Past as Prologue

By Knox, Alan B.; Adrian, Judy et al. | Adult Learning, Summer-Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Past as Prologue


Knox, Alan B., Adrian, Judy, Wise, Meg, Adult Learning


This Futures column aims to encourage readers of Adult Learning to look ahead and provide leadership regarding changing circumstances and emerging directions. A complimentary aspect of leadership is attention to enduring values.

A new memoir by Thurman White provides an inspiring account of such leadership, which has broad implications for people who work in any part of adult and continuing education. His very readable account of his professional journey includes reflections on significant trends and issues. Thurman was, for many years, the administrator of continuing education at the University of Oklahoma.

Having frequently benefited from Thurman's wisdom during the past half century, I could hear his voice and recall his anecdotes throughout. Especially enjoyable were his eight principles and comments on promise and pragmatism. Note that his modest style neglects reference to his central role in creating the Houle Award for outstanding books in the field, as well as the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame.

My Journey on the Learning Frontier (2005) by Thurman J. White is available for $12 from the University of Oklahoma's Outreach Office (405) 325-6361 or e-mail aredus@ou.edu, ISBN 0-9630698-4-5. In addition to a nostalgia trip for old timers, it has been inspiring to readers who are new to the field.

Adult Learning Welcomes Judy and Meg

We, Judy Adrian and Meg Wise, continue the work of Alan Knox in this Futures column as a forum for sharing ideas about adult education' s emerging role in civil society.

We believe democratic societies require an engaged and knowledgeable citizenry, at minimum to elect and oversee officials to make decisions and allocate resources that serve the common good--and even better to help make, discuss and act upon such decisions. In complex societies, such as ours, the notion of balancing the common good against individual interests is open to wide interpretation in the face of conflicting agendas. The issues are many--healthcare, resource distribution, civil liberties, education, environment, inter-religious and cross-cultural dialog, war and peace, the environment, who votes and whose votes are truly counted, and so forth. Engaging in such issues requires access to data from various sources, interpretation skills, critical thinking, and a community of engaged and committed citizen colleagues. Ideally the free press (print and broadcast news) is the citizen's check and balance to expose the inevitable corruption that too often accompanies power, to explain complex issues, and to identify and interpret the various perspectives and their stakeholders. Unfortunately, with corporate media, government secrecy, silencing of scientists, and accusing critics of being unpatriotic, we are too often faced with a self-muzzling, if not entertainment-oriented and sensationalist, press. Herein, we see a role for adult education and lifelong learning.

Adult education is an academic field of study and a field of practice that resides in diverse institutional settings. Managing any adult education enterprise requires an inner focus to advance immediate objectives. But the recent passing of three icons of social justice movements of the last century--Rosa Parks (apartheid), Coretta Scott King (voter rights), and Betty Friedan (women's rights)--remind us that grassroots adult education, at its most effective, is a continuous interaction between an inward focus on tactics and an outward focus on big and complex social issues--the mission if you will! We will compare past and present public dialogs through the lens of Rosa Parks' work.

In December 1955, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in Montgomery, AL. Her courageous act launched a social movement. But Rosa Parks did not act alone--she was trained in social action at the Highlander School - an adult education and research center where workers, grassroots leaders, community organizers, and ordinary citizens gather to address pressing social, environmental and economic problems. …

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