Sunday, May 24, 2009


The best article I have read this week comes from the May edition of Adults Learning. Ian Ground is brilliantly angry about the near total demise of university adult education. He argues that the legacy of the present administration will be,
...the deliberate destruction of a great civic tradition, the systematic exclusion of the public from our universities and the end of lifelong learning as an object of public policy.
He thinks that there is something else lurking underneath:
The closures of public programmes at Reading and other universities are historic for this reason then: they are the sign of an intended seismic shift in the nature of the relation between the state and the universities about who will decide what can be learned. In this, lifelong learning departments are just the coalface canaries.
Let them learn skills.

The article is not available on line so instead of directing you to it I shall tell you a story.

When I worked in Manchester, I used to go with the students from my evening classes for long drinking sessions at a small pub in what was then an un-gentrified Hulme. In those days I had stamina. We used to gather in a room to one side of the bar and for a few weeks a group of workers from a nearby building site used the place. They bristled with hostility, leaning on the bar, making loud comments about "bloody students", that sort of thing.

One evening, one of them followed me into the gents. There was an uneasy atmosphere as he stood next to me at the urinal. Then he turned and said, "You're the person I need to talk to about education aren't you"?

"Yes", I replied.

"How do I do it? 'Cause there's got to be more than this".

So I told him where he needed to go for advice, gave him phone numbers and offered to meet him. He then went back to his mates at the bar and continued swearing about students.

It was a glimpse of the reality that lies behind lower rates of working class participation in learning. It is not caused by 'low aspirations' that need 'raising'. That patronising explanation individualises something that is systemic: exclusion and oppression, culturally reinforced, that smothers the desire for a satisfying intellectual life with a tragic contempt and a sense that it is impossible - 'not for the likes of us'. How convenient this is for the middle class educational worlds where a sub-conscious sign saying, 'no riff-raff', can be discretely fixed to those ivy-clad walls.

Here is the end of the story. I never saw him again. He didn't come to the college, phone anyone, nor did he meet me. His world won. However, I like to think that one day, perhaps many years later, he may have seen an advert and walked into a college or centre somewhere, found what he wanted and dared to live his dream.

And this is why lifelong learning is so important, why it should be an integral part of universities. It is the ever open door, ready for the moment when a chance encounter or a need for something more overwhelms the forces ranged against it. The tragedy is that today the doors are closing, they are being chained up, secured with formidable padlocks. The doors may have been small, but they were there. Where are the political forces that will pry them open once more?


Rabelais said...

Hi Plump,
I'm interested in the comments about
'the nature of the relation between the state and the universities about who will decide what can be learned. In this, lifelong learning departments are just the coalface canaries.... Let them learn skills.'

i just wondered what is your experience of the skills agenda? Have you posted about this before?

The Plump said...

The comment is Ian Ground's. However, I have posted on this just a few times like here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here.

I'm not obsessive am I? Some are more relevant than others and there are probably more if you do some searching.

Rabelais said...

Thanks for this P. That's this evenings reading sorted out.

DorsetDipper said...

it speaks volumes for New Labour that they see adult education as simply about economics and not about cultural engagement or participation. Workers are simply employment fodder for American Multinationals.