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Global Issues and Adult Education: Perspectives from Latin America, Southern Africa, and the United States

reviewed by John Comings - May 15, 2006

coverTitle: Global Issues and Adult Education: Perspectives from Latin America, Southern Africa, and the United States
Author(s): Sharan B. Merriam, Bradley C. Courtenay, and Ronald M. Cervero (Eds.)
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787978108, Pages: 520, Year: 2006
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Global Issues and Adult Education is a compendium of the insights gained by 45 adult-education scholars (ten from Latin America, ten from southern Africa, and 25 from the United States) during a seven-year process supported by the Kellogg Foundation. At a culminating conference in Austria, each scholar was asked to speak about one of five critical issues and its relationship to adult education. This book consists of summaries of what was said at the conference and short chapters that provide 38 of the scholars with an opportunity to share their insights with a larger audience. The five issues are: globalization and the market economy, marginalized populations, environment and health, community empowerment, and lifelong learning and educational systems.

This book provides a unique perspective on these five issues, that of adult educators who are influenced by critical pedagogy and committed to social justice. The issues, therefore, are analyzed from a critical perspective, and the role of adult education in relation to each issue includes building critical consciousness. However, this group of scholars acknowledges the instrumental goals of adult education as well. Adult education is portrayed as having a role to play in helping out-of-school youth and adults to deal with the profound forces that are changing our world but also strengthening their ability to transform those forces in ways that build a world in which most people live long, healthy, and happy lives.

Each scholar’s chapter explores one of the five issues from the perspective of his or her professional and personal life. Readers who have a strong background on an issue may not find much new in this book, but they may gain a new perspective. For others, this background may serve as a good introduction to the issue. For adult educators, these chapters provide guidance on how the profession could be useful and ways in which it has already been active in addressing the problems and opportunities of each issue.

The multiple perspectives include several countries from southern Africa and South America as well as the U.S. The perspectives of those who are disadvantaged by discrimination based on gender, race, class, disability, sexual orientation, and other human conditions are also represented. The analyses sometimes draw from perspectives that are not now in favor, such as that of Karl Marx, and sometimes from popular culture, such as the movie The Matrix. These multiple perspectives are helpful to those who have formed strong positions by providing them with an opportunity to question those positions.

Adult education is portrayed as having had a role in social movements of the last century but as having become more focused on skills and knowledge valued by the market place. The scholars suggest that adult education could help adults who are disadvantaged by the many ways the world is changing to understand these changes and act in favor of their own interests individually and in groups. By doing this, adult education could reestablish its role in promoting social justice.

The individual adult-education programs and projects are diverse. For example, one is a literacy and life skills program for boys in Lesotho who do not go to school because they have the responsibility to watch after herds of cattle. Lesotho might be the only African country where girls participate in school at a higher rate than boys. Another is an informal learning community of African American women who are students or professors at a historically white research university. The discussions in this community do address discrimination against both women and African Americans but also focus on the minds, bodies, and spiritual development of the participants. A third is education centers for out of school youth and adults in Argentina. The author struggles with what these centers should teach, how they should teach it, who should teach.

I would like to have seen more description of the ways in which adult education is addressing these issues. However, this book does contain many good ideas about how adult educators could play a role in addressing these issues, and it is, therefore, a valuable resource for the adult education community. The book also makes a compelling case that adult education could mitigate some of the problems resulting from the many changes taking place in the 21st century, and so those working to address those problems might find this book a useful resource as well.

The last chapter is a good summary of the insights from this interesting project. It calls for partnerships between adult educators and the professionals who are addressing these five issues. The last chapter also stresses the need to ask why some people are disadvantaged and others are not, and it suggests that these two groups, advantaged and disadvantaged, must form partnerships as well.

These issues cannot be addressed without the involvement of the world’s disadvantaged population, and they will need to be educated in ways that are instrumental and critical to play their role in this effort. In some ways, we are all disadvantaged by the problems that result from the changes taking place in the world. One of the chapters refers to Marx’s analysis of how labor is exploited, which includes the lengthening of the workday and the intensification of work through the introduction of technology. Those of you reading work-related email at home tonight after dinner might want to read this chapter.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 15, 2006
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12509, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 6:02:50 PM

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About the Author
  • John Comings
    National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy
    E-mail Author
    JOHN COMINGS is Director of the National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL), which is based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. NCSALL is funded by the U.S. Department of Education as its national research and development center focused on educational programs for adults who have low literacy and math skills, who do not speak English, or who do not have a high school diploma. Before coming to Harvard in 1996, Dr. Comings spent 12 years as Vice President of World Education, a nonprofit agency that supports adult-education projects in Asia, Africa, and the United States. Before that he worked on education and research projects in Indonesia and Nepal and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal. His research and writing is concerned with the impact of adult-literacy programs and the factors that lead to that impact in the United States and in Third World countries and on factors that support student persistence in adult-education programs in the U.S. He is one of the editors of The Review of Adult Learning and Literacy and author of Building a Level Playing Field, Establishing and Evidence-based Adult Education System, and New Skills for a New Economy. Dr. Comings holds a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
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