Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pride in adult learning

I'm on firmer ground with this comment related to the Eagleton article I posted on immediately below. At the start, he chucked in an extremely irritating throwaway remark about Raymond Williams' choice of career;

... adult education, a vocation he chose, along with New Left colleagues Richard Hoggart and EP Thompson, for political motives. In a rare moment of disillusion, he told me that the difference between teaching adults and students in the 1950s was like "teaching doctors' daughters rather than doctors' sons".

Eagleton's decision to give prominence to an anecdotal and admittedly "rare moment of disillusion" seems indicative of his own reservations, rather than Williams', and shows him embracing a stereotypical view of adult education, presumably because it failed to serve a declared political purpose instead of an educational one.

That said, any stereotype has a grain of truth and as university adult education, in particular, slipped into the post-war complacency of the 'Great Tradition' and 'education for the already educated,' it did become very middle class. But whose fault was that? It is no good radicals bemoaning the social make up of their students when all they do is advertise a course with a pretentious title and wait for thousands of horny handed sons of toil to queue up at the door begging for enlightenment. Any half decent adult educator will tell you that you have to work at it. You have to popularise, become accessible without being patronising, break down barriers, respect your students and value what they can contribute and, above all, you have to go to where the people are, rather wait for them to come to you.

And this brings me to the one article this week that reaffirmed my pride in my vocation and in the department I work in. I would urge everyone to read in full this report on offender learning, mainly based in Hull Prison, and see just what adult education can really achieve.

In it you can find everyday accounts of the casual cruelty that permeates the system, like the young offender with a love of animals and a knack of caring for them who was given a work placement in an abattoir.

You can find the effectiveness of education in fuelling resistance, as one ex-prisoner commented:

You can’t beat the prison system with violence, because they just use more force against you. I’d already had that experience; that had been my way. But if you can beat the prison system by using the law then obviously you know it’s a powerful weapon… If they recognise that you’ve got intelligence then they actually fear you. It turned out that the prison system feared me more for my lawful pursuits than they ever did for my unlawful pursuits.

You can read about the redemptive power of adult learning, through Graham who served nine and a half years for attempted murder and fraud and is now a teacher. Contrary to the way many teachers feel today, he finds teaching "better than a life of crime, that's for sure".

And you can read about the continuing prejudice that holds ex-offenders back:

At several points during our meeting, George is almost overwhelmed by emotion. “I’ve been out of jail five years now, and I thought somebody might have given me a chance by now, but they haven’t. I just don’t want it to have been all for nothing, because I feel like I’ve got so much to offer, you know?”

This is the kind of activity you have to engage in if you want to do more than teach courses to the daughters of doctors. It is difficult, frustrating and incredibly rewarding.

However, Eagleton also added that Williams

... never doubted that any Labour government worth its salt would invest massively in "institutions of popular culture and education", and lambasted them all, from Attlee to Wilson, for failing to do so.

We have a Labour government, one that has been in power for eleven years, and adult education is reeling, in crisis, and much of it is severely threatened. He must be spinning in his grave.


Anonymous said...

I hope you'll allow me to add to your comments on adult education that the Esperanto Association of Britain offers a free Esperanto postal course. Suitable for those who would like a quick taster, this course gives an overview of the language in twelve bite-sized portions. Once you have received the first lesson, simply return your answers with an SAE. Your tutor will reply with guidance and the next lesson. All learners pay is postage! Tel: 0845 230 1887 or write to:
Esperanto Education
Esperanto House
Station Road
ST12 9DE

Dankon! Thanks!

The Plump said...

You see, you get a better class of spam on Fat Man :-)

Anonymous said...

Good to see a mention of Esperanto!
For those who would prefer an on-line course, rather than by post can I suggest
Dankon denove! Thanks again!