Academic journal article International Forum of Teaching and Studies

Adult Education Philosophies in Post Modern China

Academic journal article International Forum of Teaching and Studies

Adult Education Philosophies in Post Modern China

Article excerpt


The most common purposes of adult education reflect six underlying philosophies which represent a dichotomy-either teacher-centeredness or student-centeredness. While teacher-dominated teaching embraces such philosophies as liberal, behavioral and analytic teaching approaches, student-centered teaching embodies humanistic, progressive and radical teaching philosophies. Drawing from Elias and Merriam's (1995, 2005) philosophical foundations of adult education and Knowles, Holton III, and Swanson's (1998, 2005) principles of andragogy, the author employed mixed methods research to determine adult education philosophies in post modern China. The results of the study showed that Western andragogical teaching philosophies emerged in post modern China in addition to Chinese adult educators' holding dearly their traditional teaching approaches. The study implied that one's teaching was predetermined by social contexts.

[Keywords] Andragogy; Confucianism; post modern China; education philosophy; literacy; humanism; adult education curriculum


Although the roots of humanism go back to China, humanistic adult education philosophy was never well practiced in China prior to the post-Mao era. It was through the work of Maslow and Rogers in the 1950s and 1960s that a humanistic approach to adult education was introduced to North America (Wang & Sarbo, 2004). Later, Knowles popularized humanistic theory in adult education through principles of andragogy, which he defined as the art and science of helping adults learn. The adult education literature in China indicates that liberal teaching philosophy, behavioral teaching philosophy and analytic teaching philosophy were the cornerstones in adult education in China before China successfully implemented its open door policy and economic reforms in the early 1980s.

Boshier, Huang, Song and Song (2006) maintained that in vernacular Confucianism, teachers dominate education in China. They further argued that this te acher- c entere dne s s is far away from Western ideas about satisfying needs or creating optimal climates for adult learning. This is not surprising that in a Confucius-Heritage society such as China, Confucianism, as a philosophy, still influences Chinese attitudes in a variety of ways. The Confucian way of "husband leads, wife follows" has been the standard mode of Chinese marriage for centuries. It was not until the 1980s that this mode of thinking has been eroded to some extent in China. This mode of thinking was translated into teaching that follows the pattern "a teacher is a leader and a student is a follower." There is no exception with adult education in China. An adult educator is viewed as an absolute authority figure that has a reservoir of knowledge to impart to adult learners whereas adult learners are supposed to assume a submissive role of following their teachers without the possibility of challenging their instructors under any circumstances. Connecting this mode of teaching with adult education philosophies, one can easily tell that it is comparable to liberal, behavioral and analytic teaching philosophies, which Western adult educators tend to shy away from in normal adult education situations.

That Chinese adult educators are fond of these philosophies has to do with China's special social conditions. Prior to the 1980s, China qualified herself as a changeless society with Confucianism as a way of philosophy and a way of life. Although Mao between 1949 and 1976 challenged traditional educational values, his educational policies proved to be disasters for adult learners in China. In terms of adult education philosophies, adult educators at that time did not deviate too much from Confucian teacher-centeredness. Confucian ideas shaped Chinese thought for several millennia. To stress the role of knowledge transmitters, Confucius had this to say, "Knowing through silent reflection, learning without satiety, and teaching others without becoming weary-these are merits, which I can claim. …

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