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Education for Active Adult Citizenship

by Paul L. Essert & Coolie Verner - 1951

It appears that to achieve an understanding of the process of citizenship education, research and experimentation must involve three major areas: (1) the individual in his personal group, (2) individual and personal group relationships to social institutions, and (3) the individual, personal group, and social institutional inter-involvement in the total community structure.

AMERICANS have the intrinsic ability to assume the responsibilities which the pressures of social change necessitate. In the past they have shown their ability to learn the technique of adjustment and, with a new epoch thrust upon them, they can learn anew the democratic skills required of citizens participating in the evolution of their age. At no time in the history of this nation has the need for active adult citizenship been more acute than now. We are facing the militant forces of totalitarianism which seek to destroy our social system, and internal doubts and dissensions divide us at a moment when unity is a prerequisite for survival. Insidious beliefs and ideologies strive to confuse and mislead us. External forces tend to blind us to the recognition and proper evaluation of the more potent dissolution that is spreading internally.

Political and moral confusion, resulting from the enormity of the problem of human survival, gives rise to an apathetic and indifferent citizenry. Important issues are too complex and difficult for the average man and woman to interpret, and the confusing rapidity of social change has as a corollary the resort to authoritarian patterns whereby they relieve themselves of the responsibilities of decision making, leaving that to selected leaders. Through such apathy and reluctance our citizenry is prone to let slip from its grasp the fundamentals of civic control, giving that power to the ever-increasing numbers who covet it.

To increase participation it is imperative that we rekindle a militant devotion to the principles and practice of democracy so vital to national preservation, The burden of this action must, of necessity, fall heavily upon the agencies of our democratic society, to which the people have entrusted the responsibility of bringing to them and their children the mastery of the tools of citizenship and the desire to use these tools in determining the course of their own destiny. Every segment of American life is involved, from the simplest group associations to the more complex interactions of social institutions in community life.

With utmost confidence in the intrinsic ability and inborn desire of people to live democratically, and with complete recognition of the grave responsibilities of educational forces in equipping them for this, the Institute of Adult Education1 entered upon a program of re search in October, 1949, designed to explore problems and develop the techniques of education for adult citizenship.

This program has taken the form of two lines of inquiry: (1) a study of individuals educating themselves for more responsible citizenship, and (2) an investigation into the role of those community institutions primarily concerned with the educational development of adults as resources in furthering this process of self-education.

These inquiries have brought forth a number of significant facts which have material importance for potential solutions to the problem of reawakening a concern for and promoting active participation in citizenship. In a number of instances the results of this research have been of sufficient importance to suggest the need for a re-evaluation and redevelopment of individual and institutional relationships in terms of the total community structure.


The individual is the core of the social system. The structure which exists in society is the product of the combined efforts of individuals to achieve the kind of social environment in which they can accomplish the highest degree of self-achievement. The simple organizations that people develop to accomplish their purposes evolve into intricate formal structures which always tend to persist in formalized terms, in spite of environmental changes. Thus, such organizations soon become ineffective because human needs change; consequently, the people have to be always aware of their current needs and purposes in order to manipulate the social structure so that it will continue to serve their purposes.

To be constantly attuned to their environment, and in order to increase their capacity to solve both their individual and their common problems, people must engage in a process of continuing education. Such self-education is inevitable. Professional educators face the problem of making this education more significant and more applicable to the complex of problems arising in the changing environment. These educators, then, need some knowledge of the quality and extent of individual self-education in order to determine more accurately their relationship to it in terms of what they do not need to do as well as of their positive contributions. To this end the Institute of Adult Education has undertaken the study of individuals educating themselves in their day-to-day experiences.

Individuals in Their Personal Groups

In the process of everyday living, individuals are constantly seeking close fellowship with others and in so doing form close associations without, necessarily, the overt awareness of those involved. These associations form an integral part of the normal life of most people, are based upon mutual attraction, and are the means whereby individuals learn to live together. Such associations exist independently of the organized community life surrounding them and are the basis of the social structure. The process through which they come into being and continue their existence is a valuable educational experience basic to participation in community life. To learn more definitely the details of this process in terms of its relationship to the total community educational scene, the Institute of Adult Education undertook an investigation of informal group life in the depressed Manhattanville section of New York City.2

It is evident that informal groups perform an important function in the life of the community, for they are a means of integrating isolated individuals. They come into existence in response to a universal human need, in the proximity of isolated individuals at work or at home, under the circumstances of repeated contacts of the same individuals, and through the specific personality attraction of these individuals for one another.

Some clues to the problem of participation in organized institutional programs are obtained from the process of the formation of these informal groups, for it is evident that they are formed around personalities. This factor in the natural grouping of people is often neglected and thus is one of the limitations to forming groups around interests. Institutional programs, then, to achieve more widespread acceptance must be designed to serve the existing group on its own level and in terms of its own interests. Formalized interest-centered groups will perhaps appeal to those who attend on an individual basis, but exclude those who enjoy the associations in their own group and are reluctant to leave it to participate individually. Institutions, then, should be concerned with providing situations in which natural groups can develop, for in this way the individual will learn along with those with whom he associates normally. Within this permissive environment the institution can assist in enlarging the scope and significance of the group by giving it a chance to operate within the framework of the institution. This should encourage participation in broader concerns without disrupting the basic personality attraction which holds the group together.

In their developmental process these groups follow a distinct pattern. Beginning as a collection of individuals meeting by chance at the same time and place, they grow, by the repetition of such meetings, into a habit group which continues the association by choice. In time, such a habit group may see within its relationships certain common goals which might be achieved cooperatively, thus making it a purpose group.

As the group structure is formed and crystallized, so are group interests expanded. At first these groups are more or less self-centered, with activities limited to their members. In time they may expand into broadened interests in and concern for social and civic responsibilities. This development is slow, generally moves from self-centeredness into contact with other informal groups, and may ultimately broaden into relationships with institutional programs. Such expanding interest is related to the length of time the group has been together, the economic and educational levels of its members, and prior institutional associations. In their evolving sophistication these groups are found to move naturally into wider involvement in community affairs. An understanding of this aspect of the process of group formation is imperative if they are to participate in institutional or community programs. Group involvement will depend upon the level of interests, and the wise professional will adapt his program accordingly.

These groups, at any level, engage in a variety of activities determined for the most part by common interests, and range from those designed purely for pleasure to those resulting in economic profit for members. Such activities involve a degree of organization and formalization resulting in designated responsibilities for each member. From the pursuit of these activities and the mechanism necessary to achieve them comes a functional organization that is patterned largely on previous experiences of members. This, however, occurs only after the need for such structuring is recognized by the group as an essential expedient for the achievement of its purposes. The pursuit of these activities and the resultant organization provide significant experiences in participation that are fundamental training for the larger areas of community life.

From this growing knowledge of autonomous group life it becomes obvious that newer approaches to the active involvement of people in community functions are necessary. Institutions must rethink their role and develop new relationships between themselves and the people they are created to serve. Leadership must think in terms of service to groups of individuals on their own terms according to their sophistication, rather than of service through programs that are planned for individuals. To achieve this the adult educator must acquire intimate knowledge of the informal group life in his community and establish a confident personal relationship with group members. Existing group activities must be weighted in terms of the total educational process and institutional resources must be designed to enrich these experiences.

While this study substantiates the existence of a vast network of small social groups in this specific urban area, it is safe to assume that comparable ones exist in all types of areas. Additional study of their existence in other social environments is desirable. This is particularly true of rural areas and small towns where the form of group life is more direct and where the pattern is clearer in the simple framework of country life. Such further knowledge of group life on the various levels of social evolution will provide data that are basic to a clearer understanding of the processes of citizen participation.

Individuals in Their Community Groupings

In communities and neighborhoods all over America may be found groups of citizens that have come together to make a cooperative approach to the solution of common problems. They seem to arise spontaneously as a need for concerted action is recognized, and while most of them quickly fade away, some keep alive through recurring action as new problems confront them. In some instances they achieve an acceptable solution to their common problems; in other instances they fail.

This kind of action—of individuals in their community groupings—is commonly called community development, and in it lie the foundation strength of American democratic community life and the key to education for active citizenship. It is imperative, therefore, that we know the characteristics of this group action and that we develop educational techniques that will enable us to extend such action into ever-widening circles.

Many case studies have been made of this evidence of citizen group action. These studies have provided tentative concepts of the group process which allow some prognostication as to the probable course of any similar ones. From these concepts we can get the fundamentals upon which to develop experimental educational techniques. At present such existing techniques are generally available to professional specialists in community development, but are not sufficiently widespread to meet the needs of eager community groups.

Competent training of personnel skilled in the wise utilization of these techniques requires considerably more time than is available. The need for citizen participation in active programs of community development is urgent, and owing to the non-availability of skilled personnel, unskilled individuals are making use of such techniques. This too often results in the manipulation of groups rather than in the wise evolution of democratic group action. Manipulation under the delusion of democracy is dangerous and calls for the extension and simplification of these techniques so that they can be more directly available to interested individuals.

Both the concepts and the techniques which have been developed thus far need extensive validation. In addition, there must be more widespread experimentation to discover new techniques, and it is essential that they be disseminated in such a way as to be immediately usable by both the citizens and their leaders in sponsoring community action.

As one attempt to answer, in part, the need for further study, for active experimentation, and for the simplification and dissemination of knowledge of the community development process, the Institute of Adult Education has begun a research project in community group action.3 In this project an effort is being made to assemble an extensive collection of case histories of community groups formed in answer to recognized common problems. This collection will provide material for the analysis of the community development process, from the successes and failures as well as from the action and interaction of various elements therein.

In addition, these histories will be used as an experimental technique in the dissemination of knowledge about the process, to instigate further potential programs. By the extensive distribution of these stories to interested individuals and groups through the careful selection of reports representing comparable situations and accompanied by a users' guide, it is hoped that some knowledge can be obtained as to the feasibility of this form of mass communication. At the same time, this should provide insights into the functioning of an institution of higher learning as a community consultant, and give an opportunity for extensive evaluations of both the method and the community action process.

There is ample justification for the most expansive research into techniques and their dissemination. There is an urgent need for the application of all creative ideas regarding this problem of arousing citizens to a united attack upon common concerns, equipped with the means for successful achievement. Every idea must be tried and tested in the arena of the community and accepted or rejected by the people themselves. Such a program of research and experimentation requires the close teamwork of a number of institutions.


Within every community there exists a wealth of institutional resources that can contribute to the improvement of community life; in fact social institutions were created in the evolution of the social environment for the purpose of meeting human needs in a specialized manner. In the main, they provide the framework within which individuals achieve their common purposes and through which they make their greatest contribution to the social scene.

The efficiency of these institutions is dependent to a large extent upon the dynamic interaction of institutions and individuals. To meet effectively the changing needs in a constantly changing environment requires a simultaneous interchange between people and their institutions. Institutions cannot play a dynamic role in society without the participation of individuals, and without the response of the institution the individual is denied the opportunity to measure up to his full responsibility of participation. Because of the inadvertent breakdown of this exchange process, community institutions have tended to develop existences of their own apart from the community they serve, and people have become less and less interested in the functioning of these institutions.

Because of this, some modern social theories maintain that these institutions must be destroyed, for, it is contended, only in the creation of new ones will the individual citizen have the opportunity to participate in social policy. While not sharing this belief, the Institute of Adult Education does recognize the dangers inherent in every institution that can be averted only by the continuous re-education of institutional leaders and participating citizens. Such re-education should be a cooperative search for ways to involve both citizens and institutional leaders in the continuous evolution of institutional programs and policies. In any event, this ever-widening gulf must be bridged if all the elements present in community life are to function efficiently in achieving a common goal of a completely satisfying human existence.

It becomes necessary, therefore, to examine the functioning of specific institutions in terms of their operations as resources for furthering the development of effective citizenship. Through several specific projects the Institute of Adult Education has attempted such an examination. In one instance it has conducted an intensive study in an urban area to discover the effectiveness of the impact of existing institutions upon the lives of people and the resultant responses of those people. On the other hand, specific common institutions more directly involved in the education of citizens have been studied: public schools because of their universality and expanding inclusiveness; institutions of higher learning because of their broadening concepts of function and because of their role in training ever-increasing numbers of potential institutional as well as general civic leaders; and libraries because they exemplify a single sample institution with an unexploited potential community educational function.

Community Institutions and the Individual Citizen

The value of any institution is to be measured in terms of the service which it renders to individuals, both directly and through group associations, thus contributing ultimately to improvement in the quality and character of community life. Such institutions in a given community possess an abundant potential for effecting more widespread civic participation through their programs and services. Not all institutions, however, function effectively, for many have become too far removed from the people.

To analyze intelligently the problem of civic participation, it is necessary to know in some detail something of the effectiveness of institutions in helping to create the desire and to establish the environment for the active participation of people in the cooperative solution of common problems. To this end the Institute of Adult Education selected a portion of an urban area as the locus for an exploration into the impact and interaction of institutions and their clientele. The Manhattanville section of New York City seemed a particularly suitable area for such a study. Not only did it offer a broad selection of common institutions, but also in such a depressed and substandard area there was, unquestionably, a great need for the services these institutions might render. For this broad aggregate of people hope lies, primarily, in the direction of self-development that might be instigated and furthered by the conscious and cooperative efforts of their institutions. From this specific area come substantially sound indices applicable to any institutional-community relationships.

In its study of the institutions existing in this urban area,4 the Institute of Adult Education found that the most meager relationships existed between the people and the institutions. While the people were perhaps aware of the existence of various community agencies, few had experienced personal contacts with them and knew little of their programs. The institutional personnel, on the other hand, had but the most cursory acquaintance with the people they were designed to serve.

Institutions have a tendency to grow inward as their existence in a community is prolonged, thinking more and more in terms of their own structure and function, rather than broadening outward into ever-expanding community service. They tend to standardize procedures and continue static programs and services lacking any creative approach to the ever-changing needs for those services. They exhibit a lag in functional services that restricts their influence upon community life, and they show tendencies to resist change rather than to take the lead in directing the course of that change.

As these institutions become increasingly involved they lose contact with people and with other institutions, and thus are forced into situations of dogmatic competitiveness. As a result a close correlation is apparent between the effective acceptance of these institutions as integral parts of the community and the degree of influence and control exercised by the community upon programs and policies.

Partly resulting from centralization but also characteristic of institutions is the existence of administrative personnel lacking a sufficiently detailed familiarity with the community to perform a maximum degree of service in terms of the institutional potential. For the most part these leaders have a close acquaintanceship with the more formalized aspects of community life but are astonishingly unfamiliar with and indifferent to the underlying social structure. This situation creates a barrier between the institution and the people which is extremely difficult to dissolve. It remains, therefore, the basic responsibility of these leaders to become personally involved in community life so that their institution can create an environment in which citizens are encouraged to become active in determining the functional aspects of its program. The institution must offer the kind of enlightened leadership that will inspire its citizens to move forward through self-determination.

Unfortunately, institutions exhibit a reluctance to think of themselves in terms of their broad basic responsibility of cooperatively effecting an improved community life. There is a disinclination to effect full cooperative action among institutions for the massive achievement of common goals. Community development cannot occur without the concerted impact of all resources upon common problems. A reorientation is necessary, therefore, in terms of functions and a re-establishment of institutions as an intimate part of the community upon a broad foundation of personal relationships.

The problem of creating more effective relationships seems almost insurmountable. In making one approach to a solution, the Institute of Adult Education took the leadership in encouraging the various institutions and agencies in the Manhattanville area to become more familiar with the services and programs of others. One substantial result of this effort was the development of a cooperative handbook of institutional resources.5 Prepared by the several institutions, coordinated by the Institute, and widely distributed in the area, it had no small part in broadening the understanding and acceptance of these resources. This achievement, however, was but a beginning.

Judging from other efforts in large cities to solve this problem of the relationship of people and institutions, there is reason to believe that institutional leaders often think that citizen participation in one institution or another in a specific project automatically creates an alert and active adult citizenship. Such a conception of participation needs serious study to determine the extent and quality of the transfer of interest and action from one institution to another. It is desirable to know whether the experiences in policy determination for one institution can be applied by the citizen to the affairs and problems of the community. If not, we should know how to create learning situations in adult citizen participation in institutional policy making that will be applicable to, let us say, the political affairs of the city, state, and nation.

Research into techniques for effecting more intimate and dynamic relationships among community resources and people must be continued in order that community improvement may take place. That such research holds a high potential for success has been proved by the work that has been done thus far.

Institutions of Higher Learning and the Community

The traditional concepts of the functions of institutions of higher learning have impeded the intimate involvement of these institutions in the life of their communities. The pressures of modern society, however, are prompting them into a realization of their share of social responsibility in developing their own communities. In increasing numbers, these institutions are using their function of research in the area of community problems and are giving more attention to the dissemination of the knowledge so acquired in terms that are meaningful to the people. They are, furthermore, using their resources to help communities solve problems and are making enlarged educational opportunities available to community people.

Encompassed within these institutions is a wealth of human and physical resources that can be directly beneficial to society. Many of them, recognizing this fact, are seeking ways of increasing their participation in community life. To increase their influence upon the process of self-education for more responsible citizenship, these institutions of higher learning can function in at least three ways: as research centers for the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge bearing upon the problem of civic participation, as a regional consultation center serving surrounding community groups seeking help in dealing with specific problems relative to community development, and as training centers for potential community leaders. Sporadic and largely uncoordinated efforts have been made in each of these areas of responsibility. From such activities have come theories, suggestions, and ideas but no clear-cut practical analysis, either of the expanding functions of the institution or of practicable techniques for institutional participation.

Hoping to provide some coordination and clarification and to encourage and stimulate the further involvement of institutions of higher learning, the Institute of Adult Education has embarked upon a program of action-research in the three potential areas.

1. Basic Research into the Complexities of Community Life. One of the traditional functions of the university is that of exploring a body of knowledge to uncover new matter or to re-adapt existing facts in light of contemporary problems. Among the areas of study community development is steadily growing in importance. For a number of years disassociated and sporadic studies and experiments have been conducted by numerous research agencies. Reports of some of these have appeared, scattered promiscuously in the maze of printed material. Much of the value of this work has been lost to potential audiences, for no one has known its full scope.

In an effort to systematize the literature in the field, to rescue much that is of value, and particularly to plan and relate its own work, the Institute of Adult Education has compiled a bibliography of research in community development.6 It includes pertinent miscellaneous writings and this material has been reviewed, or contemporary reviews by professionals in the field have been extracted, to summarize and evaluate the research. This collection of source material has been classified, categorized, and presented in a usable form.

2. Social Services Direct to the Community. Education for adult citizenship participation does not readily lend itself to isolated abstract research. In order that such research may be meaningful, the direct involvement of people is necessary. To secure such a relationship with people, an institution of higher learning needs to develop an active program of participation in community affairs. In addition to providing the raw materials of research, such a program gives the institution an arena for the effective, meaningful training of potential leaders, and functions as a supplement to the existing resources of the community. In considering the function of an educational institution in the community, the Institute of Adult Education has found that an interchange between the community and the institution results in the strengthening of both.

Since the educational institution is but one of a number of community resources, it is desirable that there be some measure of integration and coordination among these resources. It might well be the role of the institution of higher learning to instigate and promote such inter-agency consolidation, in order to achieve a maximum degree of resource use and conservation. Such a cooperative development may eliminate duplication, and it will strengthen the institution's facilities for education and research.

In keeping with its teaching function, the institution of higher learning can serve efficiently as a continuing educational center. Individuals and groups interested in aspects of community development should be encouraged to turn to the institution for help in developing training programs. Both formal and informal groups and agencies can profit materially from the leadership exerted by the institution in continuous study for adaptability to changing circumstances through educational programs. Such opportunities for learning can be conducted both in the institution and in the community and should originate wherever the need is first recognized.

In addition to the problem of organization for community service, institutions of higher learning will also face the problem of financing such services. A number of patterns of financial support are in use. Most programs have had their beginnings in monetary grants from educational foundations or legislative bodies. This permits wide latitude in developing the program in the institution, without the added burden and insecurity of uncertain financial support. It also allows greater freedom for experimentation in techniques of action and enables the program to achieve some stability. Such foundation grants are limited and in time the community service program must seek its financial support from other sources; however, it will have had sufficient time under the grant to do this.

Once the value to an institution of a program of community service has been demonstrated, the financial support is generally forthcoming from that institution. This is frequently supplemented by income earned in payment for services rendered to communities. In time, this earned income may reach such proportions as to reduce the necessity for total institutional support. This is a very slow process, however, and must not be anticipated immediately. Over a long period of time it is conceivable that services might become entirely self-supporting, but it is still questionable that such a course of action is wholly desirable. The process of institutional-community relationships in community development is such that financial considerations may impede the necessary rapport, and certainly no group should be denied services on financial grounds. This aspect of the problem of financing community services needs far more extensive exploration than it has had to date.

Having achieved an organizational and financial structure, the institution must then concentrate on approaches to communities with its services. In this respect also the Institute of Adult Education made some preliminary studies in which it developed on a limited scale a functional program of service such as might exist in any college or university.7 It was found that one practical approach to communities can be made through the public school system. This will permit institutional participation in programs designed to strengthen school-community relations. Such an approach provides a structural framework around which the institution can build its community contacts and through which it can make known the type and extent of the services it is prepared to offer. Any approach, however, that is so decidedly slanted through an existing community agency has potential dangers. It can perpetuate an atmosphere of exclusiveness that is extremely harmful to the basic principles of community development and must be handled skillfully and carefully in order that it may develop the broad base of general citizen participation so essential to success.

Where there exist in communities some forms of community councils or comparable general community organizations, the institution of higher learning can work through them. To these the institution might offer in-service training programs for their personnel, or serve in a consultant capacity operating within the framework of existing council programs and objectives.

These approaches, of course, are not mutually exclusive. Any of them can be developed into effective service programs. In every instance, however, they require a trained and skilled staff of consultants backed by a well-coordinated institutional program. The exact nature and role of these consultants in the community require considerable study and analysis, but it is evident at present that the institution of higher learning must not itself instigate action within the community. It should, nevertheless, be prepared to respond readily to requests of local origin.

Actually there is no simple way of beginning and operating a program of services to communities, nor is there any limit to the quality and extent of such services. Limitations will be imposed by the institution itself in terms of its philosophy of service, and the creativity of its leadership. It is evident, moreover, that the value to the institution of higher learning is immeasurable—certainly in terms of direct financial returns. However, the spirit and educational calibre of the institution will quickly reflect the progressive stimulation and challenge from direct contacts with people in their natural environment.

3. Training Potential Professional Leaders. When people seek to effect cooperative group action in their local communities they frequently find themselves impeded by a lack of the knowledge essential to achieve such action. In such cases they often turn to their local professional leaders for help and guidance. All too frequently these leaders are not adequately prepared to offer sound advice and assistance to such citizen groups.

In continuing their traditional function of disseminating knowledge, institutions of higher learning have a major share in the responsibility of training those who may in time become community leaders. This includes those destined for positions of professional responsibility, such as doctors, lawyers, and businessmen; institutional leaders in educational, religious, health, or other community agencies; and specialists equipped to function specifically in the field of community development. Frequently such institutions have given these professional leaders inadequate training for full and competent functioning in their communities. Institutional leaders and general professional people need careful training in the total structuring of society and must develop clear concepts of the relationships of their specialties to one another and to the whole community. Community development personnel need a particular kind of training to equip them for their role. Existing training curricula have not been specifically designed to meet the actual needs that may be encountered, and no provision has been made for experience training under qualified supervision.

In recognition of the existing inadequacies of training opportunities and to begin the research necessary to effect improvement, the Institute of Adult Education has undertaken two correlated lines of inquiry. One is the projected study of the role and responsibility of the successful community consultant, in order to learn more of his work with citizen groups so that professional training may be more accurately designed to prepare individuals for such positions. This particular professional position has developed in response to a need of society, and those individuals so employed have developed their skills through experience. Since the demand for such personnel is increasing and there is not adequate time to wait for chance to supply them, it is necessary that a program of formalized training be developed to provide the essential ingredients in lieu of experience, in so far as possible. It is necessary, then, to learn the nature of these ingredients through the careful analysis of successful professionals and their positions.

Such long-term development of a competent training program will not meet the immediate demand for skilled personnel, nor will it provide for the needs of those persons now in positions of community leadership who are called upon to function in this capacity. To bridge this time-gap the Institute has developed a tentative plan for the immediate experience training or internship of those potential professional leaders of adult education now in training.8

Plans have been partially completed to secure the cooperation of five communities in further planning toward pilot studies that will be based upon both an in-service training program for existing community leaders and professional education for collegiate graduate students.

Libraries and Individual Education

Libraries are the warehouses for the accumulated and recorded knowledge of society. In the past they have served efficiently in storing the records of social progress, but less meaningfully as resources for community education. They have served as individualized reading centers, with the improvement of the quality and quantity of adult reading as an objective. Reading alone, however, without application in terms of action is of little value in education for citizen participation. The library, then, must also assume responsibility for helping to translate knowledge into action. Thus the conceptual role of the library is changing from a passive depository to an active educational force. Such a change is by no means universally accepted by librarians, but these administrators are, in ever-increasing numbers, seeking ways of expanding library service into more vital participation in community life.

To answer in part the quest for means through which to enlarge the library's role in its community, the Institute of Adult Education entered into a cooperative research project at the request of the New York Public Library.9 Specifically this project sought leads into ways in which the library might function most efficiently as the sponsoring agency for the discussion of current problems, through the formation of groups utilizing the resources and facilities of their local libraries.

After a preliminary study of the problem the Institute concentrated on an action approach, through which it operated group discussion programs in several branch libraries. This brought into focus the problems which might be encountered by the library in operating a full-scale program of this specific technique for furthering individual education. These problems were examined in detail and alternate solutions investigated, and while they are more or less peculiar to the library they carry implications to other single institutions.

It became evident early in the study that most library personnel were not adequately equipped for this type of expansion of their responsibilities. An enlarged concept of library service requires intensive in-service training for staff personnel in two specific directions: to change their attitude from the traditional library functions to one favoring an expanded program of community service and careful training for leadership roles in group discussions. At the same time this implies the inclusion of these things in the curriculum of library service schools for the proper preparation of future library personnel. With their present burden of duties it is not possible for existing library staffs to conduct an adequate group discussion program. It is, of course, desirable that libraries add to their staffs personnel who can handle these expanding activities. However, this is beyond the immediate resources of most library systems. They must, therefore, depend upon lay persons for assistance in implementing a group discussion program. This will require the development of leadership training programs and an attitude of helpfulness and cooperation that will encourage volunteer lay leaders to make full use of library resources. This certainly is within the scope of a majority of the public libraries.

Correlative to the problem of leadership is that of participation. In their present pattern, libraries offer services primarily to individuals. Since they have their contacts with individuals, the development of any active educational program must rest upon these individuals. Library leaders, then, must recognize the interests of people, and these will cover a field so broad as to involve a prodigious number of interest groups—certainly far more than is practicable.

Even with the successful involvement of regular users, however, there remains a massive potential library public that is not incorporated into any program. As a rule, these are the people who most need the resources which the library has available. The general public must be continually and actively informed of the resources of the library and warmly encouraged to utilize library facilities. Furthermore, the library must endeavor to develop program services in terms of the needs and interests of this untapped public reserve. This cannot be done through the existing pattern of discussion groups. Experience has shown that such groups cannot be formed of diverse people around specific topics with any great degree of continuity, and if the library is to achieve continuity and contact with those not presently involved it must build programs around existing groups. Probably, libraries will find themselves compelled to develop programs around the natural groupings of people. From investigation it was found that there exist a large number of such natural groups within the library service area, and by experimentation a substantial element of success was achieved in their involvement in a library program.

Public Schools and Their Community

The public school has earned itself a position of prominence in American life, founded upon the intimate integration of the school and the people at a time when community life was relatively simple. Like all institutions, however, the school tended to develop an entity of its own that resulted in an ever-widening chasm between the school and the community. This condition was brought about by advances in the science of education, by the rapidly accelerating pace of social change, and either by the unwarranted assumption on the part of the educational profession of the recognition and acceptance of these changes by the community, or by the failure of the profession itself to comprehend the full significance of the interaction of social forces.

Among other things came the realization that small rural schools were decreasingly capable of providing adequate educational opportunities in keeping with the evolution of both educational methodology and social environment. Consolidation and centralization of school plants seemed the only feasible answer to the deficiencies of the rural school. In some instances rural people themselves pressed for increased opportunities for their children, while in others they resisted this consolidation movement.10

When the people were kept fully informed of the changing conditions prompting consolidation they participated actively in the planning and implementation. This resulted in a high peak of interest and participation in school affairs that brought vigorous public involvement in centralization, improved building facilities, increased state aid, and other tangible consequences. This momentum was not maintained, however, and did not seem to carry over into continuing studies of school improvement. When, therefore, in 1948 the 411 Central School Districts determined to study cooperatively ways and means of improving the quality of education in the Central Schools, they recognized the importance of community involvement in the improvement of education. The Central School Board Committee on Educational Research invited the Institute of Adult Education to join with them and their communities in studying this problem.

Through its study the Institute sought means of sustaining interest of people from all sections of a district in its school affairs.11 It was found that these central schools continued to function as centers for a large share of the activities of these newly expanded communities, just as the smaller schools had functioned for decades in their neighborhoods. In the central schools, however, there was an increase in both the number and the variety of services resulting from the expanded resources of the school plant and the new responsibilities of school boards prompted by enlarged state aid for such services. Since the schools serve a larger area, these activities tend to be less intimate than those of the smaller schools and function less effectively as a means of integrating the widespread school population. Too often school administrators incorrectly consider attendance at those activities taking place in the school plant as active participation in school affairs. Some districts sense the fallacy of this assumption, yet fail to achieve widespread involvement of the public in educational planning because they entrust it to selected citizens. This procedure, too, is inadequate and functions more in terms of the solution of the administrative problems of the school than in the integration of school and community resources for a solution of problems common to both.

The transfer of sovereignty and allegiance from the small neighborhood school to the larger, more inclusive central school was not entirely achieved. The intimate intercommunication of the relatively simple neighborhood was lost in the increased size of the central school community. Those people in relatively close geographic proximity to the new consolidated school achieved a cohesion that tended to foster gaps in communication between themselves and the more remote sections of the new central school district.

To insure participation in the educational development of the community there must be extensive programs of adult study by small, friendly groups, aimed toward the planning and operation of such aspects as improvement in the quality of the curriculum, wiser joint utilizations of school and community resources, or the continuous study of the financial program as it relates to the designing of a better quality of education. To study possibilities for implementing this concept and to examine its soundness at close range, the Central School Boards Committee on Educational Research and the Institute of Adult Education instituted pilot studies in two central school communities in the spring of 1951. Paramount among the problems that arose from these studies is the one of developing within the larger centralized structure the vital aspects of citizen involvement that had existed before centralization in the smaller school districts. Three existing means of revitalized involvement became clear in the pilot studies: (1) restoration by the Central Schools of activities and services on a neighborhood basis, replacing the loss by the more remote former school districts of public involvement and community pride in their school; (2) improvement of the citizen involvement in the annual meeting of the Central School District (While this meeting is fixed by law, it has tended to become restricted and formalized, but has unique potentialities for stimulating public study and involvement in school improvement); (3) continuous study of the school budget as a total plan for education, requiring the imagination of the entire community.

Through these means and others yet to be discovered, the areas in which citizens must share a major responsibility for educational planning may be determined. School personnel, too, must be adjusted to acceptance of the concept of active public involvement; patterns and demonstrations of the effective use of each of the three methods must be devised, based upon collection, observation, and extension of the best existing practice, and evaluations of their effectiveness must be developed.

Upon the results of extending this exploration may rest answers to many of the critical problems facing school systems at present.

The Future Responsibilities of Adult Education

The men who bore the responsibility for leadership in the founding of our nation had utmost confidence in the continuing ability of people to make wise decisions in matters of government. In expressing this concept Thomas Jefferson wrote:

I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

These architects of the new nation laid squarely upon the shoulders of each generation the responsibility for determining the kind of world in which it chose to live. Through the years the citizens of this nation have not always been good stewards. Not only have the people been entrusted with fewer of the "ultimate powers of the society"; they have not "informed their discretion by education."

Adult education seeks now the methods and techniques whereby the masses of the people can be educated to re-shoulder the responsibilities of self-determination. This does not imply that such education is not taking place. Individuals and groups in all parts of the nation are constantly engaging in educational activities leading to better civic participation. This, however, is too scattered and disorganized to fulfill the tremendous need for more extensive and widespread citizenship educational activities. Upon the educator falls the responsibility of developing the processes for broadened dissemination of methodology leading to universal participation.

The development of these processes requires extensive research and experimentation, and the work of the Institute of Adult Education is but one of a number of meager beginnings toward solutions to this problem. Such study as the Institute has completed helps to clarify the purposes of research in this area and to delineate the specific sectors which further study must explore. In its essence this investigation into the problem of education for active adult citizenship is directed toward the process of equipping people with the ability to make adjustments to social changes and toward evaluating these changes in terms of people's reactions to them in directing the course which change will pursue.

It appears, then, that to achieve an understanding of the process of citizenship education, research and experimentation must involve three major areas: (1) the individual in his personal group, (2) individual and personal group relationships to social institutions, and (3) the individual, personal group, and social institutional inter-involvement in the total community structure.

1 The Institute of Adult Education, Teacher College, Columbia University, has been concerned with the study of numerous aspects o the problem of community adult education Various research studies by members of the staff, upon which this discussion is based, are cited herein.

2 Hurley H. Doddy, Informal Groups and the Community. Institute of Adult Education, Teachers College, 1951. (In press)

3 Max Wolff, "A Pilot Study and Plan for Assembling, Organizing, and Disseminating Case Studies in Adult Education for Community Development." Institute of Adult Education, Teachers College, 1951. (Unpublished)

4 Hurley Doddy and Herbert Maccoby, "A Progress Report on the Manhattanville Project of the Institute of Adult Education." Institute of Adult Education, Teachers College, 1950. (Unpublished)

5 Resources for Better Living in Manhattanville. The Institute of Adult Education, Teachers College, 1950.

6 John H. Bass, Adult Education and Community Development: A Guide to Bibliographical Research with a Selected Bibliography. Institute of Adult Education, Teachers College. (In press)

7 James R. White, "Institutions of Higher Learning in Community Improvement: An Approach to the Establishment and Operation of Programs." (Unpublished Doctor of Education Report, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1951.)

8 Coolie Verner and others. A Proposal for the Training of Leaders for Adult Education. Institute of Adult Education, Teachers College, 1951. (Unpublished)

9 A. Orin Leonard, "A Plan to Extend Library Service for Group Discussion in the New York Public Library." (Unpublished Doctor of Education Report, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1951.)

10 Robert West Howard, After Ichabod Crane. Institute of Adult Education, Teachers College. (In press)

11 Julien H. Nixon, "The New York Central Schools and Community Education." Institute of Adult Education, Teachers College, 1951. (Unpublished)

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 53 Number 1, 1951, p. 16-31
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 5001, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 9:37:23 PM

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