Adult Education at the Crossroads

Learning our way out

Matthias Finger and Jose Manuel Asun


This assessment of the state of adult education - its traditions, current problems, and possible futures - is written from a social action perspective. It argues that adult education needs to be reconceptualized to become, once again, a relevant and effective agent of change.
This is a pithy assessment of where adult education now stands - the traditions out of which it came, its current problems, and possible futures. The authors are particularly concerned with how its longstanding commitment to deliver social change ran into difficulties in the less favourable circumstances of the 1980s and 1990s. They argue that its purposes now need to be reconceptualized in order for it to become, once again, a relevant and effective agent of change.

The authors remind adult educationists of their traditional commitment to social action by surveying the ideas of seminal adult education thinkers as they developed historically in Europe, North America and later the Third World. They show how today‘s very different context has eroded that original vision and purpose.

The book concludes by identifying four possible future scenarios; the challenges confronting an adult education still committed to social change; and the key features which they believe can contribute to ‘learning our way out of‘ the current impasse.

Author Bio

Matthias Finger is a member of the Commission on Environmental Strategy and Planning of the IUCN (the World Conservation Union). His books include (with Pratap Chatterjee), The Earth Brokers: Power, Politics and Development (1994) and (with Thomas Princen), Environmental NGOs in World Politics: Linking the Global and the Local (1994). He is currently professor of management of public enterprises at the Graduate Institute of Public Administration (IDHEAP) in Lausanne.

Jose Manuel Asun is a Spanish adult educator who for many years was director of the Ministry of Education's Adult Education Territorial Centre in Zaragoza. When writing this book, he was a research fellow at the University of Barcelona's Centre for Research on the Education of Adults. His professional experience has also included a spell as a resident specialist at the UNESCO Institute of Education (Hamburg, Germany). He currently works for the Regional Ministry of Education of Aragon.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
    • 1. Ivan Illich - Learning Webs, Not One-Way Roads.
  • Part I: The Main Historical Traditions in Adult Education
    • 2. UNESCO: Humanizing Development through Permanent Education.
    • 3. Pragmatism: A Genuine American Highway.
    • 4. Humanism: The Lonely Traveller on the Road to Heaven.
    • 5. Marxist Adult Education: Democratic Centralism or Multiple Ways to the Right Solution?
    • 6. Conclusion: Adult Education and Development
  • Part II: Crossroads and Dead Ends
    • 7. Roads Diverging.
    • 8. The Transformation of Adult Education: Where Adult Education is Going - or Being Driven Towards.
  • Part III: Possible Ways Out
    • 9. The Theory of Learning Our Way Out.
    • 10. Ways out - The Practice.
    • 11. Conclusion: Synthesis and Analysis
    • 12. Adult Education, De-Institutionalisation, and the Theory of Learning Our Way Out


'A brilliantly incisive critique of adult education's fall from grace and an inspiring practical plan for its re-enchantment. They return adult educators to their original agenda of democratic political action, collective creativity and critical social change. These are uncompromising scholars who refuse to let adult education compromise itself.'
John Broughton, Columbia University

'Finger and Asun cogently analyze the important role that adult education has to play in building a sustainable human community. Their call to link learning with issues of power and organization needs to be on the agenda of all adult educators.'
Ron Cervero, University of Georgia

'Finger and Asun bring a critical and multi-disciplinary eye to the challenge of deepening our theory at a time of globalization.'
Budd L. Hall, Vice-President of the International Council for Adult Education

'It is more than a text: it is a must read for any serious adult educator.'
Phyllis Cunningham, Northern Illinois University


Publication Date: 26 January 2001
224 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781856497510
Library Edition: 9781856497503

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