Radicalizing Learning: Adult Education for a Just World

By McGinty, Jacqueline | Journal of Adult Education, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Radicalizing Learning: Adult Education for a Just World


McGinty, Jacqueline, Journal of Adult Education


Radicalizing Learning: Adult Education for a Just World

by Stephen D. Brookfield and John D. Holst (2011)

A Book Review

by

Jacqueline McGinty

Winner of the 2010 Cyril O. Houle World Award for Outstanding Literature in Adult Education, Radicalizing Learning: Adult Education for a Just World, claims adult education to be a movement toward authentic democracy and true democratic socialism. The authors provide detailed insight into the role of adult education in promoting a participatory democracy. By encouraging justice across social and economic forms, the text illustrates how adult education is integral to challenging mainstream ideologies. According to Brookfield and Holst, "radicalism is linked to the abolition of privilege and creation of full material equality and we believe this entails two intertwined ideas: democracy and socialism" (p. 3).

The book includes many of the ideas of revolutionary educators such as John Dewey, Herbert Marcuse, Paulo Freire, and Myles Horton by "linking participatory education to the practice of liberation and social change" (p. 5). With a primary focus on the social justice agenda of adult education, the authors offer insight from multiple perspectives including adult learning, development, program planning, teaching, training, globalization, and radical diversity. While it appears to be a reader focused upon transformation and liberation from oppression, the book contains additional substance in the way that its pragmatic offerings and historical stories are woven together to form an instructive call to action for the radical adult educator.

Reflection on the ideas put forth by Brookfield and Holst could add to the training of future adult educators by providing a perspective of liberation from the dominant ideology of capitalist learning structures. This book would be an excellent companion to any adult learning practice because it covers topics of diversity, social justice, and multicultural and special populations. It emphasizes a call for fairness in programming that denies the focus on only the dominant paradigm to allow for a diversity of knowledge and perspectives to be recognized. This text goes beyond scratching the surface on concepts of diversity, hegemony, and challenging dominant power structures and provides readers with re-energized perspectives of social justice and equality.

The authors stress that educators need to make sure people have access to information so that they can make decisions and participate fully in society. The beginning chapters discuss the concept of "Contemporary Adult Learning" which includes transformative learning, self-directed learning, and critical reflection. The book emphasizes adult learning beyond the acquisition of technical skill to include exploration of issues of social justice and participatory democracy. The perspectives shared prioritize the development of world view as a main feature of adult development. According to Brookfield and Holtz, this worldview is developed through which "individual and collective well-being are seen as fundamentally interwoven, the development of agency, and the development of collective forms of association, communication, and production" (p.43). In addition to the development of self-worldview, the authors suggest that a collective identity, agency, and connected leadership be developed as well.

Adult learning and development, from a radical perspective, calls for a holistic, collectivistic approach that recognizes the many factors that make up our identities. This calls for educators to consider alternatives to habitual ways of thinking and challenge the dominant ideologies that perpetuate power and privilege. In their suggestions for democratic learning and development, Brookfield and Holst, position critical thinking as foundational to the liberation and transformative aspects of radical adult learning. The authors reinforce the idea that in order to uncover oppressive conditions and promote things such as freedom, equity, and liberation we must utilize thinking that goes beyond the individual. …

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