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Transnational Migration, Social Inclusion, and Adult Education (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Number 146)
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Adult education is an area of study and application that has helped bridge the gap between immigrant populations and the bureaucratic systems regulating said populations. This has been accomplished by implementing formal and informal training as well as collaborating with settlement services and other programs. Sadly, the bent of much of this training (specifically within Canada, the U.S., and Australia, in which this volume’s featured studies are located), was geared historically toward assimilating immigrants rather than integrating them into their host countries. Even today, the underlying narrative of immigration policy in these countries is highly colonial and assimilationist.
This volume attempts to elucidate the key conflicts at work between immigrants, host countries’ policies, and service workers. Using Nancy Fraser’s theoretical constructs of redistributive, recognitive, and representational justice, the authors present solutions and insights into how adult education as a field can assist immigrants in challenging exploitation and influence policy towards a more socially just outcome. Applying Fraser’s theory to adult education, Shibao Guo defines recognitive adult education as one that “affirms cultural difference and diversity as positive and desireable assets” (15). This collection addresses the conflicting interests at work within immigration and education and points to possible ways adult educators and others can mitigate the negative realities that immigrants face.
The topic of immigration is dense and multifaceted so thankfully the chapters are concise and accessible. Given that “the United Nations now estimates that 232 million of the world’s population lives outside the country of their birth,” transnational migration can no longer be ignored (2). One takeaway from this collection of nine chapters is that there is a marked disconnect between immigrants’ experiences and the policies created to regulate them. Immigrants face a myriad of challenges: the devaluation of foreign credentials, possible exploitation, racism, discrimination, heightened security policies of receiving countries, and broken bureaucratic systems. The nature of immigration has also changed. Shibao Guo provides a helpful description of how transnational migration is different from other types of migration by defining it as “multiple and circular migration across spaces of migrants who maintain close contact with their countries of origin” (7). This type of migration is a far cry from migration patterns of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when migration was often described as “one way” and immigrants were expected to completely assimilate into the receiving country’s culture, leaving all traces of “foreignness” behind. Each of the chapters echo Shibao Guo’s call for adult education to “continue its long-standing commitment to social inclusion by working toward a more inclusive adult education squarely focused on the benefit of marginalized adult learners (e.g., workers, farmers, women, racialized minorities)” (8).
The statistics reported are simply staggering. Bonnie L. Slade cites the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC), which reports that “although 76% of new immigrants have at least one type of international credential, such as a university degree, 70% experienced barriers in gaining access to the Canadian labor market at an appropriate level” (67). As Slade and others note, the devaluation of foreign creditials often leads to underemployment or unemployment, especially for immigrant women.
Critically studying the language used in immigration policy and the theoretical position taken by policy makers may also assist adult educators in unpacking some of the undercurrents of racism and colonialism still at work in policy creation. As Edward Joaquin and Juanita Johnson-Bailey point out, the “issue of immigration has generally been cloaked in the language of patriotism and nationalism” (79). While overt racism and bias may be shunned in modern discourses around immigration “predjuice has become coded and wrapped in new, less offensive language and discussion” (80). Joaquin and Johnson-Bailey also suggest that adult education programs “adapt their curriculum to educate learners about transmigrational immigrant education concerns” as well as “infuse strategies that address the needs of immigrant students” (83). Yan Gao’s chapter on ESL programs in Canada illustates how some language programs have become mechanisms to create and control workers. Yan Gao suggests that adult educators in Canada “help immigrants develop critical language awareness” which will allow them to contest unfair practices (48). Perhaps one of the most promising avenues for change comes from Tara Gibb who suggests “inviting policymakers and employers into literacy classrooms and language classrooms so that they might observe firsthand alternative forms of assessment, view holistic respresentations of language and literacy practices, and listen to immigrants’ experiences and expressions of knowledge” (60). In these instances, adult educators are being called on to actively educate themselves, their students – immigrant and nonimmigrant alike – and policy makers on these issues.
This collection provides an intriguing foray into the brave new world of immigration. It lends itself not only to adult educators who work with immigrants but also to those who do not. College faculty, administrators, and staff in the Global North would benefit from reading this volume because if transnational migration continues on its current trajectory, it will vastly change our institutional as well as national demographics.
Gender, Experience, and Knowledge in Adult Learning: Alisoun’s Daughters
Date Reviewed: March 14, 2016
Institutions of higher education can treat the life experiences of adult learners as raw student material – material that requires expert educators to transform it into knowledge. Elana Michelson questions hegemonic tendencies in higher education that often perpetuate dualism of mind versus body as well as dismissive attitudes about the value of embodied knowledge. Her argument that “professional discourse concerning experiential learning remains rooted in the disembodied Enlightenment knower” rings true in theological education as well as other areas of scholarship (38). When claims of knowledge need to be authorized in some way, the process of authorization is always embedded in power relationships. Michelson elucidates these relationships through her examination of institutional assessment of life experience for academic credit. Her book serves as a window for surveying epistemological issues of trends in higher education.
Academic scholars continue to question the legitimacy of learning from experience. Michelson traces the history of the program Assessment of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL), as it originated from liberal educational ideals responding to needs of returning war veterans after World Wars I and II. College equivalency assessment and training programs met needs for “both relevance and access” (103). Similar programs were generated globally with changes in educational multiculturalism and class mobility. The need for systems that evaluate experiential learning in order to assign academic credit and professional credentials continues to be furthered by globalization. Michaelson examines more recent developments in APEL as it responds to corporate and technical pressures on higher education.
Michelson enlists Alisoun, the wife of Bath from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, as a memorable symbol of the canny, shrewd, embodied insight that stands in contrast to the orthodox knowledge of formal scholars and clerics. The figure of Alisoun creatively questions gendered polarities of body versus mind in the history of what counts as knowledge. Alisoun’s critique of the church’s leaders has a persuasive force while questioning textual authority, misogynistic attitudes of the priesthood, and orthodoxy’s monopoly on interpretation. Michelson beautifully illustrates her argument connecting tales of old wives like Alisoun with M.M. Bakhtin’s symbol of carnival as metaphor for the “transgressive possibilities of experiential learning” and “subversive knowledges” which may pose challenges to the economic and political structures of formal education (189).
Although Michelson does not address theological education directly, religious studies programs and theological schools with programs in field education and contextual learning will benefit from her study. Authorization for ministry is changing rapidly. Consider an applicant for a Doctor of Ministry program who does not have a Master of Divinity degree but has decades of pastoral experience. Experiential knowing may be valuable, but how can that value be assessed? Unfortunately, people seem capable of failing to learn from their experience, so explicating the processes that facilitate learning from experience requires more study. Institutions of higher education or authorizing bodies who oversee workplace competencies must assess knowledge in terms of preparedness to practice professional tasks. Michaelson’s study would be stronger if she directly addressed specific examples of practical challenges of assessing the worth of experiential knowledge in consistent and fair ways. However, her book makes an important and timely contribution to the discourse on learning theory and will be valuable to those in religious studies and theological education, especially regarding intersections with critical-race theory, queer theory, and feminist theory.
Teaching Adults: A Practical Guide for New Teachers
Date Reviewed: December 1, 2015
Ralph Brockett has spent his career on the leading edge of adult learning theory and practice. He is widely published, a master in the classroom, and – having been inducted into the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame in 2005 (among other accolades) – has earned the respect and admiration of his peers. In Teaching Adults: A Practical Guide for New Teachers, Brockett takes the posture of a caring mentor to provide a succinct and accessible introduction to the dynamic field of adult learning. His style is conversational, his expertise evident, and he is clearly most interested in helping to equip you, the teacher, with very practical advice for teaching adults in a wide variety of formal and informal learning contexts.
Teaching Adults is written for a variety of readers. Brockett suggests an audience that may include a professional tasked with offering a training session in her field, a layperson asked to teach an adult Sunday School class, and a scout leader needing to orient a cadre of adult volunteers. In addition, the book is applicable to those who may not primarily think of themselves as teachers, but who nevertheless spend a fair amount of time teaching – such as ministers, social workers, and health care professionals. Further, higher education professors and instructors will find this book valuable. As Brockett rightly points out, these educators are not always equipped to meet the unique needs of an ever-increasing population of adult learners. Finally, this book can benefit graduate students in the field of adult education, helping to further define and map the foundational concepts of adult learning.
Teaching Adults is organized around a simple formula: effective teaching leads to successful learning! To illustrate this, Brockett weaves together (1) seven essential attributes of effective teachers and (2) four keys to effective teaching. To describe the qualities of effective teachers, Brockett continually reinforces seven characteristics: trust, empathy, authenticity, confidence, humility, enthusiasm, and respect. Attending to these essential qualities has a distinctive impact on the success of an adult learning event. Similarly, the four keys of effective teaching (know the content, know the adult learner, know about teaching, and know yourself) help to steward learning for maximum transfer and impact. Especially helpful in processing these concepts are the end-of-chapter “think about it” exercises and focused listings of additional resources.
Teaching Adults is an accessible and valuable primer. New and seasoned teachers alike will find practical resources for honing their skills, whatever their educational context. As a basic, introductory text, this book is not peppered with citations and endnotes; however, its bibliography serves as an essential reading list for those new to the field of adult learning theory. I would venture to suggest one drawback: despite its focus on new teachers there is a noticeable lack of discussion of new and emerging learning modalities (such as online environments). The concepts from the book are certainly applicable to all forms of teaching and learning, but an explicit mention of how these could be worked out in the online environment would have reflected the educational learning experiences for many new teachers and learners. The book does contain a self-made remedy, however. The end-of-chapter reflection questions provide teachers from any background with the implicit wisdom needed for addressing the diverse and ever-changing landscape of teaching and learning.