Symposium: Transformative learning in the era of globalization


Daniel Schugurensky (Transformative Learning Centre, OISE/UT)


Budd Hall, Shahrzad Mojab, Ed O'Sullivan, Daniel Schugurensky (Transformative Learning Centre, OISE/UT)

This symposium, which is based on four ongoing research projects conducted at OISE/UT, examines the educational dimensions of social movements at the turn of the century. The common goal of these projects is to contribute to the debate on the linkages between adult learning, civil society and social transformation, and to the development of a critical transformative education that integrates ecological and democratic goals.

Social Movement Learning: Interim Report on an International Comparative Study

(Budd Hall)

Budd Halls remarks in this paper are part of a larger comparative research project on social movement learning. He speaks about the contemporary global economic contexts using the metaphor of Views from the Edge of a Flat Earth: Adult Education. He has chosen this metaphor because it strikes him that at the end of this decade, this century and this millennium, the free market economists of our day very much resemble the sceptical geographers of 14th Century Europe who were beginning to have their doubts about whether or not the world was indeed flat. For the 14th Century geographers, there was much anecdotal evidence from fishers and travellers to the effect that the world was round, but as no one had ever returned from sailing around the earth, the dominant opinions held sway. The growing uncertainties of the global financial markets have brought free trade economists, the flat-earth scientists of our story to the edge of their metaphoric flat earth.

They have heard the anecdotes from beyond the edge, but they are not yet ready to declare that their is another form for the world; that there is another story about economy, people and the rest of nature to explore. Budd notes that according to Cree colleague, Laara Fitznor, who specializes in Aboriginal Education at OISE/UT, aboriginal peoples in North America had always known of the earth's roundness having learned the creation metaphor of the earth shaped like the back of a Turtle...hence Turtle Isla and for what the euro-american settlers now call North America.

The Finance Minister of Canada speaking before the October meeting of the International Monetary Fund in 1998 noted the following in a turn away from previous unrestrained support for free global market systems:

"Even the truest believers in free markets have long sense acknowledged the need for sound domestic banking regulations...and other such instruments to protect individuals from the excesses of an unfettered market at home. Clearly there is need for similar instruments and tools in international markets.(emphasis added).

It is more than the Finance Ministers of the world who have come to the edge of the flat earth just now, although the sustained instability in global markets have for the first time raised transparent concerns about the risks of unregulated capital flows to even the most diehard economic fundamentalists. What has caused me to think that we are quite literally at the edge, at the point of transition has been sustained voices from so many different disciplines and fields of study; so many views from the edge. Let us consider some of these views. Ingvar Carlsson, the former Prime Minister of Sweden and Shridath Ramphal, former Commonwealth Secretary General were the authors of the Report on the Commission on Global Governance which looked at the potential reform of the United Nations system. They noted that we were at a point in time as momentous as the rise of Islam at the time of death of the prophet Mohammed or at the time of the European expansion into the Americas. They note that "the world needs a new vision that can galvanize people everywhere to achieve higher levels of co-operation in areas of common concern and shared destiny".

Ulrich Beck, a much respected German sociologist, notes that "more and more we find ourselves in situations which the prevailing institutions and concepts of politics can neither grasp nor adequately respond to". He continues, with specific reference to Europe: "Anyone who takes a look at the shifts and erosion in the basic structures of European modernity must ask the question of how and where new structures, coordinating systems and orientations will come from". Charlene Spretnak an ecofeminist from the United States of America tells us that "Our situation as a species is the following: the life-support systems of this almost impossibly beautiful planet are being violated and degraded, causing often irreparable damage, yet only a small proportion of humans have focused on this crisis.". From Vandana Shiva, "Somewhere along the way, the unbridled pursuit of progress, guided by science and development, began to destroy life without any assessment of how fast and how much of the diversity of life on this

planet is disappearing".

Eric Hobsbawn, one of the most respected western historians, in his seminal history of the 20th century notes that."for the first time in two centuries, the world of the 1990s entirely lacked any international system or structure" (p.559). He goes on to say that, "In short the century ended in a global disorder whose nature was unclear, and without an obvious mechanism for either ending it or keeping in under control". He closes out his work with a plea to look beyond the edge towards something new in arguing that "the forces generated by the techno-scientific economy are now great enough to destroy the environment, that is to say, the material foundations of life. The structures of human societies themselves including even some of the social foundations of the capitalist economy are on the point of being destroyed by the erosion of what we have inherited from the past. Our world risks both explosion and implosion. It must change." (pp.584-85)

Finally, the Hamburg Declaration of 1997, arising from the Fifth UNESCO International Conference on Adult Education, acknowledges that serious doubts about the future exist when it includes in the brief phrase in the first paragraph these poignant words,

"if humanity is to survive" (What lies beyond edge: The CONFINTEA Vision). Among other things, many of us involved in the processes of the past years as adult educators leading up to and moving beyond the Hamburg Conference of 1997 were expressing our vision for a better world, our views of the world beyond the edge of the flat earth. And what kind of vision is it? It is a world where people are not powerless, where agency and possibility flourish. Adult education "is a powerful concept for fostering ecologically sustainable development, for promoting democracy, justice, gender equity...and for building a world in which violent conflict is replaced by dialogue and a culture of peace based on justice.". We further stated in our Declaration that, "At the heart of this transformation is a new role for the state...the state remains the essential vehicle for ensuring rights for all" Ours is to be a society where education includes "the right to question and analyze". We called for a culture of peace, the empowerment of women, environmental sustainability, rights of indigenous and nomadic peoples, persons with disabilities, the ageing, a transformed economy and improvements to health. "Our ultimate goal should be the creation of a learning society committed to social justice and general well-being". The 'Social Movements Learning' project attempts to develop a collaborative international strategy to move adult education paradigms and practices towards that end.

Feminism, Globalization And Adult Education

(Angela Miles and Shahrzad Mojab)

Angela Miles and Shahrzad Mojab organize their paper in three parts. First, they provide a broad outline of globalization theories; second, they look at conflicting views of the role of Adult Education in globalization; finally, they present their own feminist perspective on this question with specific reference to the relationship of Adult Education to the women's movement globally.

While theorists disagree on the beginning of the formation of a "world system," few can deny that nations, cultures, environments, regions and continents are increasingly tied in a complex network of interdependence called, variously, internationalization , transnationalization, or globalization. In this web the economic and cultural dimensions of globalization are more visible. The movement of capital across national borders seems to be the major driving force of globalization, although wars, disasters, and economic upheavals also contribute to significant relocation of human beings. There were a t the end of 1997 some eighteen million unemployed persons in the European Union. Some seven million Filipino women have left their country in search of work in Asia and Europe. The global sex trafficking of young girls and women (2 million annually) highlights the movement of capital, labour and the commodification of the female body. Women and their bodies are increasingly and, often brutally, drawn into the profit-seeking service activities. Female infanticide is increasing in some Eastern economies drawn into the global economy.

The neo-liberal/neo-conservative agenda of giving all power to the market is spreading throughout the world, but has widened the gulf between the rich and the poor. The agenda is to provide extensive welfare for big capital, and, at the same time, eliminate the "welfare state," which sought to redress the inability of the market to provide jobs and a decent life for the majority of the population. The "information economy," which was supposed to create a job haven has failed to transform capital-labour relations. Job security, to the limited extent that existed, is being eliminated and replaced by a state of anarchy and uncertainty. The labour force is expected to be skilled, and skilled labour is expected to be prepared for lay-offs. Re-training is promoted as a panacea for the anarchy of the capitalist market, now renamed as the post-industrial, post-work, or post-modern economy.

The debates are intense because the theories offer at once explanations and prescriptions. However, globalization has at least two contradictory implications for Adult Education. First, training/re-training for an unpredictable market subjected to the upheavals of the global economy has become indispensable for the provision and reproduction of the adult labour force. Within this market-driven global economy, paradoxically, Adult Education is also called upon to ameliorate the consequences of the very policies designed to support this competitiveness at the expense of the general population and the environment. The growing organizational learning, conflict resolution skills, and other management skill-oriented programs fall under this category. Second, some educators, NAOS, labour unionists, feminists, indigenous, environmental activists, and others pursue a non-market agenda which seeks to provide a decent life for people, and build a civil society in which all engage in self-rule through representative government; this view rejects the rule of the market in defining and measuring wealth in favour of life and community sustaining measures of value.

This paper examines the conflicting agenda of Adult Education projects which leave market dominance unchallenged and those which resist market dominance. It suggests that as a field, we need to do more than serve the lifelong learning needs of those in demanding jobs and to go beyond the contingency agenda that simply ignores the structural underpinnings of the neo-liberal paradigm in its haste to offer literacy classes for those whom poverty and underfunded education has left without reading and writing skills; English as a second language classes for migrants and refugees displaced by the consequences of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) and the militarization required to force those policies on unwilling populations; 're-training' for fishers and farmers whose traditional livelihood has been destroyed and workers who have lost their jobs or young people who have never had jobs; support for single mothers and women who have been abused by their partners and left destitute at the end of their relationships.

Mojab and Miles claim that as adult educators we need to cultivate among ourselves and those we are working with the critical capacity to understand the meaning of these educational needs. We also need to envision how they might be overcome or supplied in a more just and life-enhancing world. In this period of transnational corporate ascendency, when government policies (nationally and internationally) support the rapid concentration of wealth and power and the continuing improvement of communities and degradation of nature, it becomes particularly important to protect and enhance a critical and visionary capacity in the academy and the field. For without this capacity, individual adult educators can easily and unknowingly become tools in the

implementation of unjust policies, and Adult Education as a professional field will be contained in and complicit with the destructive neo-liberal agenda.

Finally, they argue that social movements are important sources of new thinking and new knowledge for Adult Education. They illustrate, with reference to feminism and the women's movement, that transformative perspectives and capacities within Adult Education are fostered and protected best when the field has close connections to social movements. In these times of increasing commodification, competition and globalization, the space for Adult Education to serve libratory ends is under threat. Yet a vibrant and powerful network of social movements remains active in resistance and solidarity. It is from these diverse locations of community-based and movement-based education that Adult Education in the academy can draw fresh thinking and ideas. By being physically accessible and philosophically open to the new paradigms proposed by groups such as feminists, environmentalists, Indigenous Peoples, Adult Education can be strengthened in its ability to challenge neo-liberal ascendancy and retain an autonomous self-definition. Women's movement, for example, offers vast possibilities for such linkages.

The critiques and the visions proposed by women throughout the world create spaces much needed by an embattled field that is historically connected to cultural and social life.

Transformative Learning: Educational Vision for the Twenty-First Century

(Ed O'Sullivan)

In this paper, Ed O'Sullivan argues that one of the core assumptions that guides the direction of Transformative Learning is the postulation that the fundamental educational task of our times is to make the choice for a sustainable planetary habit at of interdependent life forms over and against the pathos of the global competitive marketplace. This work shares a point of view of a rising tide of people and communities all over this globe. This emergent vision of life deeply challenges the economic globalization that is moving like a tornado in our world as we approach the new century (O'Sullivan, 1999). This choice is guided by a deep sensitivity to contemporary environmental concerns. The choice for what he names an ecozoic vision can also be called a transformative perspective because it posits a radical restructuring of all current educational directions. To move toward a planetary education, it will be necessary to have a functional cosmology that is in line with the vision of where this education will be leading us.

In the last decade of this century events are accelerating on several fronts simultaneously -economic-ecological and political forcing profound changes in the relationship among peoples, nations and governments. The world is increasingly interlinked leading into what we might label as the global context. With global communications and ever greater access to information , people are now beginning to exercise responsibility for every part of this planet. Since World War II, governments have been preoccupied with economic interdependence, the coupling of local economies into a global system.

Now we have reached the point where the world has moved beyond economic to ecological interdependence and even beyond this to intermeshing of the two. The earths signals are unmistakable. Global warming is a form of feedback from the earth's ecological system to the world's economic system. So is the ozone layer, acid rain in Europe, soil degradation in Africa. and Australia, deforestation and species loss in the Amazon. It is clear now that the world's economy and the earth's ecology are interlocked. The new imperative going into the Twenty-First Century, has profound implications for the institutions of governance and education. If the educational systems throughout the twentieth century have been framed within a 'nation-state' context, education going into the twenty-first century will have to increasingly address a global context.

Transformative Learning addresses the global context in both a critical and a creative visionary manner. The primary point of departure of the Transformative Learning Centre is in its critical stance toward the idea that education should be designed to equip individuals in the global market place. The visionary work is in attempting to create a new space in the new century that will help all levels of education to move beyond the strangle hold of market centred education. It may be said that the 20th century is the century that ends with a pervasive emphasis on the market economy; the Twenty-First Century, from a transformative perspective, must be the century of the environment. Otherwise, our planet faces accelerating social disintegration and environ

mental collapse.

Adult education and social change at the turn of the century: the challenges ahead (Daniel Schugurensky)

Daniel Schugurensky builds on the previous three presentations. In the first part, his paper describes and discusses the main accomplishments and shortcomings in the tradition of adult education for social change during the 20th century. The second part discusses some of the challenges ahead for adult educators committed to social change.

As we close this century and move into the next, adult education continues to be a very broad field with very rich traditions. During the last two decades, attempts have been made to group these traditions into clusters. Although the number and type of categories --and the criteria to establish them-- varies from author to author, most taxonomies make reference to a tradition that is known, among other names, as 'social action and social change', 'radical', 'transformative', 'emancipatory', 'liberatory' or 'popular' adult education. During this century, this tradition has been enriched by a variety of theoretical, philosophical and methodological approaches. Hence, it is not uncommon to see the above concepts associated with others such as 'critical pedagogy', 'participatory-action research', 'theatre of the oppressed', 'social organizing' or some version of 'community development.' The name may also reflect the main focus of the social movement seeking social change: environmental education, labour education, feminist pedagogy, aboriginal education, human rights education, anti-racist education, peace education, political education, health education, and so on. The facilitators of these processes may identify themselves as adult educators, but they also may identify themselves primarily as social workers, extensionists, doctors, nurses, religious leaders or political activists. In spite of the variety of agencies, contents and methodologies, a common element in the educational activities for social change is the combination of critical reflection and collective mobilization in the effort to challenge structures of domination and construct a social order with higher levels of democracy, social justice and environmental sustainability. Adult educators in this tradition reject the notion that knowledge is neutral, and identify themselves as social and political actors. With a few exceptions, this tradition has not been strengthened by the state (which focuses on the provision of academic and vocational adult education) or by the market (which tends to focus on personal development courses and for-the-job and on-the-job training paid by learners or by employers). Education for social change is usually carried out by a variety of civil society organizations, and funding for these programs is generally scarce.

At this point, it is relevant to ask ourselves what the main challenges are facing adult educators interested in fostering social change. Many of these challenges are probably not very different from the ones faced by progressive adult educators in the past, but some are peculiar to the current times. It seems that we are entering the new century with less certainties that before. We define the emerging world more in terms of what it is not, than on what effectively is. Hence, people claim that we live in a world of 'posts': post-modern, post-colonial, post-fordist, post-welfare state, post-Berlin Wall, post-industrial and even post-capitalist, etc., but it is not clear what the exact features of the emerging social order are. Likewise, adult educators for social change are very clear in what they stand against (racism, patriarchy, class exploitation, neoliberalism, environmental degradation, human rights abuses, etc.), but there is little agreement on the key characteristics of the desired society and of the 'new human being'.

While looking at the shape of the world at the end of 20th century and the role of adult education in making it a better place, the realist in us could find some insight in Gramsci's motto of "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will." On the one hand, this is a very sad 'fin du siecle' for progressive adult education. The neoliberal model of globalization is pitting country against country in a desperate race towards a lowest common denominator in working conditions. Market imperatives and social darwinism prevail in most areas of human life, promoting an excessive individualism under which people compete as profit maximizers rather than associate as citizens. The two main alternative models to the so-called free market (the social democratic welfare-state and state socialism) tried during this century have been abandoned and considered as failures, and laissez-faire capitalism has been able again to persuade many that it is the most efficient system to organize human affairs. Particularly startling is the fact that this hegemonic power of laissez-faire capitalism is not backed by a record of success: a quick glance at any recent report by UNDP, UNICEF or WHO, for instance, will show that after more than two decades the promises of neoliberalism are not matched with its record. The overstated 'trickle down' effect seemed to have worked in fact as a 'vacuum up' effect. At the same time, environmental degradation is reaching unprecedented levels, in some cases to points of no return. The gap between rich and poor (among and within nations) is widening, creating highly polarized and fragmented societies, resulting in a global apartheid that is sometimes worse than in the colonial era. While dominant groups tend to control a larger portion of political decision-making and economic resources, in many countries the left has fragmented into a myriad of specialized advocacy groups based on issue-oriented politics and identity politics that replaced the pursuit of social transformation and universal causes for isolated resistances to power. In many instances, pessimists can claim we came back full circle to the beginning of the century. Despite the efforts of all the people who sacrificed many things (sometimes their own lives) for a better society, we find ourselves in a late capitalism that is as unfriendly to the majority of human beings and to the environment as the capitalism of the late 19th century. Despite all the hopes, we haven't achieved progress. Even worse, we are not sure anymore of what progress is supposed to be about, as we observe that the paradigmatic end-points of Rostow's modernization process (the North), in spite of its affluence, still has endemic institutionalized racism and sexism, fails to provide health care for a large majority of its people, has extremely high rates of incarceration and homelessness relative to their economic prosperity, and so on.

The situation of adult education today, in a pessimistic light, also appears to be depressing. Adult education efforts linked to collective emancipatory struggles, like the Antigonish Movement, Highlander or Hull House, just to mention a few examples close to home, are more difficult to find. Popular education has lost the vigor of previous decades, and the organic intellectuals and the public intellectuals of the past are more difficult to find. Pessimists can then ask where are today the progressive educators taking the role of public intellectuals who actively engaged in the struggle of social movements of their times. They may reply to their own question by arguing that the vanishing of the public space, the commodification of culture, the disenchantment with modernist discourses, and the splintering of causes, among other factors, build powerful barriers preventing progressive educators from successfully becoming public intellectuals. Pessimists would also lament that most adult education programs are doing little to empower the disadvantaged, to promote critical thinking, or even to provide equal opportunities to access educational services. Instead, adult education programs tend to reinforce the gap between haves and have-nots, and to emphasize vocational training. In many countries, those with the lowest levels of schooling have the fewest opportunities to access adult education programs, and resources tends to be directed to those with higher grade levels. Moreover, with recent changes in funding and delivery policies, adult learners (particularly women and the poor) are facing more and more obstacles to attend literacy and basic education programs. At the same time, citizenship education programs are not conceptualized anymore as the development of civic competences to fully participate in democracy, but merely as the preparation to pass a test.

On the other hand, the optimist in us would argue that during the last hundred years we have made significant progress in a variety of fronts. We could point out that many of the entitlements won during the first part of the century (as part of a long history of emancipation that can be traced at least to the French Revolution) still remain in place. For example, during this century women in many countries achieved suffrage, massive entrance to higher education and to the labour market, protective legislation, etc. In many countries racial subordinate groups have gained relevant civil and political rights. In many countries child work was declared illegal, and universal access to education was incorporated into national constitutions. Groups which were highly discriminated against in the past, like the disabled or the gay-lesbian community, have been able to influence public opinion and promote more equitable policies. The concept of citizenship expanded significantly, from civil to political to social rights, and global citizenship was enacted in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. During the second part of this century environmental concerns have become widespread, and some countries have passed strict environmental policies. The optimist within us will also argue that the short-lived socialist and the welfare-state, in spite of their shortcomings, showed that social darwinism is not the only possible model to organize social affairs, and generated some expectations and entitlements that governments cannot easily erase without facing serious legitimacy crises.

We can then look at adult education, and claim that progressive adult educators have accumulated a great deal of experience and theoretical reflection on the relationship between education and social change. The theoretical debates, the analysis of political and economic conjunctures, and the strategies to promote change, are much more sophisticated than in the past. Progressive adult educators are less inclined to resort to indoctrination, propaganda or empty rhetoric, and are more eager to respect learners' knowledge and to engage them in genuine reflection-action processes. There is a renewed interest for popular education all around the world, not only by opposition groups but also by a variety of governments committed to democracy building. Progressive adult educators today try to articulate social, democratic and ecological goals, and to build coalitions among a variety of social movements, such as feminism, human rights, environmentalism, peace, unions, etc. Progressive groups in civil society are finding imaginative ways to promote solidarity and negotiate with the market and the state, and social movements have played an important role in changing dominant paradigms in several fields. Information technology has brought a powerful tool to foster those alliances at an international level, and assist people in learning from each other's experiences at an unprecedented rate. Optimists can also say that the language of international organizations in documents dealing with adult education (eg. the Delors Report or the Hamburg Declaration) is very encouraging, and opens many possibilities for emancipatory adult education programs and activities.

Since both the optimistic and the pessimistic approach hold part of the truth, it is important to take both into account to overcome either a frustrating paralysis or a romantic voluntarism. In this regard, one of the challenges that progressive adult educators will likely face in the next decades is to overcome a dichotomic analysis of social reality. To approach the social world through dualisms, although sometimes is useful, on most occasions limits our understanding by creating false polarities and by precluding our analysis of the gray areas in between the poles. It also limits our practice by labelling the complexity of social reality into two excludent categories (usually one good, one bad) and by leading us to label people in a prejudgmental way and to make enemies of possible allies. Hence, in its second part, the paper briefly discusses some of the dichotomies that have been prevalent in the field of education for social transformation. Among them are theory/practice, research/policy, reproduction/transformation, local/global dynamics, consensus/conflict, modernism/postmodernism, old social movements/new social movements, voluntarism/determinism, state/civil society, nonformal education/formal education, micro/macro change, quantitative/qualitative research methodologies, pedagogy/ andragogy, 'emancipatory' adult education/human resource development, vanguardism/ populism, participatory/representative democracy, individual transformation/social transformation. In the conclusions, the author argues that, based on recent developments in the field, it is possible to expect that in the upcoming decades popular education is going to develop a more dialectic understanding of social reality, more inclusive strategies of social transformation, and more imaginative educational models.

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