Adult Education Research Conference (AERC) 2009 – Significant Opening Plenary

The opening plenary session for AERC2009 is taking place in the Chicago Cultural Center, what a beautiful and optimistic location to begin the 50th Anniversary AERC. This is the 3rd of these conferences I have attended, and I have felt this is one of my professional homes. I always like how this conference, in addition to all the wonderful sessions and past and future colleagues I have worked with from here, has a focus on critical theory, social justice, and the political implications of education. I was attracted to this organization initially because I agree that education, and adult education in particular, is focused around teaching and learning as both a means and a enabler of power and positionality.

This reminds me of one of the reasons why I engage in liveblogging at academic (and professional) conferences. I believe this is an opportunity to both engage in autoethnographic work as well as to co-participate in the conference itself. What could be a more engaging and democratic experience.

I like how the conference bags that were donated by Jossey-Bass were made from recyclable materials. National Louis University, the host institution, even provided all the conference attendees with water bottles in a further effort to be green (no individual bottles here!).

Nice discussion about the merger of theory and practice with adult education that is being discussed right now. Interesting that the adult education program at National Louis University lives within the school of arts and sciences.

There have been several references to Elizabeth Peterson, who was the conference organizer before she passed away very recently (RIP).

The panel presentations are now beginning, after the opening remarks concluded and the housekeeping issues were addressed.

  • Edgar Boone is now speaking, and he started working with adult education 58 years ago. He speaks about how he got into the field, started to work in academia, and early work with Malcolm Knowles. He said that adult education has had a powerful effect on social justice within the US. He also said that we (the field of adult education) has done a lousy job communicating who we are and what we do. He acknowledged that our departments are dropping like flies, and unless adult education as a field becomes more politically connected on campuses and within governmental funding bodies. I agree with him completely. Adult education, I believe, will perish as a formal department-based program, merging into higher education programs or, which I believe will be much better, into programs such as cultural studies. I think I need to blog about this more thoroughly. Edgar is now talking about the need for a research agenda for the field, and ask ourselves how to rebuild the profession. Goodness, this reminds me of the DPE (Delta Pi Epsilon) organization I used to be a member of, where the focus seemed to be on what was rather than where we are going. Edgar is making a wonderful point, and I find him very refreshing.
  • Phyllis Cunningham is now speaking. She is speaking how adult education has always been more among the more conservative of fields, really run by the numbers. She mentioned that issues of social justice and power and positionality comprise the core of adult education, though the field has now transitioned to program planning, evaluation, and adult learning as the core of graduate programs. Freire was translated into English in the early 70’s, and then after that critical theory, Habermas (even taken out of context and in pieces), and Miles Horton (among others) became the focus. The field gradually became more inclusive (not just white men) and international. She is now speaking about the various caucuses and pre-conferences that were organized. She is now speaking about the failures of our own association that did not even publish its own policy paper (written by Jack Mezirow). The counter-hegemonic forces grew, but then education in HRD and higher education have taken the focus and emphasis. Phyllis mentioned that President Obama’s emphasis is where the change is happening, not in here (field of adult education). As she said, everything can be critical, as long as the power structures do not change. How right she is. She is not hopeful for our field.
  • Alan Knox is now speaking. Amazing he facilitated the first AERC 50 years ago. Nice that he is standing in from of the panel table and is directly speaking with and engaging us (even without notes – wow). He is very articulate, though somehow I am not able to really focus on his words; I am still so focused on Edgar and Phyllis, both of who stated what I have been thinking about the future of the field. He even mentioned AAACE, which is an organization to which I used to belong, but have since left due to its ambiguous nature and shrinking membership.

Now, an opportunity for conversation and dialog. Great question about how to afford all these conferences. A wise use of technology to blend with the live experiences is a possibility. Kathy King is adding a good point about having virtual conferences and presentations. Interesting discussion about how the GRE is a racist test, and how the differences between outcomes-based assessments (which are recognized) as opposed to issues of social justice in education. Alan Knox is now speaking about identifying measurable outcomes for adult education. The issue of having discussion boards and continued online work is a significant. Do I hear a need for a community of practice apart for the conference.

I have heard a number of mentions of the future of adult education,especially after the 50 years of AERC and want to try to list them in my own words:

  • Become more political (both from a critical theory and activist perspective as well as connected to the governmental and national bodies)
  • Remember the roots
  • Differentiate ourselves
  • Determine and articulate the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) – how and why should the field remain? What does it add? What makes it different? Is there still a need?
    • expanding on this point, this may just be a good position paper for the field, even to the point of creating an “elevator speech” for what it means to be an adult educator
  • Consider how adult education can more actively understand itself, especially in relation to other fields and areas (anybody hear of cultural studies, communication studies, e-research, technology, online education, nursing education, gender studies, performance studies, and sociology?)

What to do for a field in need of renewal. Hope my colleagues