a credo

This paper was written for CCE 554 (Foundations of Continuing Education) in November 2008.

When I took the Philosophy of Adult Education Inventory (Zinn, 1999), there were only two concepts that I “strongly agreed” with:

IN PLANNING AN EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITY, I AM MOST LIKELY TO: Assess learners’ needs and develop practical learning activities based on those needs.

IN PLANNING AN EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITY, I TRY TO CREATE:  A supportive climate that facilitates self-discovery and interaction.

It made a fair amount of sense to me that I scored a 70 for the Behaviorist approach, a 71 for Liberal Education, a 78 for Progressive, a 79 for Humanistic and a 69 for Radical. I can see many ways that the Behaviorist approach can be applied successfully, but I find the Behaviorist philosophy described by B.F. Skinner in 1975, that “what we call the behavior of the human organism is no more free than its digestion, gestation, immunization, or any other physiological process” (Merriam, 62-63) to be dehumanizing and profoundly opposed to democratic principles. In my opinion, democracy begins with the concept of free will, so it makes sense that I favor the Humanistic (Elias & Merriam, 120) and Progressive (Elias & Merriam, 53) philosophies.

My resistance to Radical philosophies of education has been interesting for me to notice during this quarter.  John L. Elias and Sharan B. Merriam (2005) write that “all philosophies of adult education originate and develop in a particular historical and sociocultural context,” (15), and one way to look at my resistance is that I can accept that there are historical and sociocultural conditions that have and would make a transparently Radical approach to education a feasible and appropriate form of education.  I think that the Radical approach can be a good fit for some types of political and community organizing. However, I’m not going to teach an Administration of Justice course at a community college with a goal to “increase learners’ awareness of the need for significant changes in our culture and society” (PAEI , p. 8) – my goal is to help “enable them to [make a] contribution to such changes” (PAEI, p. 8). I do, however, agree with Phyllis M. Cunningham that “No one can be neutral.”  From my perspective, my role as an instructor in a college course is to facilitate the development and practice of critical thinking skills and guide the class through the course materials.

The Deschooling Movement is considered a Radical approach to education (Elias and Merriam (2005) pp.166-170), and the inherent imbalance of authority in the traditional classroom suggests that the Radical approach and goals of education may be best facilitated in environments outside the traditional classroom.  I do not believe that this necessarily means that the traditional classroom is useless, especially in an Information economy, where education is a “commodity.” (Elias & Merriam, p.169).  Our economy relies on educational institutions as a filtering process, and the system of grades and degrees helps employers sort prospective employees based on the perceived value of their education.  The needs of our economy appear to require that schools exert authority over students in order to make credible determinations of the “value” in the accomplishments of the student that can then be placed on an employment application.

When I think about the future of education, I see the Internet as capable, by its nature, of facilitating a “radical reorganization” of the practice of education.  The collaborative learning potential of the world wide web is disruptive to the authority traditional education institutions have held in our society.  In part, this seems possible because examples of “valuable” accomplishments can be built outside of a traditional school classroom. I also think that schools can and should be leaders in the reorganization process, and that educational institutions have a critically important role to play in the development and deployment of web technology for educational use.

I worry for the future success of educational institutions that plan to continue to use systems like Blackboard, which takes a twentieth century approach to online learning that I believe fails to meet the needs of 21st century learners.  The current and upcoming employment and political environment (e.g. Obama) is going to use web technology to enhance efficiency and productivity, and I expect there will be a focus on achieving maximum effective collaboration to solve problems of every imaginable variety.

As an employer, I would be very interested in the experience of a prospective employee with web-based systems.  I would consider any applicant whose primary experience is with a system like Blackboard to likely be in need of further training, because the philosophy of a system like Blackboard is counter-intuitive to the way the web can be utilized.  Blackboard can hardly facilitate the most basic form of collaboration through e-mail, it offers no way for a student to view all of their comments in one place nor retain an ability to access them after the class is over, it doesn’t permit multiple browser windows, and it wraps any hyperlink into a new blackboard url, making the information much more difficult to use.  The Blackboard user is a passive recipient of information and actively discouraged from building their own learning materials.

The idea that educational institutions could be bound to systems like these for years is a dark cloud on the horizon of my vision of a career as an educator.  I realize that there is a fair amount of inertia in educational institutions, and when I think about my future as an educator, I consider the question of “where would I fit best?” and the idea of a doctoral program in education is something that I think about in an alternate universe where I could afford to continue my education to that level.  In that scenario, I would review and conduct research related to the needs of learners in the online environment (including what employers are looking for), employ a variety of web tools and maybe publish a book.  My overall goal would be to call attention to the urgency of the need for educational institutions to not only adapt to the web, but to also be leaders in its development.  My specific goal would be to develop design and deployment ideas based on principles and theories related to the needs of online learners.

I think my overall goal has a Radical tone, probably because of how badly I want to shout “fire” in the theater wherever “the future of education” is playing.  A Radical educator might suggest that I use a position as a community college instructor to raise awareness in my students about the limits of the online system offered by the school.  I don’t think that is an appropriate approach in a class that is not otherwise focused on that issue.  In the context of the traditional classroom, my goal is to do the best I can with the tools I have, and encourage students to find innovative ways to use the available tools or alternatives (such as blogs and wikis).

I have been and will continue to look into pursuing a doctorate.  I have taken note of Martin Haberman’s assertion that qualities of effective teachers “include persistence in problem solving, an understanding of the concept of burnout, organizational skills and the ability to see oneself as fallible.”  The concept of burnout is something that I am familiar with on a variety of levels.  In my work at Legal Aid, I experienced the shared frustration of not being able to effectively address the systemic issues that contributed to the hardships faced by our clients.  I expect that the discouragement I currently feel about being a student in an institution that will be using an LMS like Blackboard will intensify if I am able to obtain a job as a community college instructor.  However, I would be honored to obtain the role of an instructor and I don’t see this as something that would interfere with my overall enthusiasm for the work.  If I am able to have the privilege of teaching at a community college, I would consider it an invaluable learning opportunity.

I tend to see my role as an instructor in a similar light as I saw my role as an attorney. I consider both roles to be important to the effective functioning of the democratic system, and dependent on facilitating the autonomy of the client and student. As an attorney, I often reminded clients that I work for them.  While I did have substantial authority in a client’s case, the client is and must be the driver of their case if their autonomy is going to be preserved.  As an instructor, I work for my students in a similar way.  Even though I have authority over my students, ultimately I am working for them.


Cunningham, P.M. (1993) Let’s Get Real: A Critical Look at the Practice of Adult Education. Journal of Adult Education 22:1 (Fall 1993), pgs. 3-15. Posted at: http://www.nl.edu/academics/cas/ace/resources/PhyllisCunningham_insight.cfm

Elias, J.L, Merriam, S.B. (2005) Philosophical Foundations of Adult Education. (3rd Ed.) Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing Company.

Habermen, M. (2002, Oct 1). Who Is and Isn’t Qualified to Teach? Washington Post. Posted at: http://www.bridges4kids.org/articles/2002/10-02/WashPost10-1-02b.html

Skinner, B.F. (1984) The Steep and Thorny Way to a Science of Behaviour. In Merriam, S. B. (Ed.). Selected Writings On Philosophy And Adult Education (pp.51 -66). Malabar, Florida: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company.

Wilder, R. (2008). Obamagogy. Posted at: https://learningdocument.wordpress.com/2008/11/08/obamagogy/

Zinn, L.M. (1999). Philosophy of Adult Education Inventory (PAEI). Boulder, CO: Lifelong Learning Options.


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