Thursday, September 15, 2011

Finished Philosophical Foundations of Adult Ed by Elias and Merriam

As the post title suggests I finished reading the above book. I enjoyed the read being a philosophy major myself. I figured a good blog post would be some reflections on that reading. I'm going to flip through it and comment on some of the things I highlighted, though not all of them as I tend to over highlight.

p. 3 - "The philosopher of education is interested in certain general principles that are involved in education . . . analysis of the teaching-learning process, and the relationship between education and the society in which education takes place" 

I left a bunch out of that quote, the list of things such as curriculum, objectives and stuff. I was most interested in the stuff about the relationship between education and society. Since September 11th a lot has been happening in society as a result of what happened. Some of the things that have happened are a lot of writings, lectures, and debates about religion and atheism from the likes of Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Dennet, Hirsi and many others. I've listed atheist thinkers, scientists because it's what I've read a lot of and am interested in. Another thing that has happened as a result is a lot of racial profiling and a change in the realities of life for muslims living in Western countries. What place does education have in this post september 11th world? I'm not sure, but I suspect that it's to find a balance, to find a way to challenge religion in the cases where it is being extremist, but to realize that not all religious people are terrorists or fanatics. Still, I think that sometimes education must ride that balance between respecting people's right to religion, or lack of it. Freedom of religion is not only freedom to practice religion, it is also freedom from religion for those who do not belong. One of the big themes I seem to pick up in Adult ed literature is that dialogue is important, dialogue between teachers and students, but I think it in general applies to dialogue between people of different beliefs and ideologies. I think debate is a good force for education and society. Debate is certainly preferable to bombing those you don't agree with, and it's better that censoring yourself completely because that which you think is important to society might offend someone. I don't think we should strive to offend, but sometimes we need to challenge the beliefs of others and to have our own beliefs challenged.

p. 4 "A major dispute among philosophers concerns the relationship between philosophy and action or between theory and practice.  . . . Theory without practice leads to empty idealism, and action without philosophical reflection leads to a mindless activism" 

I like the notion of balance here. I'm always striving to find balance in my life. Balance as a teacher, balancing all the different parts of my life, feeding my soul with music, art and intellectual persuits, life as a married man and all that entails, a fairly new existence for me, work, play, getting exercise to keep my body healthy and stave of depression and laziness.

My goal I wrote for my research in my FI assignment was as follows. "To conduct an inquiry into how a foreign language teacher can reconcile fundamentally strong beliefs and values, either religious or ideological in their teaching practice while living in a foreign culture"

In my case the 'fundamentally strong belief and value' for me personally, is secular humanism, or to use a more blunt and to the point phrase an atheist who believes in the value of skepticism, critical thinking, and the scientific method as important factors in my own personal philosophy and ethical stance. Now where the balance is needed is that as a teacher I don't want to step on students right to belong to whatever religion they want to. It's acknowledging that it is a huge part of my identity, but at the same time realizing that I should carefully consider how I portray myself in the classroom. I try not to broadcast this part of my own personal philosophy too much, or at least think about what I'm saying and doing in the classroom. At the same time, I don't want to completely ignore it.

 One reflection I have had is that I can encourage critical thinking skills and skepticism in general without going into my own personal pet areas. I'm an ESL teacher after all. My job is to teach English, not indoctrinate. Still, I teach conversation, and within conversation many different topics come up. I teach essay writing and essays often need to tackle big issues. It's good to have thought how the professional way to handle these hot topics might be before they come up in the classroom. If they do come up it's good to reflect on how they were dealt with, and whether or not I managed to maintain a safe environment within the classroom for both students and myself, for students who may be religious or atheists themselves. Do I teach them to discuss different viewpoints with each other if they come up in the spirit of a fair and open debate, or do I let it devolve into a fox news, jerry springer type yelling match. This hasn't really happened by the way, it's just a hypothetical scenario.

Another thing that's been on my mind: There was a certain amount of tension for me in the Foundations Institute connected to my beliefs. I do think that education has an impact on people's beliefs, and can help to create a more civil society. Some professors gave me the impression that I was barking up the wrong tree to be researching atheism and adult education, that I was off track. I did find lots of places in this book where I saw connections. Am I just seeing what I'm preoccupied with? Maybe, maybe not, but reflecting on it and thinking and analyzing seems a more healthy way for my own sanity than ignoring it.  Here are some of the things in the book, quotes that popped off the page to me. These are in an actual Adult Education book, a foundational book, a book that was on the suggested readings of this course. It makes me wonder if the reactions I got, some of which seemed dismissive of atheism having any valuable contribution to adult ed, and some of which were more in the vein of 'find the connections and make the case'. I don't know if any of this will make a case or not, but nonetheless I'm going to record them here so I can easily find them later, and recover some of the things that I was thinking down the road when my head is filled up with other books and thoughts.

from Chapter 2 - Liberal Adult Education

p. 15 - "The meeting of Christian faith, espousing the Bible as the revelation of God, with classical Greek learning produced a struggle between competing views of life and education- the one being based upon religious faith and the other upon rational inquiry."

The authors of this book saw some importance in outlining some of the historical trends in education that have had impacts on adult education, and the conflicting educational philosophies between revealed knowledge and knowledge gained from rational enquiry was important enough to them to put in print.

p.27 - The book points out that earlier forms of liberal education philosophy viewed "the role of science in the curriculum. [And said] It is clear that philosophy, religion, and the humanities are superior to science at all points. . . . More recent expositions of the liberal tradition in education seem to have recognized the place of science in the curriculum."

This is given as the history before adult education so you might say that they have a point when they tell me that atheism, which is very connected to science for it's method of searching for knowledge and truths about the world, is off topic. However in a section sub-titled "The Liberal Education of Adults" we see the following quote.

p.31 "Most of the theorizing . . . has been concerned with the education of children . . . [but] has applicability in the education of adults [and further] a persuasive case can be made that liberal education will play and increasingly important role."

If in fact liberal education found a larger place for science, and if in fact liberal education, while having valid critiques made against it, such as a bias that it sometimes looks down on practical learning and vocational learning, still has some part to play in the future of adult education, then is it not legitimate to investigate what atheistic world-views might have to contribute to adult education or education in general? I can think of one such place where it might have a useful contribution. Without pushing an atheist agenda or belief system  on students, a secular approach to education might promote equality in a classroom. Here's how it works. A secularist would view all religions as equal to each other, whereas a religious view would place it's own particular religion as the one with the 'right' answers to these big questions. Much like separation of church and state is meant to provide freedom of religion, where no one religion is state sponsored, and freedom from religion where non believers are not forced to participate in a religion against their wills, having a classroom with a similar principle could be beneficial, especially in a class room in this globalized world, where the students in any given class may come from many different spiritual, religious, or secular traditions.

from Chapter 3 - Progressive Adult Education

This chapter starts off with the forceful statement that this school of educational philosophy

p.45 -"has had a greater impact upon the adult education movement in the United States than any other single school of thought. . . . [and that] . . . some of the basic principles in adult education originated in progressive thought: needs and interests, the scientific method . . . and the idea of social responsibility."

and continues on the next page with

p.46- "These ideas of Darwin affected not only psychology, natural sciences, and philosophy, but also had an influence in shaping the new pedagogy being developed by progressive educators."

The chapter mentions the contributions of Darwin to the progressive movement (p.46) and I think it is easily argued that his theory of natural selection and evolution has had a bigger impact upon the rise of atheism that any other intellectual or scientific discovery. So, if progressive education is such a big player in the formation of Adult education philosophy I think that there can be some link made that atheism has something to say about adult education.

Darwin however isn't the biggest name in progressive education. The name that seems to come up first and foremost is John Dewey. I got the sense from reading this book that while some in Adult education have had some disagreements with him everyone in the field also recognizes an influence and indebtedness at the same time. Dewey was into social reform, and so are a lot of the new atheists that I read.

p.49 - "For Dewey, education would flourish if it took place in a democracy. . ."

Here's a little thought experiment, contrast the type of education that is able to take place in a democracy as opposed to what is able to take place in a theocracy, or rather what restrictions would take place in a theocracy. The author never went down this road, but I am. There are many parts of the world, in the middle east for example where there is no separation of church and state, and where religion permeates education. Places where religious governments make it unsafe to openly and critically be an atheist, places where women are not allowed to be educated, and places where certain sexual orientations are considered a crime. We can not take for granted the freedom we have to openly study critically any avenue of education, even if that education, such as might be the case with certain schools of philosophy,  science, especially biology, or religious studies happens to, based on the evidence of what you are study happens to point to a world in which religion is myth and superstition. In our secular democracy the religious student also has the right to study theology, and subscribe to any religion, change religions, and belong to a religion that is a minority.I'm currently starting to read Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and it doesn't escape my attention, that in some parts of the world state religions can sometimes act as oppressors. I did read recently as I was researching the possibility of applying for better paying ESL jobs in some some Islamic countries, that there is actually a law whereby apostasy, the rejection of religion by a former religious person in favor of a life as an atheist is actually punishable by death! Would it even be safe for me to live and work there knowing how outspoken I can be?

It's getting late, and I haven't touched on the other philosophical stances of education covered in the book, Behaviorist, Humanistic, Radical, and Analytical, or the chapter on Philosophy of Adult Education and Bibliographic essay near the end. I wish it was earlier and I could get it all touched on in one sitting, but I need to get some balance. I've got a stack of essays from my job I haven't looked at, and  probably won't tonight. But I will try to finish off with a few more quotes from the progressive section and a few, brief I hope, notes. I hate stopping in the middle of something, as I might never get back to it.

Here's a bit from Knowles
p.52-53 ". . . Adult Education was clearly in tune with the needs of this era [1866-1920] of industrialization, immigration, emancipation, urbanization, and national maturation. [Knowles, 1977, p.75] (The History of the Adult Education Movement in the United States)

I wrote in the margins - .  . . so if Adult Ed. was addressing the needs of the times, what are the needs of today it might address? Terrorism? Globalization? Right Wing craziness?

Right wing tea party crazies seem to have a large presence in the US Republican party, and many of these tea party fundamental religious people are attempting to blur the lines between separation of church and state, and are quite creative with references to history and facts. This scares me. Bush scared me. Sarah Palin scared me. Fox news, the Bill O'Reilly's, Glen Becks scare me. I think education is part of the tonic to this branch of craziness. Open debate and being self educated are important in this day and age when journalism and news on the TV is hardly impartial.

p.53 - "Lindeman was directly influenced by the ideas of John Dewey and other progressives. He saw education as having its primary aim the development of social intelligence, that is, the practical understanding of the world in which we live."

I haven't read Lindeman yet, but I have heard his name a lot since I started studying Adult education. I wonder if when he speaks of "social intelligence" if he would see critical thinking skills and a prerequisite? I know I certainly would.

p.53 - quoting Lindeman "Every adult person finds himself in specific situations with respect to his work, his recreation, his family-life, his community-life, et cetera- situations which call for adjustments . . . Texts and teachers play a new and secondary role in this type of education; they must give way to the primary importance of the learner. [Lindeman, 1926, pp. 8-9] (The Meaning of Adult Education)

I scribbled in the margin - maybe my challenge to be fulfilled as a teacher needs an area where the students are more likely to need/want/benefit from critical thinking skills.

**** This will be updated with the remaining chapters hopefully, so check back in a few weeks to see chapters 3 and on.  *********

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