Heralds of the Future PDF Print E-mail
Written by Aleksandra Pertovic   
Monday, 27 October 2008 23:07

Heralds of the Future:

Re/working Against Professional Mystique

by

Aleksandra Petrovic

Concordia University, Fall 2005

 

…must dispel the soft glow of the halo around this complex and very human person, and

then resist the temptation to slide into post-modern cynicism about the way big power

always checkmates us in the end.

Beyond Coady: Adult Education and the End of Utopian Modernism
Michael R. Welton

The way people learn in everyday situations in private or professional settings is not
seen as efficient enough. Adult learners remain perceived through the lens of deficiencies
despite the knowledge and experiences they have. The task of adult educators as experts
and professionals remains to give knowledge and to guide. With that aim, institutions are
put in place and professionals and specialists are introduced to instill competences that will
protect our societies and economies from dissolving in anarchy. When lifelong learning is
seen as lifelong teaching, situated in a global-classroom, it perpetuates learned
incompetence and technological dependency. Adult or popular educators take on a special
role in contravening this process as liberators and transgressors. Nonetheless, burdened by
historical and ontological contradiction of the authority and authoritarianism inherent in
their role, those heralds of the future (Lindeman, 1944) take on the most difficult struggle
to be resolved at both personal and political fields of popular education.


Many of the heralds announce the break free from expert authoritarianship, either
as their right, in a form of a postmodern political anarchism (Giroux, 1999) that does not
legitimize intellectuals who distance themselves from the experiences of “nonintellectuals”,
or as a duty to “live our educational practice in a coherent fashion with our
political options” (Freire, 1999). Imagining autonomous communities that carry out
cultural and political changes calls for radical views on learning as knowledge-making in
constant interaction with our experiences and environment in an egalitarian fashion.
Networks self-organize by incorporating into themselves a few simple
relational rules. There are no roles in them for mobilizers, organizers, or even
enablers. In fact, networks tend to treat attempts at playing such roles as a
problem to learn a way around. Networks encode practice as collective
memory of how interaction works. When ideas and memories can connect
themselves, what need for association to organize persons having a common
interest? (Graham, 2005)

In the remainder of the discussion, I will work through the paradox inherent in the
role of mobilizers/educators, building on the contradictions in the work of mostly the
“fathers” of popular and adult education, and unavoidably interpreting those contradictions
through my experiences as popular educator in the Balkans and in Canada. I will be using
the term popular/community education as covering non-formal emancipatory programs
with the aim of building on participants’ experiences, knowledge and home-grown
analysis, in order to promote critical social reflection and grassroots advocacy, particularly
among the underprivileged social groups in urban settings. It differs from the Adult
Community Education (ACE), where the courses are structured, scheduled, sometimes
involving a fee and can vary from workplace training to arts and crafts “classes”. What
they have in common is mostly the initial focus on awareness/consciousness-raising groups
and techniques, and the strategies, such as, acknowledgment of holistic unity of human
experiences and interconnectedness between group processes and collective knowledgemaking.
This deconstruction of the role of educators in popular/community education will rely
on the understanding of the nature of knowledge as partial (Ellsworth, 1994) and transient
(Lindeman, 1932) in order to search for a larger critical landscape and to avoid oppressing
others who will enter this discussion. This paper is my working against professional
mystique (Sleeter and Mantecinos, 1999), the usually taken-for-granted power inequality of
learners and educators in popular/community education in urban environments. In the end,
I wish to offer a selection of methods making distribution of authority and resources in
learning communities more realistic.

 

Roots of Professional Mystique


The idea of co-operational non-authoritarian learning partnerships is not a new one
and is present in the philosophy of the education of adults since the work of Dewey and
Lindeman. Conversely, it is a practice not often seen in the community based popular
education. Huge effort is needed to overcome the imposed social inequalities which were
internalized through hegemony and domestication. Community educators have to go
beyond layers of discourses and inequalities that are usually taken for granted (polarization
to workers or service providers vs. clients or project participants). Futurists (Eisler, Hunt,
Loye) speak about the transformation of partnership-dominator continuum which covers a
whole range of meanings, from coercive to democratic authority. The professional or
expert authority concentrates the power in the hands of community educators/leaders. This
Heralds of the Future 4
practice leaning toward the dominator side of the continuum is counterproductive to both
personal and societal growth and that is why challenging the professional mystique in new
social movements must come as a priority.


Our worldviews and our identities are constructed in relation to the social group(s)
we belong to. Groups create a life on their own. In different phases, groups, as small as
families or as large as nation states, need to reclaim and reinforce their identity and unity,
usually through symbolic or coercive authority tolerating hardly any difference. Young
(1997) argues that the desire for unity creates borders, dichotomies and exclusion.
Moreover, authoritarianship continues to be deliberately reinforced for the benefit of those
who already have power to influence distribution of privilege in a group. Once the business
as usual or the “natural” order of rules and relationships is established and
institutionalized, it takes extra efforts for everybody, the oppressors and the oppressed, to
relate their experiences to things outside the usual, “outside oneself” (Lindeman, 1935) in
abolishing “otherness” (Macedo and Bertolomé, 1999). The demand to challenge the status
quo can be a complex effort for popular educators since that they themselves can be the
oppressors and the oppressed in the same time. In the process of untangling identity issues
or preserving privilege, gentle dictatorships are established through the professional
mystique within the popular education theory and practice.


Sleeter and Mantecinos (1999) examine multicultural education as a social reform
in which educators become experts and see themselves as the most equipped to decide the
course of the reform. Some believed to have found the “democratic formula” that would
liberate the world from suffering. With the roots in the times of the Enlightenment, 20th
century utopianism revolved around the “charisma” of great men as “a potent, dangerous
ideology of the will to control in the service of historical (or divine) necessity” (Welton,
2000). Taking the lead and speaking on behalf of others is problematic, even if not done by
the white, male, middle-class, able-bodied educated majority. Lindeman (1935) pointed out
how getting empowered on the expense of others could come from the satisfaction
professionals derive from the feeling of superiority. As well, the institutionalized forms of
adult education was extending the need for designing series of instructional and technical
decisions conceivable only by experts. The legitimization and institutionalization of
popular education gave birth to the profession of mobilizers/facilitators that charged high
prices for their services and distanced themselves from the people, while targeting other
breed of professionals, the managers in either public or corporate sector, to offer their
services to. In their intellectual, moral and technical superiority lieys the claim to
educator’s authority. Heron gives good examples how those forces work together. In his
Group Facilitation: Theories and Models for Practice (1993) he distinguishes three types
of facilitator authority: tutelary, political and charismatic. The tutelary covers the cognitive
and technical claim, but adds also the claim to nurturing and guardianship. Political or
decision-making authority, together with the extraordinarness of facilitators personality,
can be combined in, according to him, traditional teaching. He sees no greater problem in
the paradox of facilitator’s authority as a prerequisite for learners’ autonomy when the
facilitator as holistic person posses the skills of self-direction, self-monitoring, selfreflection,
self-assessment, caring, nurturing and when they do not alienate intellectual
from affective, imaginal and spiritual learning. How exceptional is that! The socially
constructed roots of this superiority are eluded and instead of a true reform an oppressive
cycle of personal and societal violence is reproduced, or “necrophily” as used by Freire
(1974) to describe of the overwhelming control that hinders creativity and growth.


Popular educators as savers, guardians or guides forget that it is not actually
possible to understand groups we do not belong to, or uniqueness of each individual
multiple positionalities. Claiming the positionality of walking in other people’s shoes has
been proven detrimental not only for policy making (Young, 1997). Unfortunately, in the
intellectual climate of contemporary western world, power over, as power to speak on
behalf of others is constructed as the criteria of one’s achievement or success. It is easy to
understand how learners’ knowledge or autonomy becomes a threat to educator’s
professional identity, or how the invisibility of personal privilege influences pedagogies.
For example, some of the popular educators believe that ICT it just another commodity,
such as, a car or a yacht, and that the existential needs have to be satisfied before we
incorporate computers into people’s lives. Similarly, it is believed that the marginalized
will benefit automatically as the society as a whole advances.

Non-authoritarian Popular Education

Learner centered approach has been the leading approach in adult education. Malcom
Knowles, while stressing self-directedness in most of learning situations, points us in the
right direction in the interview entitled Beyond the Adult Learner’s Dependency (Whelan,
1988):

…there is just an incredible amount of learning going on out there in
Canadian society, and sometimes we as educators forget about that. We notice
only the people who are coming to us and are sitting in our classrooms…

What we have to do, I think, is determine how we fit into that process and
help it, foster it, facilitate it - but not control it – so that it can become even
more successful and more efficient.


The role of popular education has been connected to the power as the ability to
create, nourish and produce resources for oneself and for others. As I suggest, it is not a
property of any one person but a shared process within a community. The constructivism
contributes with the complexity and multiplicity of learning methods and solutions where it
becomes obsolete searching for the one right way to teach or learn. Risk taking, tolerance
of contradicting worldviews, respect of diversity, and bonding would best describe
emancipatory popular education.

For both Dewey and Lindeman, adult education is a non-authoritarian collaboration
of learners in the efforts to adapt to the changes in environment and to continue growing.
As such, learning is “an act of free will” (Lindeman, 1953) where an educator is best
described as a “grouper” (Lindeman, 1926), in the same time a participant and an
stimulator, a member of a community and its facilitator. This overlap in roles appears
strong with the work of Lindeman and influences the Freirean concept of teacher-student,
who seems to relinquish its authority in the name of the space where “no one teaches
another, nor is anyone self-taught” (Freire, 1974). It is closely connected to the optimism
and trust in human agency expressed in their ideas of evolutionary social change.

Another important shift concerns the curricula. Lindeman (1926) introduces the
indivisibility of educational situation and the subject matter, where the only legitimate
content/context dimension is the experienced discrepancy in real life creating a “teachable
moment” with the lived situations as a “living textbook”. This way, the strongest
competence of adult educators does not lay in the subject-matter expertise, but in the
techniques of group work, motivational and developmental psychology. Cultural history is
another important aspect, since the ability to critically reflect depends on the intellectual
climate of the times, on the wider multidisciplinary approach to interpreting reality.

Knowles and Heron describe facilitators as resource persons who direct all efforts towards
the ultimate learner independence. For Freire, Illich, Schratz and Walker the facilitator is a
co-learner, co-researcher or co-activist and she/he consciously brackets her/his knowledge
on the subject in order to promote learning as collective knowledge-making. Somewhat
revised Barthes quotation regarding” the birth of the reader at the cost of the death of the
author” (1977) in the context of popular/community education sounds closer to home in the
birth of the learner that must be achieved at the cost of the death of the teacher.

Dealing with culturocentrism is another crucial issue for popular educators in
western multicultural societies. We can hardly imagine Hawaiian “talk story” (Macedo and
Bartolomé, 1999), a practice in which everybody talks in the mouth of each other, as a
powerful cacophony of generating ideas and learning or Aboriginal “talking circles”, where
everybody can digress as long as they want, as an effective way to share knowledge.
Resistance to authority, to homogenization of values and to external expertise and
asymmetrical distribution of knowledge-making power is a cultural product and at times a
way to survive cultural genocide, such as the Black vernacular or Aboriginal healing
rituals.

Most adult educators would agree that personal growth is possible only in a
supportive and non-directive atmosphere. Initiation into the homogeneity of social norms,
which are the norms of the dominant social group, is enculturation, not education.
Education requires diversity. Having this in mind, the following attributes to facilitation
could be extracted (Finger and Asun, 2001): creating optimal learning climate, clarifying
interpretations and meaning of different experiences and assisting problem solving through
making personal biases explicit. However, neither of those functions has to be attributed to
a single person since they can successfully be distributed throughout the learning
community. Let’s consider Heron’s (1993) distinction of the types of facilitators’ authority.
Tutoring can as well be a result of a “home-grown” expertise which in the community
education is more relevant then the academic expertise. Political authority, as delegating or
negotiating decision-making, is required for a meaningful civil participation/learning.
Finally, each of us becomes “charismatic” when believing in a cause or when passionately
engaged in a deeply meaningful process. Heron would say that facilitator’s authority,
which he applies to all learning, is essential for passing on the knowledge. It is highly
questionable in a context of critical or decolonizing pedagogy. Whose knowledge are we
passing on? Can any one person pass the relevant knowledge(s) needed for coping with the
revealing complexity of the world we leave in? Are there unquestionable values and how
are they set?

And it is well to remind ourselves that education as such has no aims. Only
persons, parents, and teachers, etc., have aims, not an abstract idea like
education. (Dewey, 1970)


Even more so, if we agree that in pursuing revolutionary social change adult
educator cannot be a neutral facilitator, we have to accept that the only way to mitigate this
deliberate side-taking is to equally consider multiple and competing needs and experiences
of “experts” and “to-be-experts” as elements of problem-posing education. Communal
constructivism (Holmes, et alt., 2001) contributes one important feature to the social
constructivism theory, namely that the roles of teachers and students become blurred in
producing knowledge with and for others. This idea is not easy to appropriate in practice.
The division to teacher vs. learning communities of students remains strong even within
communal constructivism (Scrimshaw, 2001) in formal settings. Without doubt, nonformal
spheres of education remain the ones most prone to innovation and experimentation.

Authoritarian Facilitation

In the beginning the theater was the dithyrambic song: free people singing in
the open air. The carnival. The feast.
Later, the ruling classes took possession of the theater and built their
dividing walls. First, they divided the people, separating actors from
spectators: people who act and people who watch – the party is over!
Secondly, among the actors, they separated the protagonists from the mass.
The coercive indoctrination began! (Boal, 1979)


In this section, inspired by the parallel of growing coerciveness in theatre and
education, I will follow on the principle of counterproductivity so starkly thought of by
Illich (1970), as well as other principles of institutialization and expertocracy of education,
and how they apply to popular education.

Illich is considered as one of the strongest opponents to the “expert culture”, calling
for the creation of radically different communal processes of creating and using cultural
resources through new relationships between human beings and their environment. His
critique of current educational practices provides a useful framework for the remainder of
the discussion. Basic questions in this framework are the following: how popular educators
build their self-perception as experts; how expertise remains unquestioned; how a creation
of an expert culture creates more experts; and how the experts self-select themselves as
gatekeepers and control both knowledge production and knowledge acquisition.

How do popular educators build their self-perception as experts

Finger and Asun (2001) start from an interesting angle saying that a certain time is
needed to rework the poisonous hegemony internalized by all actors in the
learning/knowledge-making process. That period is of unpredictable duration and usually
the time needed for critical transformation is not provided for. Instead, it is presumed to be
susceptible to planned external instructional intervention. The reality of community based
organizations is their dependency on donors, which in its turn limits community workers in
how much they can do with so few resource. Time consuming and unpredictable
participative models are not perceived as cost-effective and do not look good on founders’
checklists. Some practitioners are firmly convinced that it is impossible to meet the
deadlines and goals if ordinary people were involved in all phases of the educational
projects, and translate their objectives to short-term output-based assessment. Project
management, thus, becomes equated with good educational practice, and many facilitators
lose from sight that what they are doing is at best marginal or at worst counterproductive.
On the other hand, there are charismatic leaders, educators “who know how to
originate an impulse and to inspire others... help discriminate good from bad” (Lindeman
1932). The role of the facilitator becomes the one to interpret meaning or persuade to
responsible social action. Leaders’ personal characteristics or beliefs come to carry more
weight then participative or inclusive decision-making and their “personality” overshadows
multiplicity of experiences. Heron (1993) dedicates a lot of thought to “charisma” as
human birthright and a skill acquired by practice. However, through the whole person web
of relations, from intrapersonal to transplanetary, he distances himself from the everyday
reality of community based work, and imposes highly technical and privileged view on
personal and social transformation. His eclecticism remains blind to the multicultural
bilingual context applications as seen in the prescriptiveness of generalized (neutral)
techniques of language use, body posture or even “charismatic time”.

There is another trap in zealous dedication to objectified knowledge delivered as a
gift from the privileged social position, or “false charity” (Freire, 1974). Objectified
authority of knowledge and humanistic blindness set boundaries to the agency of the
learner. Fear of personal and other people’s freedom sometimes plays out in a “pedagogy
of poverty” (Hyland and Meacham, 2004), where educators tacitly presume that teaching
basic skills is the only solution for the underprivileged, whereas critical thinking is
something they cannot benefit from or aim to. Illich (1996) unmistakably clarifies the
strength of formalized professional forms of support in adding a new dimension of
“psychological helplessness” to the economic dependence. This form of extended social
control, which is being transferred from the state to the community sector, is in opposition
to personal sense of efficacy and is carried out by the buraucraticized, or institutionally
recognized adult educators.

In his text, Critical Social Science (1987), Brian Fay distinguishes "educative" from
"instrumental" modes of transforming the ways people think and act. Instrumentalists
assume that the "laws of social life have an independent power which can only be dealt
with by ascertaining what these laws are and regulating actions accordingly" (p. 92).
Welton (1998) also stresses that many popular educators wrongly believe that people have
to be persuaded, through discussion or dialogue into “adopting socially responsible
attitudes and behaviors” and Chovanec (1998) points to the practice in which explicate
external instructional activities are presumed to lead to a desired internal personal
transformation.

How expertise remains unquestioned

The answer to this question can be approached from the realm of learned and
internalized incompetence and self-depreciation, reinforced through self-fulfilling
prophecies. Fragmentation of experiences and identity is sometimes achieved through the
positivist and behavioral pedagogy in the shiny wrap of “mastery learning”. Need for
planning stepwise digestible units of knowledge by the experts for the “non-experts” and
growing prescriptiveness in method is visible even in the work of Lindeman, Knowles, and
Freire, which I will refer to later as well. Learning in complex domains, such as, social and
political sciences through simplified and reductionist approach deprives the learners of the
greater sense of interconnectedness and creates learner dependence on the one who beholds
the whole picture. What is as well internalized is, as MacKeracher (1998) describes it, is a
“welfare-based paradigm” that claims learners’ general immaturity, regardless of their age
and experience.

A related fear of losing control in the group is usually explicit within the dichotomy
of randomness vs. teacher provided learning environment, as if nothing in between or
beyond the dichotomy is possible. One of the ways the authority plays out in multicultural
contexts has been well documented in the work done by Wallerstein (1983). Adult learners
have high expectations for immediate and applicable learning. If those expectations are not
met, adults rather stop coming then complain or try to influence the process. No critics, no
critique. As well, in the Wallerstein’s description of the process taking place in the form of
highly participative method, the students are obviously over-exposed. They contribute with
their photographs and life stories (health problems, civic status, welfare and housing
issues), and become an object of exploration. This way, we do not slide much from the
dominator pole since even if not traditional in maintaining imbalance of power, it is a
teacher-centered approach where as educators we keep our distance, do not expose our
personal background and control the exchange in the group. “As students talk about their
lives, the classroom becomes a place of learning and excitement for teachers”(Wallerstein,
1983). There is no substantial challenge of teacher authority, only the challenge to the
traditional teacher role.

Illich (1996) suggests that once popular education is institutionalized and officially
recognized entity, it has its threshold after which it is not making learners more
autonomous, but just the opposite – more dependent and less critical. Once the threshold is
reached and terminology developed, a pre-existing truth is established and continues being
validated further. Many times proven, as in the work of Wolfgang Meyer, Jack Sanger,
among many others (in Schratz and Walker, 1995), people either develop uncritical
worship or uncritical rejection of knowledge produced extraneously. Both attitudes are
susceptible to manipulating or discrediting.
There is always a question of the mismatch created between non-authoritarian
facilitator and a learner whose expectations are of a highly formalized nature. On the other
hand, there is as well a question of iterative exposure and experience that transform people
and relationships, and of undeserved credit taken by popular educators for the processes
that are maybe not possible to plan, teach or influence.

How creation of an expert culture creates more experts

The manipulative hegemony leads the oppressed to identify with the oppressors.
Often, popular educators internalized their own oppression and come to believe that they
have to assist the masses in acquiring knowledge deemed desirable by the greater society.
From adult literacy courses to job seeking skills, popular educators would actually make
people comply with the rules written in the corporate world. An excellent observation was
made by Stoecker (2005) that educators can be initiated in the world of “greater power”
and by sharing it with the marginalized groups they are actually making them less
marginalized (as volunteers or employees) and less ready to challenge the ruling social
ethos.

Many practitioners fall into the trap of a contradiction where experiential learning
becomes expert-led intervention. Kincheloe (2004) echoes what many adult educators
stated before, that it is not only irresponsible, but unethical not to recognize the authority
popular educators have. Yet, there is something unsettling in the term “democratic
authority”. Even though, Shor (1992) warns of carefully introducing topic themes in order
not to replace collaborative inquiry with the teacher-talk, the stress on teachers’ duty and
responsibility of “introducing themes because student conversation and thought often do
not include important issues in society” is paradoxal. Just as we could regard others not
agreeing with us as their democratic right, we could accept that the themes absent or not
accepted in conversations do not bear meaning for people. Belief in having the
responsibility to decide on importance of issues can be misleading, just as hooks (1994)
confirms “ I teach them even when they are mature to educate me”.
While applying Freirean method in Scotland, Kirkwood and Kirkwood (1989)
describe the initial idea put into practice by a small group of women to provide cheap
learning opportunities in response to the residents’ requests in a small industrial town.

Grant-making process and formal establishing of the community learning center resulted in
their education stuff joining in-service training on how to manage community programs.
The emphasis of their work changes from responding to demand with peer-led classes
toward the following: “subject specialists act as consultants rather than visiting experts
throughout the program; less investment in learning and more in action projects;… the role
of the ALP partnership with its members became problematic and the distinct tasks can be
experienced as too demanding for volunteers’ time and it is questioned whether it is
appropriate for members to be involved in planning and assessing the work of the full-time
staff.”

Schratz and Walker (1995) introduced the notion of unteaching in formal education.
It is equally important to be attentive to social inequalities perpetuated through popular
education. The processes of action and reflection are important if educators wish to free
themselves form “effective strategies” and keep recreating their practice. Macedo (1999)
calls those strategies “teacher-proof” in the way they reflect unequal power distribution and
reproduce the “expert culture”. There is as well the common enough experience of
counterproductive group dynamics, where the authority of the teacher becomes replaced by
the most vocal or privileged among the learners. If we wish to make changes we should
support both the process of unlearning how we learn, and in line with that, the process of
unteaching.

How the experts self-select themselves as gatekeepers and control both knowledge production and acquisition

If we presume that we need experts to organize the learning experience and provide
themes we are opening the gap in power relations, as in Shor (1992) “… the topical theme
emerges from the teacher’s perception of the learning process and what social issues are
appropriate for the next phase of inquiry.” Yes, Shor was not addressing “adult” learners in
the wider sense, but this approach is so permeated in the popular education I was socialized
in, that the only time my alarm was on was when it turned into the right-down manipulation
by putting ideas into peoples’ mouth. This paradox is as well clear in the Shor’s
interpretation of this “democratic principle” where the educator has the right to introduce
important themes “because she or he is a thinking citizen”, but then again “because she or
he is …a professional educator”. I am convinced, in diverse groups, such as inner-city
communities, if a democratic process was respected, group participants would have more
topic themes than any specialist could possibly handle.

Lindeman (1932) suggests that we should concentrate on methods in order to bridge
that gap. With the time, group dynamics, motivation and psychologically sound methods
can become derivates of science and equally mystified and placed out of reach of ordinary
women and men. Belonging to a high profiled group of community educators can be more
important then intuitive and authentic community practice. Developmental principle of
popular education should rely on the capacity of educators to bracket their own knowledge
and experience, and trust in people’s curiosity and capacities. What we see as the final
stage of the problem-posing educational process, as described by Freire in the Pedagogy of
the oppressed, is a stage wise curriculum created by multidisciplinary professionals where
learners from co-creators become assistants and volunteers whose presence is not necessary
when the product to be used is finalized. There is no particular problem I see in pursuing
in-depth knowledge specialists have, but when and how they are invited in the process, and
how their input in the end steers unanimity around the causes and solutions to the local
problems can be problematic. People testifying of unimproved living conditions in
Northern Brazil add a similar flavor to the long-term impact of prophetic visions of Moses
Coady, where a mysterious power of one was not easy to recreate.

Possible Ways Out

Eisler and Loye’s (in Sleeter and Manteinos, 1999) warn us that we are always at
the certain point on the dominator-partnership continuum of social interaction. Here are
some of the paths that can walk our practice closer to the non-authoritative pole. The
choices I made to present more inclusive, more intuitive and respectful community
practices are based mostly on the methods and values, rather then content or authors.
“Storytelling” or “dialoging” as a method seems to resonate well with the idea that
the purpose of living is not to find the meaning of it, but simply to experience it. In this
light, what we consider as deficiencies can be considered as gifts, and the distinction
between the weak and strong is blurred. The values of equality, trust and belonging are
taken into popular education learning circles from the Aboriginal tradition but the most
difficult challenge is abstaining from judgment and critiquing. At times, pressed by daily
rhythms, efficacy expectations and measurable outcomes, it is difficult just to be learning
through deliberation instead of solving problems at the spot. The element usually neglected
in western culture, when applying the wisdom of talking circles, is the principle of
wholeness where spiritual and physical worlds coexist in one reality and where changes in
one influence the change in the other. Spiritual side of human beings is reduced to
superstition and, thus, learners are cut off this immense source of knowledge. The world’s
religious or wisdom traditions all speak of ripple effects and the interconnectedness
principle, invisible fibers of energy connecting everything in cosmos, and those principles
may hold promises for the future directions of humanity. Hunt (2000) observes that western
science/society rejection of spirituality inevitably contributed to perversion of old radical
community education into perpetuation of “separation, power and control”. “A person
learns in a whole and balanced manner when the mental, spiritual, physical and emotional
dimensions are involved in the process,” (Saskatchewan Education, Training and
Employment, March 1994).

Study circles are a community-wide collaborative learning process involving large
number of diverse community members in addressing public issues. In its original form
they were the most spread adult education forms and from Scandinavian rural areas “folk
schools” reached Asian and American continent during the XX century. Like their
ancestors, the modern study circles are collaborative and experiential and have been
continuously adapting to the new environments. They expose common problems, digging
down into the related individual and communal experiences, resorting to texts as secondary
facts. The role of the facilitator is just to model and manage the process through clarifying
and summarizing. Dialogue is established through consecutive sessions and develops over
time. Even if the process is expected to end in an action plan to address immediate
community concerns, it does not require a consensus, but rather provides for resource
mapping and uncovers common points of agreement to build on (Campbell, 1998).
Memory-works (Haug and alt.,1987) as a feminist method aims at re/introducing
absent social agencies and deobjectifying scientific and theoretic descriptions of
marginalized groups, in this case groups of women. It allows substantial time to choose and
work on personal memories which are discussed in small groups. The memories are written
down in third person and discussions are not focused on seeking blame or merit, but on
addressing how individuals appropriate and influence the appropriation of particular social
behaviors and beliefs, especially in relations to the dynamics related to other, usually
opposed agents, men or privileged social groups. The participants bring in the secondary
documents that will shed light on different aspects of gender socialization and the most
important transformation that occurs is the one that makes the “victim” into the “agent”
without prescribing ways to think or behave.

Different forms of interactive theatre make spectators into spect-actors (Boal, 1979)
and create environment where physical and emotional movement provide for collaborative
reflection. Non-verbal expression and communal bonding take on the importance in
explorations of possible courses of action. Playback Theatre is performed by actors, but
their performance is guided by the audience. Image Theatre employs scenes created by
bodies in frozen motion, and a sequence of scenes is representative of a learning process.
Forum Theatre is a most developed conversational form where spect-actors themselves try
out different solutions and in the same time rehearse for reality/revolution (Boal, 1998).
Popular theatre builds a place of social empathy and a resource of substantial participatory
action. Through strengthening common values and accruing individual/community
resources popular theatre becomes a knowledge-making and a knowledge-appropriating
process. Without those two we are trapped in the Foulcault’s power/knowledge vicious
circle which makes the “expert” work possible. In a social and ecological responsibility
model, the learner has the total control of the pace and direction of the knowledge-making
webs. Schratz and Walker (1995) warn as well against the trap to sidestep into the safe
place reserved for facilitators while taking action becomes something that others should do.
Illich (1996) elaborates on the access to the four webs of possible futuristic
education as a true life-long process. The networked access to learning objects, to skill
exchange and to peer matching is inseparable, whereas, I still see the fourth network of
professional educators as educational administrators subsumed easily in the first three.
Those learning webs would probably create and in the same time be supported by the
emergence of a stronger civil society where “making things and manipulating people” is
not set as the highest value.

More than Utopia

If we trace back the origins of the alternative methods described, they are either in
rural or poor urban areas, in Aboriginal or feminist practices, and those are some of the
settings where knowledge created has been marginalized for centuries. Popular educators
Heralds of the Future 16
usually have to make difficult choices between the mainstream education and under-funded
community utopias. If we take utopias to be more than wishful thinking and if we work
through the common elements of alternative methods, re/viewing and experimenting with
different ways of knowing, it might lead us from the individualistic, pluralistic,
collectivistic to a holistic worldview. Even combining some of the elements, such as in
black women popular theatre, is exciting and stimulating and can create just the right kind
of community ripples. Working against the professional mystique puts forward the “politics
of small minds” (Graham, 2005) as the sustainable and meaningful way to live and learn in
communities where knowledge and authority are equally distributed.
With the assumption that no educator is a credible source on every facet of the
subject, and that educators do learn from and with learners, the radical vision of Illich’s
learning webs of education seems to have been forming on the World Wide Web.
Authoring and collaboration recognized and appreciated by peers, cognitive flexibility and
knowledge-cycles created with and for others, accessible and unique as learners
themselves, can radically change the currency of “expert” knowledge in the near future.



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