Power in Practice: Adult Education and the Struggle for Knowledge and Power in Society
reviewed by Nancy Fjortoft - 2002
Title: Power in Practice: Adult Education and the Struggle for Knowledge and Power in Society
Author(s): Ronald M. Cervero and Arthur L. Wilson (Editors)
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787947296, Pages: 303, Year: 2001
Search for book at Amazon.com
It’s all about power. For over 75 years, adult education has been used by a variety of societal institutions to mold and fashion how individuals interact with each other and society. What programs are offered, where they are offered, how they are offered, who teaches them, and who can and cannot attend are all deeply meaningful decisions that profoundly affect people and their drive for a better life.
Cervero and Wilson are seasoned and distinguished practitioners. They have brought together a variety of different perspectives, from academics to community activists. Together with their contributors they examine the complex relationship between the adult student and the power and politics of practice.
The book has 14 separate and distinct chapters, by almost as many authors. The chapters range from descriptive studies of HIV Prevention Education programs to essays on black women’s survival in higher education. The chapters vary in focus, are well referenced and documented and, overall, present a very thought-provoking look at adult education. The book compelled me to re-examine my own practices as a teacher in the classroom.
Tisdell, an accomplished writer with a long history of study on gender issues, once again displayed the power of story telling. In her chapter, "The Power of Positionality: Teaching for Social Change in Higher Education," she describes movingly the story of a classroom session where participants discovered a part of themselves and each other. Tisdell is keenly aware of her power and presence in the classroom and its impact on learners, and shares with us how that affects her teaching and students’ learning. Brookfield, another seasoned and respected individual in the field of adult education, in his chapter, "A Political Analysis of Discussion Groups," examines the common practice of discussion groups under the magnifying glass of politics and power. He describes how discussion groups are competitive events deeply embedded in culture, rather than the democratic, liberating experiences many of us consider them to be. This is must read for any college teacher.
Cervero and Wilson did not limit themselves to discussions on adult education in academic settings. I found the chapter, "Silent Power: HRD and the Management of Learning in the Workplace," by Schied, Carter and Howell particularly provocative. They describe the practices of human resource departments of delivering professional development courses and seminars. Adult education is usually voluntary. In workplace organizational settings, this may not be the case. Corporations decide what programs to offer, and who should attend. In some organizations, while programs are not mandatory, workers know it is in their best political interest to attend and to be seen as a participant. These corporate training programs or professional development programs, as suggested by the authors, may reduce the individuality of the worker, and promote and support the corporate personality.
Wilson and Cervero conclude the book with a chapter that challenges those of us in adult education to address the critical questions of who benefits and who should benefit from adult education. They propose that we think of ourselves as social activists and knowledge power brokers. The needs of the individual adult learner can no longer be isolated from the larger context of society. Changes in power relationships affect the individual as well as the surrounding environment. This is a responsibility not to be taken lightly. I recommend this book for those educators who teach adults and individuals who create adult education programs. It provides much to contemplate.