From the Dark Side: Ed Psych Textbook, Sliced and Diced

Some notes from my ed psych readings:

Overview: My biggest beef with this book is that it states matters of debate as fact. It also has a horrifically reductionist view of the entire history of formal learning, perhaps driven by its emphasis on a definition of adult education that is, in turn, driven by what it calls the “economic productivity rationale”: the notion that learning is only valuable insofar as it trains workers for an existing system of production.

Chapter 1, The Social Context of Adult Learning

“What one needs or wants to learn, what opportunities are available, the manner in which one learns–all are to a large extent determined by the society in which one lives” (25). To a large extent, yes; however, not completely. This claim reveals a systems theory approach, one that is inherently dehumanizing and anything but liberatory; humanism and liberation are stances which the authors purportedly advocate. This claim also ignores critiques of social construct. While I think the authors are correct in describing things *as they are to a large extent,* they do so uncritically. Compare Tennant‘s more critical approach to andragogy and adult psychology.

Chapter 2, Learning Environments and Learning Contexts

“The heart of the learning organization is the willingness of organizations to allow their employees and other stakeholders related to the organization to suspend and question the assumptions by which they operate, then create and examine new ways of studying organizational problems and means of operating. This process requires that people at all levels of the organization be willing to think in a systems framework, with the emphasis on collective inquiry, dialogue, and action” (52).


Another troubling implication here is that “organizations” are personified, giving cover to individual decisionmakers within the organization who wield power over other individuals within the structure. One need only consider the “liberatory” Marxist-Leninist system of government in Cuba, where what began ostensibly as a people’s revolution against corruption and tyranny devolved into an even-more restrictive police-state dictatorship. Dissent, the very quality on which any revolution is based, poses a threat to the system; one ideology/hegemony is substituted for another, and utopia never comes, which is why Marx wanders off into the sunset mumbling to himself. Why, then, claim that collective inquiry, dialogue, and action are in and of themselves good or desirable within such a social construct? When does “collective inquiry” devolve into “thought policing,” a favorite claim of the political right when it attacks area studies? When does “dialogue” devolve into the false dualism of left vs. right so dear to producers of televised political talk shows? When does “action” devolve into mob rule, lynching, courtpacking, election tampering? These are techniques of manipulation, not some “process” to which the members of “organizations” should uncritically submit. What’s the first thing an “organization”‘s leaders do to weed out members which they perceive as threatening? Take a survey. Open a file. Cherry-pick data.

An organization, after all, is merely a social construct. An organization, by definition, cannot think. That is precisely the weakness of systems theory. See Kemp, 2007 ( , accessed 9 Feb 2008): “In his book User-Centered Technology: A Rhetorical Theory for Computers and Other Mundane Artifacts, Robert R. Johnson distinguishes between three approaches to design: systems-centered, user-friendly, and user-centered. . . . Systems-centered design privileges the artifact and designer over the user, and holds that users are part of the system itself (25). . . . ‘User-friendly’ design recognizes that someone other than the designer will be using the technology, but sometimes misses the mark because the designer does not have a clear concept of who that end-user is or of how he or she will try to use the technology or access the information. Too often, user-friendly features are added near the final stage before deployment, are conceptualized from the top down. By their very nature, ‘user-friendly’ designs are condescending: ‘We are the experts, so we know what is best for you,’ as if the end-user were slightly stupid, slightly off, childlike, not to be trusted with the system itself. [. . .] A user-centered approach to systems development enables (students) to get the job done within those constraints not merely by resetting a constantly-crashing program, but by replacing it with a program that works more efficiently and thus is less prone to crashing at all” (5-6).

Chapter 5, Self-Directed Learning

“In discussing the goals of self-directed learning, three major ones were identified. The first goal, that of enhancing the ability of adults to be self-directed in their learning, has generated the most research in self-directed learning. The fostering of transformational learning as central to self-directed learning, the second goal, is foundational to the third goal, that of promoting emancipatory learning and social action. Our assumption is that each of these goals is of equal importance in capturing the essence of self-directed learning” (128-129). The muddy writing (passive voice, unnecessary repetition) signals equally muddy reasoning. If “fostering transformational learning” is “central to self-directed learning,” then why does self-directed learning come first in this hierarchy of goals of… self-directed learning? We have a tautology. Yet the authors assert that “learning on one’s own has been the principal model of learning throughout the ages” (128). How, then, can the authors make the assumption “that each of these goals is of equal importance?” This is the sort of illogical twaddle that gives education majors a bad name.

* * *

(May I say, however, that the class itself is fantastic. I know the prof will enjoy the slice and dice.)


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