Adult education : learning to do, or learning to be?

Robertson, Nicola and Prajapati, Vijayita; (2024) Adult education : learning to do, or learning to be? In: The Handbook of Adult Education. Edward Elgar. (In Press)

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Many theories and justifications exist for Adult Education as a discipline, possibly as a reaction to the historic, and philosophical, belief that there can be no such thing as education for adults (see Arendt, 1961 or Rein, 1893) Our observations are that these theories focus on education as a tool for agency, democratic participation, and survival in an increasingly techno-digital world (which can be linked to ideas of employability, economic growth and/or skill development). Formats that cater to most of the above exist through provisions like corporate training, continuous professional development, widening access, adult literacy programs and centres for lifelong learning. There is, however, an aspect of adult education that is popular and whose popularity is demonstrated, yet constrained, within the self help and popular psychology sections of book stores. The fourth pillar of ‘learning to be’ in the Faure report is described as “complete fulfillment of man, in all the richness of his personality, the complexity of his forms of expression and his various commitments….conducive to personality development in its intellectual, moral, cultural and physical dimensions.”(Faure et al, 1972). In some ways this finds space in schools via the provision of Religious and Moral Education, Citizenship and Health and Relationships Education. Yet, in post-16 education - as students reach the cusp of adulthood - it is rarely discussed in terms of learning outcomes. It seems a folly to assume that these formational characteristics will develop independently parallel to skill and knowledge development, and to assume that they are of any less value. Using the poem If by Rudyard Kipling (1943) as a conversation starter, very much separating the artwork from the questionable views of the artist, the proceeding dialogue aims to discuss the place and space for virtues based initiatives and whether it has a place in formal adult education environments or whether it is better left to individual motivation and desires.The poem, representing the rich ability of art to educate, presents a list of criteria of what makes a (hu)Man. This, along with the scriptural teachings, commandments, and secular philosophies have consistently shown that they have space in people’s lives, but no provisions exist in formal or informal adult education that create space for people to “educate themselves” in virtues like prudence, justice, fortitude or temperance. The modern versions of these hellenistic virtues exist in so many other forms with justice, wisdom, faith, hope and charity added on over the times. We intend for this contribution to take the form of a dialogue in which the interlocutors, in the context of creating a new course for an adult education centre, discuss whether there is a place for informal adult education to help create awareness and structures for people to use educational safe spaces to experiment, debate and better understand the virtues and how they impact one’s day to day lives and exchanges.A focus on (moral) virtues is given here because we perceive this to be a less available form of formal, and informal, education for adults. Day to day impact is not created by what the people know and can do but by their identities, actions and interactions; as our hypothetical interlocutors will come to reason, being and doing are in a circular relation to each other such that one cannot take primacy over the other - and this notion may need more consideration in the adult education context.