The Power of Critical Theory for Adult Learning and Teaching

By Stephen D. Brookfield | Go to book overview

Chapter Nine
I Learning Democracy

In the previous chapter, you, the reader, may have been wondering exactly what happened to adult learning and education. In that chapter's detailing of the crisis tendencies Habermas sees in Western societies, the roles of adult learning and education in countering these received only passing attention. But now their place in the sun has arrived. In this chapter I want to outline the centrality of adult learning to Habermas' view of social evolution, to examine how his ideas of human discourse and communicative action entail a theory of adult learning, and to explore how for him the most important adult learning project of all—learning democracy— works to limit the destructive effects of the attacks on the public sphere, civil society, and the lifeworld.


The Centrality of Adult Learning

In the preceding chapter, I acknowledged Habermas' liking for the affirmative strain of critical theory represented by Marcuse who at one point declared "no one could be more of a democrat than I am," while also recognizing that "the true conditions of democracy still have to be created" (Marcuse, 1970, p. 80). Like Marcuse, Habermas has as one of his central projects the understanding and creation of the conditions for democracy. Central to this effort is adult learning. Habermas' hope for regenerating democracy resides in adults' capacity to learn; in particular, to learn how to recognize and expand the democratic processes inherent in human communication. Adult learning, for Habermas, is integral to communication and, therefore, contemporaneous with existence. Since

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