In many ways, adult education is just as invaluable to an economy as is the elementary and secondary schooling of a young person. It is for this reason that adult education remains an important, if not understated, issue among policymakers. This paper takes a critical look at the various impacts of adult education and the role it plays in American society.
Keywords Adult Education; Fragmentation; K-12; Recidivism; Vocational Training; Workforce
Philosopher and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm once asked the following question: "Why should society feel responsible only for the education of children, and not for the education of all adults of every age?" (Thinkexist.com, 2007). Indeed, many in American society believe that education begins at kindergarten, proceeds through high school and, for those who can afford it, forward through four years of college. However, education is a never-ending part of life, for those who fail to keep their minds open to learning new concepts are doomed to remain stationary in life.
As it is in the grade-to-grade track of childhood education, the learning process is one based on steps. At first, the individual learns the basic skills he or she needs before moving on to more complex concepts. Among these initial capabilities are reading, writing, elementary mathematics and even speech. Gradually, the student moves on to studying books, writing essays, understanding more Byzantine mathematical equations and developing the capability to present thoughts and ideas in presentations before peers.
Upon leaving elementary and secondary education levels, the student moves into the collegiate level, not only honing the skills he or she developed in prior years, but focusing them on a career path. After graduating from an undergraduate university or college, the student may even move further along an educational path, entering law school, medical school, or other graduate schools for a Master's degree or Ph.D.
Still, many adults who have traveled along this path, even those who receive juris doctorate degrees, or doctorates of medicine, have much to learn, particularly when they are employed and using their skills in a particular workplace. Teachers, for example, may need training on new teaching techniques or technical resources that were not available to them during their schooling. An individual with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree may need to learn a foreign language in order to use his or her skills under the employment of a multinational corporation.
For some, however, the path of structured education may not be as long as that of the medical doctor, lawyer or MBA-trained businessman or businesswoman. For some, furthering an education after the secondary level entails receiving vocational training, such as machine and automotive repair, real estate certification or the culinary arts.
Many others may have reached the apex of the professional training that they may receive for their originally chosen path, but have decided to chart a new course along their careers. These individuals may have received training in one field, but developed an interest in another field. For them, they may have to return to school to recapture vital information and training to help them transition to their new workplace.
In many ways, adult education is just as invaluable to an economy as is the elementary and secondary schooling of a young person. It is for this reason that adult education remains an important, if not understated, issue among policymakers. This paper will take a critical look at the various impacts of adult education and the role it plays in American society.
How Adults Learn
At the heart of the central focus of this paper is how adults learn. When people think of the issue of education, they tend to think of children. With this myopic point of view, they see not only the coursework designed to foster and develop a student - they see the intellectual, personal and even the physical development of a young man or woman. After all, school is not just about recitation and memorization of facts and figures - it involves teaching a child how to analyze, solve basic problems and develop opinions. In a similar vein, teachers are trained not just to regurgitate curricula - part of their professional development entails how to interact with young people who are developing in many different ways as they receive their education.
Perhaps a major factor contributing to the issue of adult education is the fact that the adults themselves are considerably different in terms of their stage of cognitive development. Adults have already experienced the world around them in many ways, and may as a result react differently to lessons in the classroom than younger people. For example, children are dependent upon the teacher for guidance, while adults are usually self-directing. Additionally, adults draw from their own experience in answering questions, while children look elsewhere for answers. It is this experience that can be both an asset and a hindrance in an adult's educational process - it may help him or her understand certain concepts, but it may also have instilled in the student an incorrect manner of thought that needs to be undone and relearned (Gaibraith & Fouch, 2007).
In light of the fact that adults have a different learning process than do children, a different approach is necessary. In other words, teachers must come from a different set of training experiences, with a very different view of the educational process in general. However, as this paper next discusses, the educational development (and in some cases, re-development) of adults, both in terms of providing additional skills and in terms of combating functional and total illiteracy, greatly serves society.
Prior to the 1960s, adult education was fragmented among often competing interests. For some, adult education was a moral and social responsibility as was public education for children. For others, it was an issue of ensuring literacy for all adults; a need for providing an education for the least literate adults. Still others viewed adult education as part of an ongoing effort to combat poverty - their view was that educated, poor adults are less likely to commit crimes and more likely to contribute to society. These schizoid elements of the overall issue of adult education meant that receiving recognition and/or support from the federal government would be a challenge, particularly in light of other, more general and salient issues. Among these concerns were poverty, crime, the economy and on the Cold War. As a small part of each of these issues, adult education was not given much light.
Still, signs emerged that made focus on educating adults a more pressing matter. In 1963, the military began noticing that recruits were failing basic entrance exams. In fact, after further examination, it became clear that nearly one-third of all draftees did not meet the military's standards for health and education. Recognizing the importance of basic education for and addressing the remedial disabilities among these young men, the military stressed further training and schooling in upward communications. Meanwhile, the Johnson administration, in its "Great Society" program (an initiative designed to end poverty and injustice), recognized that adult literacy was a vital part of the endeavor to make all of American society a contributor to the economy as well as a defender of the nation's security. Among the Great Society's myriad institutions was a caveat known as "Title IIB," the Adult Basic Education program - the precursor to the landmark Adult Education Act of 1966 (Sticht, 2006).
Adult education, once an afterthought that took the back seat in comparison to childhood education, poverty and crime, returned to the fore when efforts to remove unemployed and poverty-stricken citizens from the public dole developed. The well-documented achievement gap among economic classes adds fuel to the fire, as the majority of adults who are poor are also likely to be lacking in education. Hence, they are unable to shed their poverty and enter the workforce unless they receive the training they need. One observer states that adult education and training are touted as "critical processes that will provide these individuals with the chance to become economically self-sufficient as well as to be able to fully participate politically in civil society" (Sandlin, 2004).
The mandate for adult education as a means to reducing poverty and bolstering the workforce has become even stronger in light of recent data. According to the National Institute for Literacy, nearly 50 percent of all...
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