students to be self-directed. These all draw on the progressive category, which scored highest on this take. I have the students’ immediate needs in mind, but I also choose my materials to connect to something wider, real issues in the students’ lives, for better learning by connecting to what students find important, for building confidence in the subject and in life, for community and world involvement and for making the world a little less scared of the subject.
Fun with Rubber and Latex scored closest to my overall outcome, in that the highest score for both was humanism. These workshops are run within the queer women’s communities of Newtown and are a forum to get a specific subculture interacting in an alcohol-free environment, to normalise open dialogue about sex of the varieties relevant to that community and to give people experience in the practical aspect of do-it-yourself philosophy. These are all dire needs in the community at the moment and I would have expected a high score in the radical column, but when I thought about it, I don’t use many radical techniques in planning or teaching, likely because there are relatively few to be found (Newman 1999). The workshops are advertised much more individualistically as an opportunity to have fun, learn skills and take home new toys that one cannot afford to buy commercially. Planning is restricted to materials and sequences of skills and learning is experiential after a short presentation, which may explain the high score for humanism.
Tatting is a form of lace making that is associated with people’s grandmothers. I often run tatting classes in women’s spaces and, as with most of my teaching, they are a chance for people to connect to a community without putting themselves on display, as there is an ostensible purpose, and something to do with their hands. Tatting is a skill that people learn for learning’s sake, or to connect to women’s history, both which have a place in the liberal tradition (Zinn 1990), which came up as the primary perspective here. Mastering the skill is very important as it looks so simple that anyone who gives up goes away feeling defeated, so I put effort into finding different ways of teaching and promoting learning of the basic concepts, which come naturally to very few. I guess this is where the behaviourism comes in.
Tap dancing classes
Tap dancing came up as behaviourist, the very lowest score on my overall results. One reason I can see is that, where I generally don’t believe in practice and repetition as an important part of learning, that is what dancing is all about. There can be no rhythm in one isolated step. This class, like any of mine, has other objectives such as promoting body confidence, but the teaching is heavily systematic, building from simple step to complex sequence, with constant feedback.
These five case studies shed some light on my original score, which was supposed to position my overall philosophy and deep beliefs about adult education. They suggest to me that Zinn’s idea of purpose is simplistic as she seems to assume that there is one or two purposes behind an educational interaction, where as I can list a dozen at a time, primary and secondary, overt and incidental, cognitive or affective, individual or community, all in play at once.
Yet wherever they are placed, with recurrent themes of facilitation, interactive and experiential learning, personal growth and emphasis on affective content, it is no longer surprising that I came out as 97% humanist. I don’t always practice heavy consultation as I tend to have skills to transmit and the student has already chosen with their feet, but when I am in a classroom I do concentrate on empowering each individual student to be able to learn and connect the information, skills and attitudes to the rest of life. Theory-wise, the only aspect of humanism that came up in the PAEI as problematic is the idea that students are always capable of self direction.
My next score was radical, and I am certainly not surprised I scored high there as many theories which excite me fit into that category. I read plenty of libertarian education, critical pedagogy, postmodernist, feminist, indigenous and queer pedagogy. Yet as much of this field focuses on the organisation of education, over which I have less control than I do over my teaching, these theories have not translated as well as I would like to my practice. I have, however, opened a community space which provides resources, support and a location to all sorts of experimental educational projects. This has directly drawn on Illich’s (1971) Learning Webs.
Progressive theory has also had a significant impact on my thought. I have moved from pedagogy to adult education through the thought of such educators as A S Neill (1926), and pin hopes for schools on reducing the pressure they are under, by expanding, improving and respecting adult education. I work with students’ interests and needs and try to link content to their lives and real world problems, and make use of democracy rather than hierarchy, to model social change further than any content can go.
The liberal tradition is no longer the cutting edge of education, but I cannot ignore its achievements. I do not like to lecture and the list of topics a renaissance mind should know is centuries outdated, but I stand by the concept of a broad base of knowledge and understanding being important for interacting with the world.
Behaviourism, too, makes points one cannot afford to ignore, as it addresses a wealth of issues of how the mind works. At the very base, all the theories in the world won’t help if the student is in no position to learn, either from being subjected to a style of input that their brain cannot process, or merely not having had breakfast.
So, Zinn’s inventory has been useful in clarifying differences in my practice. However, her framework is not the only one by far. The number of similar frameworks with slightly revised categories, differences and overlaps, suggest to me that none of them are quite as comprehensive as they’d like to be, and remind me that they are all merely approximate divisions according to one set of criteria, which would easily be shifted according to another. For example, though the topics are surely related, Zinn’s philosophies of adult education and Merriam’s (Merriam, Caffarella & Baumgartner 2007) Five Orientations to Learning each have five categories, some of which overlap while the others don’t. Though each has some interesting questions on the other axis, I find nothing to recommend one over another, apart from attachment to an inventory.
However there are other ways of navigating theory, some of which can even coordinate with one of the first kind. Apps’ breakup (Zinn 1990), I believe, can enhance Zinn’s or any similar framework and make it more meaningful and flexible by providing sensible places to change category. The categories of Teacher, Learner, Content, Learning and Purpose are very real and distinct, and feel closer to being finite, while being overtly an example of aspects to be covered, rather than attributes on which to choose a category.
For example, as a teacher I tend to be a facilitator, as in the humanist tradition. I tend to treat learners in a progressive manner, working towards fulfilling their interests and discovering their experience. The widest purpose, in the back of my mind, is to bring about social change through community cohesion. I believe this is radical though the change I seek is not specifically revolutionary as some theorists require. I believe learning is incredibly broad, and find it appropriate to be very flexible in my methods. Each tradition focuses on different aspects; maybe behaviourism wins this because they focus on it so much more. And for content, I largely teach what I know, and I do aspire to being a renaissance person, as I see all sorts of weird and wonderful titbits of knowledge and understanding, especially learning from the past, can work together into something richer and more complex, that would be lost if we all stuck to the same popular fields.
To examine the original categories as capable of being broken down on these lines is a step towards seeing them as all aspects of a whole, and also to being able to appreciate theories which do not pretend to be a theory of everything. Indeed, I share many sentiments with the postmodernists, though they have severe limitations, especially in practice (Newman 1999). With a healthy disrespect for categories, they seem to support my inclination to not label myself, but to rather put together an eclectic collection of ideas, past and present, leaving room for the future as well.
Frameworks can help navigate the aisles, but what I put into my basket of theories will depend on what I come to need, what I think I can use, and ultimately, what makes me happy. So much of adult education theory takes itself very seriously, which is a pity as it is stuff on which to dream. Many theorists, and especially policy makers in this country, would do well to read bel hooks and consider how “to be changed by ideas [is] pure pleasure” (hooks 1994).
Despite limitations in the instrument, the PAEI has described my diverse views and given me food for thought on what I find useful, and what I find exciting. From here, I hope to fill some holes such as translating some of my radical theories to practice, and continue add to my – now better organised – basket of theories and practices, ideas, techniques and inspirations, all while cheerfully eluding categorisation.
Appendix: PAEI scores
_ Liberal Behaviourist Progressive Humanist Radical
Overall 70 66 88 97 90
Tatting 89 86 84 85 76
Burnout 73 71 89 94 95
Rubber 73 70 85 97 76
Maths 84 80 97 90 81
Tap 79 86 72 83 65
Grace, A. 2006, ‘Critical Adult Education: Engaging the Social in Theory and Practice’, in T. Fenwick, T. Nesbit & B. Spencer (eds), Contexts of Adult Education: Canadian Perspectives, Thompson Educational Publishing, Toronto.
hooks, b. 1994, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, Routledge, New York.
Illich, I. 1971, Deschooling Society, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England.
Merriam, S., Caffarella, R. & Baumgartner, L. 2007, ‘Critical Theory, Postmodern and Feminist Perspectives’, in S. Merriam, R. Caffarella & L. Baumgartner (eds), Learning in Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide, 3rd edn, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, pp. 241-270.
Neill, A.S. 1926, Summerhill, Penguin Books Australia, Ringwood, Victoria.
Newman, M. 1999, ‘Looking for Postmodern Adult Educators’, in, Maeler’s Regard, Steward Victor Publishing, Sydney, pp. 194-202.
Zinn, L. 1990, ‘Identifying Your Philosophical Orientation’, in Golbraith (ed.), Adult Learning Methods, Kreiger, Florida, pp. 39-77.
my housemate has a beautiful analogy to suggest why a whole suburb full of queer women spend all their time eyeing eachother and running away.
apparently, it’s accepted fact that __% of male sheep are gay, and only mate with other male sheep. they assume the same is true for female sheep, but they can’t measure it, because a female sheep’s way of showing interest is to stand still.