The impoverished language of citizenship and adult learning

With colleagues here in Cologne, I’m currently looking at adult learning and active citizenship. Our starting assumption was that this was an area of decline, whether in policy, practice or research, but we have had to moderate that judgement at least in respect of research. So far as policy is concerned, the picture is extremely mixed, and I’ll blog about that later on. What I wanted to note today is an interesting linguistic shift.

Across much of Europe, and that includes the European Commission, governments often use the word ‘citizen’ in connection with adult learning. But when they do so, they usually use it as a synonym for ‘person’ or ‘individual’. Very seldom do they make a connection between adult learning and active citizenship, understood as full participation in civic and political activity.


Let me take one example, which comes from the Nordic region. It’s a good region to pick, because it is one where governments not only support adult education more generously than most other European regions, but they also take a broad and generous view of what sort of adult education they should support. It is typical of this view that the Nordic Council of Ministers also fund Nordplus, a lifelong learning programme that covers all stages of education and training in the Nordic and Baltic nations.

Nordplus sounds like a great programme, and you can read about its activities in adult education here. Nordplus Adult has recently published a report on its work to ‘strengthen adults’ key competences and recognition of adults’ informal and non-formal learning’.  It is well worth reading for anyone interested in basic essential skills, validation of prior learning, learning disabilities or older adults’ learning. We can learn much from the Nordic experiences.

The report also illustrates the way in which ‘citizen’ is widely used in policy discourses. The word appears twenty-three times in the report as a synonym for person/individual; the term ‘citizenship’ appears twice, both times in a list of the three Nordplus Adult programme objectives.

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I wouldn’t make too much of this case alone. The report concerns Nordplus Adult’s activities in the field of competences and recognition; presumably a separate report will deal with adult learning for ‘modern citizenship’, and the Nordplus database lists 15 separate projects in this area. On the other hand, I – perhaps naively – would expect some cross-over between competences/recognition and ‘modern citizenship’, particularly in the Nordic context.

More importantly, the same use of ‘citizen’ as synonym for ‘person’ can be found in many other policy documents in Europe. The Nordplus handbook uses the term ‘citizenship’ once, in the list of objectives for Nordplus Adult, and offers no further elaboration of what ‘modern citizenship’ is. That also is typical.

Anti-semitism and the history of Zionist emigration: it seems I might be a Nazi apologist

I’m not particularly a fan of Ken Livingtone, or for that matter of the Labour Party: I’ve been a Green since the 1980s. But I am genuinely shocked that Livingstone stands seriously accused of anti-Semitism, and has been suspended from the Party while the allegations are investigated. Even more extraordinary is that a senior MP has called him a ‘Nazi apologist’.

What is not at dispute are the words that the former Mayor of London used in a BBC radio interview:

When Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.

It is easy to pick holes in this statement: Israel didn’t exist in 1932, though the Zionists certainly believed that they were building Eretz Israel  through settlement. Hitler never gave any indication that he ‘supported Zionism’. And I’m not sure we can describe the extermination policy as a result of Hitler going mad. But do these inaccuracies amount to anti-Semitism?

I’m by no means a specialist on National Socialist policies towards Zionism. Still, I did look at the Zionist movement in my book on work camps, where I discuss the Habonim movement and its training farm in Kent, which prepared young Zionists for life on a Kibbutz. It was an interesting episode, and I might write a future post about it.

I came across a number of studies of Zionism in the 1930s, including some which examined the ways in which the Nazi regime set out to exploit the Zionist aim of resettling Jews in Palestine. The quotation comes from one of them, a book called The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, by Francis Nicosia, the Raul Hilberg Distinguished Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Vermont..

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It doesn’t say that Hitler ‘supported Zionism’, but what it makes abundantly clear, with references to the evidence, is that the National Socialist regime set out to exploit the Zionist movement.This political strategy of course predates the Holocaust. If you are concerned that I might be quoting selectively, then you can find a PDF of the book here. In fact, you will find a lot more on this topic.

I’m not particularly worried about Livingstone, an old political bruiser who can look after himself. He also has form in this area, as Matthew Cooper makes clear in his excellent and detail review of his latest book, so he presumably hoped to provoke a response. What shocks me is the way in which his opponents fell for it, in an outburst of exaggerated indignation and hatred.

Livingstone’s comments were at best a cheap shot which exploited a miserable period of our history. But the torrent of abuse heaped upon him is equally guilty of playing games with history for short term political gain. By the standards of both Livingstone and his critics, presumably any historian who uses archives rather than prejudice is either a Zionist or a Nazi apologist. The net result is to cheapen the charge of anti-Semitism and degrade its value in British political debate.

The striking success of the German dual system


An apprentice addressing strikers in Cologne

There’s a Warnstreik on today, and Cologne is full of striking Kindergarten teachers, social workers, firefighters, health workers and tram drivers. It’s all part of the regular round of negotiations over pay and conditions in the public services, with the union Verdi and the employers engaging in what may or may not be a tactical stand-off.

With the tram service cancelled, I’ve been working at home. At half past eleven, I thought I’d pop along to Heumarkt to buy an espresso and take a look at the union rally, which was large and good-natured. There was a small police presence down by the Rhein, with none of the forcible ‘kettling’ that you tend to see in Britain.

While most of the strikers were clearly people who had spent some time in their jobs, I was struck by the number of apprentices who were there, one of whom was invited to speak from the platform. He described the strike as important for Azubis (Auszubildende) not simply in terms of their pay but also the quality of their training, which he claimed was jeopardized by the employers’ refusal to negotiate.

I’ve a couple of comments to make on this. First, the union doesn’t just recruit apprentices but went out of its way to ensure that their voice was heard. Second, apprentices clearly feel themselves to be a part of their workforce, and they identify strongly with the service that they provide. Both of these factors – as well as their legal status as employees – help to shape their identity as members of an occupational group, in it for the long term.

Comparative and international research in adult and lifelong learning

I’m currently working with some German colleagues on a paper about comparative adult education research. Our starting point is our impression that this area of study is not in great shape. And this is in spite of the funding available through European Commission sources to support international and comparative activities.

As a quick way into this area, I carried out a simple search of article titles in three journals. First, I looked for the word “comparative” in titles in the International Journal of Lifelong Education and Adult Education Quarterly; then I searched for “lifelong learning” and “adult education” in titles in Comparative Education and Compare. I confined the search to articles published between 1999 and 2015, and excluded book reviews and short notes.

The first thing to say is that this is a very rough and ready measure. Even though I think these are decent journals, there are many others that I could have chosen. And my search terms meant that I missed some important contributions, including an analysis of the OECD’s PIAAC survey of adult skill, while the dates excluded a European comparative study using fresh survey data. But this was only ever meant to provide a starting point, as well as a simple test of whether our hunch about the poor health of the area is accurate.

Second, there are many more papers on adult learning in the two comparative education journals (42) than papers on comparative studies in the adult education journals (9). Compare came out top with 27 papers, thanks partly to special issues on lifelong learning in 2006 and 2009; Comparative Education also had a special issue on lifelong learning, in 1999. AEQ came bottom, with 2, and neither of the adult education journals published a special comparative issue. I’m not sure what to make of that, other than to find it an interesting pattern.

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Annual totals of relevant titles in all four journals

Third, if the trend data don’t show a decline, neither do they suggest an area in rude health.  What they do show is the importance of special issues devoted to research on adult learning; and it is worth bearing in mind that as well as the direct boost of a special issue, the articles that feature in it will then generate furthe debate and in turn stimulate more papers. Given this, it is a bit worrying that the last special issue in  these four journals appeared in 2009.

It’s wise not to over-generalise on the basis of limited data and a simplistic analysis, but let me hazard some informed suppositions. I think the special issues were probably largely a response to the rise of policy interest in lifelong learning. It strikes me that the adult education journals aren’t as open to comparative research as the comparative education journals are to studies of adult learning. There is little evidence here of a European effect, though some of the papers may well have drawn on evidence that was provided through EC funding.

All in all, people who care about comparative adult education research have a bit of a challenge on their hands. Or perhaps this is something that we are happy to leave to the OECD and European Commission, who will then undertake surveys that we can contentedly critique, without actually doing much comparative research ourselves?


A new skills agenda for Europe – or a drearily familiar shopping list?

The European Commission prearing to publish a position paper entitled A New Skills Agenda for Europe. Due to appear in late May, the paper is concerned with ‘promoting skills’, including the mutual recognition of qualifications, supporting vocational training and higher education, and ‘reaping the full potential of digital jobs’.

Will the content live up to its title – that is, will it really be ‘new’? Judging by the minutes of the Education Council, much of it will be familiar stuff. It will focus entirely on skills supply, with little or no discussion of how to raise the demand for and utilisation of those skills. Employability will be everything; don’t expect any creative thinking about skills for other areas of life. There could be a brief nod in the direction of equity and inclusion, and there will certainly be much rhetorical excitement about the growth potential of the digital economy.

Finally, because responsibility for skills lies largely with member states, several of whom are worried about ‘competency creep’ in the field of education policy, the Commission will largely confine itself to urging other people to do things, few of which will be innovative. So far, then, so familiar.

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Minutes of the European Council, 24 February 2016

Possibly there will be one new feature, compared with past policy papers on skills. The New Skills Agenda is highly likely to refer to the skills and the integration of refugees. Germany’s experience in the last year suggests that refugee integration into the labour market is proving slower than anticipated, partly because of language difficulties, but also because fewer refugees than anticipated hold recognised qualifications.

If my analysis is right, the energy has drained out of the ‘social Europe’project that was embodied during the 1980s by Jacques Delors. But neither are the largely Right or Centre-Right figures who dominate today’s Commission capable of producing creative and imaginative approaches to the skills and knowledge of Europe’s population, whether established or new. I find it hard to see the new paper making much of a splash, but I’d be delighted to be proved wrong when it is published in May.


Democracy requires lifelong education and critical thinking


Congratulations to the Southern Region of the Workers Educational Association for organising what looks like a terrific conference on education and democracy. Democratic education was, as Stephen Roberts’ centenary history confirms, a preoccupation that ran like a thread through the WEA’s activities, and I’m delighted to see it addressed in this way, with some pointed questions and sparky speakers to fire up the debate.

Linden West is a friend and we’ve worked and written together, so you can take what I say with a pinch of salt. He has a background in the WEA; his latest book (nothing if not ambitious) tackles racism, fundamentalism, Islamophobia and de-industrialisation in the context of democratic education; you can find the details here.

I’m equally interested in hearing what Hilda Kean has to say. Again, she has a background in adult education, and stood up in public to attack Ruskin College’s decision to trash its own archives. She is a leading exponent of the public history movement, and is well known for her histories of animals, including work for the BBC on animals in wartime.

This could, and should, be a really important event which shapes discussions not only around the WEA, but over the future of adult learning in the UK more generally. I have nothing against Tonbridge, but why leave it there? Can’t the WEA nationally turn it into a travelling roadshow, igniting debates elsewhere?

The World Conference on Adult Education, 1929

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Times, 23 August 1929

I’m writing a discussion paper on comparative studies in adult education, an area of academic research that seems to me in trouble. As so often is the case, I have been side-tracked, thanks to a discussion with a German colleague and friend who mentioned the 1929 World Conference on Adult Education. This was the first event of its kind, so I wanted to find out more.

Google took me straight to a report in a Tasmanian newspaper, which focused on why Australia wasn’t represented on the council of the newly-created World Association of Adult Education (details here). As you can see, the Times on the other hand took a rather British-centred and colonial perspective.

Since then I’ve searched the digital archive of the Times, which covered the conference in remarkable detail: as well as a preview on 12 August, it reported daily on the proceedings from the 23rd to the 30th. On the first day, the Times reported on the welcoming speech by Sir Charles Trevelyan, President of the Board of Education (the post normally known as minister for education) and one of a lengthy queue of prominent opening speakers.

Trevelyan, reassuringly for the affluent readers of the Times, particularly emphasised the role on adult education in making the labour movement respectable. Whether he believed this, or simply used it as a persuasive argument to appeal to the wealthy and powerful, is for you to decide.

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From the report of Treevelyan’s welcoming speech

This is a rich resource, and I will no doubt return to it in future posts. Let me finish with a question: can you imagine the Times of today reporting from the conference of the International Council for Adult Education, successor body of the World Association?

Unattractive journal author services from “International Research Promotion”

Another day, and another crop of emails inviting me to give someone money to help me publish.This latest one is signed by a Dr P. Saha of International Research Promotion. As you can see, Dr Saha is offering to check my papers for plagiarism (thanks for that!), arrange peer review reports (authored by whom exactly?), format my papers to journal requirements, and translate my papers.


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You won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve tried to check International Research Promotion out. They say that they have a head office in London, in premises that are also apparently used by 53 other companies, and which are said to be run as a commercial mail-drop service. They also claim offices in Toronto (again, in premises advertised as a mail-drop address) and in “Hooghly, West Bengal, India”, which is an administrative district and not an address.

I won’t be calling on their services, and I wouldn’t advise any other academic to do so either. They are offering nothing that you cannot organise for yourself, and probably a lot more effectively – just ask colleagues, or your university research office, if in doubt. And although I do not know whether or not the two bodies are connected, they share most of their name with the International Research Promotion Council, which Jeffrey Beall thinks is a ‘scam’.



Class prejudice, social surveys and adult education: a WW2 example

In 1946, a 27-year-old lieutenant colonel published an article in the Sociological Review on the educational values of ‘Local Survey Courses’.The aim of these courses was ‘to stimulate human interests and arouse awareness of the locality and its social problems’ among women members of the armed forces.

The background, reported Lt-Col Hardiman, was the discovery that the British Army discussion materials designed to give the troops a better idea of what they were fighting for proved completely unsuitable for the women: ‘On account of the profound ignorance of many of the recruits, talks were incomprehensible to them and discussions desultory’.

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The solution to this problem, Lt-Col Hardiman wrote, was to replace talks by study visits to places of local interest such as the town hall or a housing scheme. But because the students were unable to interpret what they saww, they were ‘passive’ and ‘acquired little or no positive knowledge’.

Only by providing a structured questionnaire, and training study group leaders in how best to prompt the subsequent discussions, would the students produce ‘practically useful results’. And because the courses produced practical results, and involved active learning in co-operative groups, they were ‘more productive of social attitudes and social skills needed in modern affairs than the orthodox methods of schooling’.

Clearly, the article is riddled with upper class condescension, and even contempt, for the working class women (mostly young) who joined the women’s services. But should we dismiss it as nothing more than an expression of unthinking class prejudice, of a kind that no serious sociology journal could contemplate publishing today?

Or should we see class relations in past times as a product of context, even as part of a history of socialisation? Margaret Hardiman, born in India to a businessman father and privately educated, was the product of an exclusive social milieu. Before the Second World War, a bright young woman from such a background would have had very little personal contact with working class women. Interaction with shop assistants, maid servants or waitresses was bounded by clear rules and reinforced by training and disciplinary measures.

What the War did was to push the classes together –  and this could be a shock for all those involved. I’ve written elsewhere about some aspects of adult education during the Second World War ( if you’re interested, you can read more here), and what is clear to me is how far the main adult education movements in the War were shaped by these gendered personal encounters between the classes.

In Hardiman’s case, we can also see the interplay of elite background with higher education and career: she graduated from the LSE in 1939 and then joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service before serving under the army veteran and socialist educationalist George Wigg in the Army Education Corps.

After the War she went on to become an anthropologist at the LSE and the University of Ghana. She seems to have been highly regarded in developing countries as well as at home. While some of her youthful social attitudes will strike us as dated and patronising, I’m still pleased to come across an article that helps us understand better the role of women in army education during WW2.