Education is life.

The title of this week’s post comes from the final words of Eduard C. Lindeman’s book, “The Meaning of Adult Education” (1926, New republic Inc, New York). I find Lindeman’s book a fascinating read, and every time I read it, I find something new.

For me, the main theme running through Lindeman’s book is that true adult education should be freed from the shackles of formal education, where the learner can choose what to learn and when to learn it. He acknowledges that his “formal education began at the age of twentyone—after I had spent twelve years in various occupations and industries” (p. xiv). Further, by permitting allowing the learner to engage in the process of adult education, not in advance” (p. xix) the learner can discover their own meaning – of the education and of their life journey.

He argues against the traditional model of education, which “conceived as preparation for life locks the learning process within a vicious circle” where “youth educated in terms of adult ideas and taught to think of learning as a process which ends when real life begins will make no better use of intelligence than the elders who prescribe the system” (p. 3).

Near the end of Chapter 1, Lindeman observes “For example, once the assumption is made that human nature is uniform, common and static—that all human beings will find meaning in identical goals, ends or aims—the standardizing process begins: teachers are trained according to orthodox and regulated methods; they teach prescribed subjects to large classes of children who must all pass the same examination ; in short, if we accept the standard of uniformity, it follows that we expect, e.g., mathematics, to mean as much to one student as to another. Teaching methods which proceed from this assumption must necessarily become autocratic; if we assume that all values and meanings apply equally to all persons, we may then justify ourselves in using a forcing-method of teaching” (p. 12).

While there are many other great discussion points in his work (which I will touch on in other posts). This notion of the homogenized curriculum is one that has always made me curious and at the same time confused and frustrated. The latter emotions come from comments often made by teaching academics about the purpose of education, and whether despite all the good intentions and research, are they getting it right – or are they assuming that (as Lindeman stated) “all human nature is uniform, common and static”. Or, are they unknowing imposing their own views on educational methods and technologies?

By way of example: I recall listening to a podcast of an Australian-based professor in education making – what I think is a bleedingly obvious statement – that the we do not know what the future looks like so they were not sure who to prepare the students for the future. But for the next 40 minutes went on to do exactly the thing they initially said they couldn’t do. The presentation was mostly based on quantitative analysis of research data, which as Lindeman pointed out ends up homogenizing groups of students.

Another interesting example I found this week concerns the development of critical thinking – my area of focus for my doctorate. The item I found was from a leading Australian university and purportedly was developed to guide students in the art and craft of critical thinking. I say purportedly, because what it really did was demonstrate to the students that critical thinking is not about critical analysis, reflection and critical discussion. Rather it prompts students, by use of examples that those response that critical thinking are those that are more balanced. The guide discounts negative assessments of statements or assignment tasks as not being an example of critical thinking. But, I would assert that both can be examples of critical thinking if there is a demonstration of analysis and reflection.

So, if as Lindeman asserts that education is life, and the value of formal education is to prepare the student of lifelong education, then surely accepting an alternate and non-balanced viewpoint based on reflections and/or experience is one way that the education system can ensure that “students ‘who have “completed’ a standardized regimen of education promptly turn their faces in the opposite direction…Henceforth, while devoting himself to life, he will think of education as a necessary annoyance for succeeding youths” (Lindeman, 1926, p.7).  Surely we need to develop students who continue learning and thinking for themselves rather that allowing others to do the thinking for them, or just finding the balanced view and not challenging the status quo – don’t we?

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