Making Space: Merging Theory and Practice in Adult Education

By Vanessa Sheared; Peggy A. Sissel et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

Incorporating Postmodernist Perspectives into Adult Education
David F. Hemphill The canon of received knowledge regarding theory and practice in the field of adult education implies a sweeping claim of universality. Until recently, the literature of adult education has been dominated by relatively uncritical works that instruct us on topics such as “how adults learn” or “how to motivate adult learners,” often implying that all adults may be characterized in general ways when it comes to their learning. This has led to the development of adult teaching and learning theories that rest upon insufficiently examined claims grounded in mid-twentieth-century-Western social science. Many in the field have employed unitary constructs such as “motivation,” “the self,” “the individual,” “the community,” “rationality,” “competence,” or “critical thought” as if there were well-accepted, universal understandings of these ideas by and for people from all cultures, genders, and backgrounds. Recent thinking calls these into question. In fact, if we broaden our intellectual perspectives to accommodate diverse contributions from the perspectives of race, class, gender, culture, and language, there are many more ideas available to us regarding motivation, self, community, or complex adult cognition than those traditionally promoted in the adult education mainstream. For both practitioners and researchers in adult education, then, it is becoming increasingly clear that unexamined universal generalizations about adults are not well supported. Claiming universality for existing adult education constructs is a problem, for at least two reasons:
1. These universal generalizations operate hegemonically to marginalize learners and practitioners who do not conform to generalized learning or motivational patterns; and
2. The generalizations frustrate adult education practitioners because they often do not

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