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Education : Second Thoughts Newsletters : Complete text of all the Second Thoughts Newsletters Last Updated: Sep 8th, 2009 - 08:07:52

Second Thoughts Vol. 1 No. 1 May 1978

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Vol. 1, No. 1, May, 1978

In this issue: Nurses Oppose MCE; The Law and MCE; Sunset Act and MCE; Draft Proclamation; Positive Alternatives; MCE & Professions; Illich: The Waning of the Vernacular


Late last fall in Detroit, during the combined national conventions of the Adult Education Association (AEA) and the National Association for Public Continuing and Adult Education (NABCAE), some 27 practitioners and professors of adult education from 17 cities in 14 states and Canadian provinces participated in a running conversation on mandatory continuing adult education and related issues. The conversations stretched over three meetings in two days, and focused on sources, research areas, and suggestions for action on MCE.

Sources of Development

The trend toward MCE was seen to be rooted in the following kinds of processes:

A. In contrast to older, more informal patterns where people learn together in "natural" settings, MCE is related to the development of professional fields with the thrust toward formalizing the process of learning, establishing credentials, certification, and licensing requirements. MCE is also linked to the need of professional associations for exercising control with-in their fields, avoiding external controls, locking up jobs, and maintaining levels of income.

B. MCE is an aspect of a more general trend in society to move from informal to more formal controls, for example, consumer advocates applying pressure to establish means of assuring professional "accountability," which some in adult education interpret as a demand for MCE.

C. In a time of declining enrollments of young people, economic crunch, and increasing institutional costs, academic institutions seek a larger share of the "market." Such institutions with their entrepreneurial and professional cohorts lobby for MCE and for their own control over MCE programs.

D. In a technology-oriented society the "knowledge explosion" appears to require continual up-dating for professionals, "para-professionals," and others performing specialized roles (e.g. parents, automobile drivers, etc.).

E. Personal needs, for example, for certification as a means of "upward mobility," are linked to institutional needs for promoting and controlling MCE.

F. So-called "developing" countries may imitate the model of industrialized countries like the U.S. so that MCE is being exported as a model by which such countries license their own developing professions. UNESCO may also play a role in such exports.

G. Within the adult education field itself, it was noted that some in NAPCAE are discussing possible moves to accredit adult education departments and certify adult educators (especially related to adult basic education), and thus move one step closer to MCE for practitioners in the field itself.

Questions for Research

The following areas of research were noted, not in any order of importance:

A. Descriptive research on the extent of MCE by fields and geographic areas.

B. Structural analysis:

1. Exploring the interlocking relations of government, professional associations, and institutions of higher education.

2. Exploring developments internal to a particular field, for example, the hierarchy within nursing and pressures toward "upward mobility" with MCE as a means.

3. A class analysis, noting, for example, differences in MCE requirements for "executives" (physicians) and "workers" (nurses).

4. Exploring the impact of federal funding on how money Is allocated for adult education within an MCE context, for example, the impact of the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE).

C. The relation of competence and the effectiveness of MCE. How is competence measured? What relation has the Continuing Education Unit (CEU), often linked to MCE, to competence?

D. Gathering of bibliographic materials from various fields such as social work, education, law, medicine, pharmacy, and library science.

E. What alternative kinds of education and communities, outside the formal MCE context, are people looking for?

F. What is the appropriate balance between the minimal need for mandatory or any other kind of instruction and other ways of learning? One person cited the problem of the air traffic controller as an example of an area where we don't wish to rely on learning by doing. Another person suggested that instruction be the approach of last resort.

G. How can the resources of higher education and other educational institutions be made available to adults without compulsion or formalization?

H. Who benefits from MCE? Egalitarian democratic principles are contradicted by unequal practice and technocratic control.

I. Is "technical performance" dysfunctional in itself? How can "real" needs be met (versus "artificial" needs, for example, the Continuing Education Unit)?

Action Suggestions

A consensus seemed to emerge which included the following proposals in more or less this order of implementation:

A. Draft of a proclamation: A statement laying out the basic issues - MCE contradicts basic adult education and democratic principles. Positive alternatives should be included in the statement both at the educational and larger societal levels (political, economic, and spiritual). This proclamation could serve as an organizing tool.

B. Circulate this proclamation and other information and comment in a regular newsletter. Second Thoughts was suggested as a title.

C. Establish a clearinghouse for information on developments related to MCE and similar manifestations. Some of this information could be circulated by means of the newsletter, in occasional papers, or through other already existing media. All such means would seek to reveal the present situation, uncover vested interests, and share information about action taken by individuals and groups.

D. Hold an organizational meeting of concerned persons, perhaps for two or three days, where extended planning for reflection and action could be carried out without the distraction of a convention.

E. In the meantime, explore funding for both organizational and research needs, for example, the National Endowment for the Humanities, FIPSE, state sources, foundations, (Mott, etc.). The most immediate need is for clerical, secretarial, printing, postage, and telephone costs.

F. Undertake research, especially in the descriptive and critical analysis areas.

G. Plan conferences around substantive issues flowing from the results of research. "Think pieces" might be included as background reading for these conferences laying out structural analyses from different perspectives which might also be publishable in journals. Such conferences and papers might provide the means for gaining public awareness of the issues.

H. Encourage the development of collective support for both adult educators and persons in the various professional and non-professional fields and associations (also cutting across such fields) who are trying to develop opposition to MCE and similar trends.

We concluded our discussions with the recognition that we need to emphasize the positive principles around which we are organizing. We should avoid being merely reactive or "against" things. The challenge is to state what we are for in such a way as not to appear to be pro-incompetence or against public accountability.


Here are the names and affiliations (for identification purposes only) of those participating in one or more of the meetings summarized above:

Jerold Apps, Chairperson, Dept. of Continuing and Vocational Education, University of Wisconsin;
Anne Brower, Jamesville, N.Y.;
Ed Bunnell, Dean, School of Continuing Education, University of South Alabama;
Robert Carlson, Chairperson, Continuing Education Program, College of Education, University of Saskatchewan;
Alexander Charters, Professor, School of Education, Syracuse University;
Barbara Conroy, Dept. of Library and Information Services, University of Toledo;
Dianne Correia, Participatory Research Project, Toronto;
Merrill Ewert, Dept. of Agricultural and Extension Education, University of Maryland;
Stanley Grabowski, Professor of Adult Education, Boston University;
Ronald Gross, Professor of Social Thought, New York University;
David Gueulette, Professor, Dept. of Educational Administration and Services, Northern Illinois University;
Budd Hall, International Council for Adult Education, Toronto;
Grace Healy, Syracuse, N.Y.;
Thomas Heaney, Community Services Office, College of Continuing Education, Northern Illinois University;
Ron Hofsess, Raleigh, N.C.;
Gladys Irish, Instructional Design, Center for Adult Education, School of Education, City College of NewYork;
Eugene Johnson, Professor, University of Georgia;
Russell Kleis, Professor, Dept. of Higher and Continuing Education, Michigan
State University;
John Niemi, Professor, Graduate Studies in Adult/Continuing Education, Northern Illi-
nois University;
Michael Obarski, DeKalb, Illinois;
Hilton Power, Dean, College of General Studies, State University of New York at Albany;
Kathleen Rockhill, Professor, Dept. of Education, University of California, Los Angeles;
Hugh Tucker, Logan, Utah;
David Williams, Professor, School of Education, State University of New York at Albany;
Joan Wright, Professor, Adult and Community Colleges Education, North Carolina State University.


The Department of Nursing at the University of Wisconsin-Extension has adopted a policy statement endorsing "a voluntary rather than a mandatory system of continuing education in nursing." The statement is brief and to the point and could well serve as a model for other professional groups. It begins: "It is our firm conviction that learning cannot be legislated and that compulsory education requirements may stifle learning efforts, as well as fail to achieve the desired goal of improving nursing care. There is no evidence that people continue to learn only when forced to do so."

Professor Signe Cooper, Chairperson of the Department, has written many excellent articles presenting her views on compulsory adult education. To obtain a copy of this statement and other information you might write her at: Department of Nursing, Health Sciences Unit, University of Wisconsin-Extension, 424 Lowell Hall, Madison, WI 53706. Or call her at (608) 262-0566.


Helen Baker, who recently completed law school in Cleveland, Ohio (2555 Kemper Rd., Apt. 406, Shaker
Heights, OH 44120) keeps watch on MCE in the law. She has sent us information that the Michigan State Bar has rejected it and an article by Marvin E. Frankel, United States District Judge, Southern District of New York, who writes: "Some ideas, though their times have come, remain poor ones. Phlogiston, however many imaginations it fired, was not useful. A current rage for compulsory course-taking by lawyers is not equally fallacious. I think, however, it is a mostly vain and inglorious thing."


Anne Hartung (P.O. Box 636, Green Mountain Falls, Colorado 80819) has been keeping us up-to-date on the effects of Colorado's new Sunset Act and writes that she will be gald to respond to requests for information from others. The act could eliminate MCE along with the licensing boards that come up for periodic review under its provisions. The Act was originally passed with pressure from Common Cause. It could become a model for similar legislation in other states.


We are a group of adult educators and others who try to put the following beliefs into practice in our daily lives;

—The primacy of voluntary learning.

—The basic value of free and open discussion intimately integrating thoughts and feelings, reflection and action.

—Working together toward a just society with more democratic control and mutual self-reliance, and less hierarchy, bureaucracy, and external authority.

—Working together toward a world with the best possible balance between maximum free learning and minimum instruction, with a significant place for activities not publicly defined as job-related or as learning.

We are encouraged by the activities of many striving to move the world toward these shared beliefs, but we are concerned about certain trends in other directions;

—Adult education is increasingly becoming compulsory by law or social pressure, accompanied by a drive for more certification, credentialing, and professionalization. These trends are burgeoning within political and economic structures dominated by a small minority. Within this framework, knowledge is defined as worthwhile only if it is technical or scientific. Professional elites are increasingly securing monopoly control over access to this knowledge and its development.

—More time and money is being spent on adult education in the name of lifelong learning. Yet these efforts are presently paying off in less economic benefits for most people, less valuable learning, and a decreasing ability to lead the good life.

—Greater specialization and fragmentation of work continue while increasingly complex technical development is encouraged in the name of greater personal control over our daily lives. In the face of these trends it becomes clear that we need instead to encourage greater general questioning and an examination of the whole and not just the specialized parts. We need to control technology and other forces supporting it to foster a better life and to remove some of the growing and unnecessary constraints on our liberties.

To work toward the durable better society which we seek and to counteract these trends we therefore propose to join together, and invite others to join us in these activities:

—Research on the extent of these trends and the structural basis for their growth through new forms of critical analysis, examining especially the links between the political, economic, technological, and cultural dimensions.

—To search for, encourage, and work with positive alternatives for human learning at every level: Individual, friendship, family, neighborhood, institutional, local, state, national, and international.

—To engage in collective political action and work with others. This action should include raising basic issues for public discussion in these and other contexts:

(1) Opposing laws and pressures for mandatory continuing education in general, and certification, credentialing, and professionalization in adult education.

(2) At the same time working toward true public accountability and the growth of genuine personal and social competence.

This is the first draft of a proclamation to begin fulfilling the action suggestions of the Detroit meetings. Please let us know what you think of it, whether you wish to endorse it or suggest changes, and what commitments you might want to make toward its implementation. Basic Choices has drawn it up based on suggestions in the meetings and as a result of further discussions of “The Price of Lifelong Education,” a statement resulting from an examination of present trends toward lifelong education by twenty-five persons from fourteen countries meeting at the Center for Intercultural Documentation (CIDOC) in Cuernavaca, Mexico in August 1974. Copies of this 1974 statement are available on request.

"Participation in an adult education programme should be a voluntary matter."—UNESCO Recommendation on the Development of Adult Education, 19th General Conference, Nairobi, Kenya, 1976.


As we begin our search for positive alternatives here are a few places to look:

The Lifelong Learner

I. The most comprehensive treatment on an individual level is undoubtedly Ron Gross' new book. The Lifelong Learner (Simon & Schuster). It has been endorsed by Ivan Illich, Isaac Asimov, Alvin Toffler, John Holt, Nat Hentoff, incidentally by Clark Kerr, and others. In the book Gross calls MCE "a misguided movement," but more importantly he offers page after page of specific alternative suggestions. It's a "how-to" book in the best sense.
Ron, a longtime successful freelance author and founder with Kurt Vonnegut, Gloria Steinem and others of Writers in the Public Interest, is available for speaking engagements, the proceeds from which go to support the nonprofit WPI. Write him at 17 Myrtle Drive, Great Neck, New York 11021.

The Learning Exchange

II. Probably the most frequently mentioned individual alternative is the learning exchange where people who want to learn are put in touch with people who want to teach on a simple matching basis with no teaching credentials required or certificates offered, and no formal class structure developed. Ron reports that there are now learning exchanges in more than forty communities and on many campuses. The most prominent one is in Evanston, Illinois. The folks there have just developed an easy to read 150 page manual on how to set up a learning exchange in your community. Send $5.00 plus $1.00 for postage and handling to Bob Lewis, The Learning Exchange, P.O. Box 920, Evanston, IL 60204. The manual was made possible by a grant from HEW's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education.

Free Universities

III. Started in the early 60s, the Free Universities are seeing a rebirth with the help of the Free U Network (c/o UFM, 1221 Thurston, Manhattan, Kansas 66502). Ron's book gives addresses for almost 200 of them in 40 states and the District of Columbia. For further information write Bill Draves at the Free U Network or call him at (913) 532-5866.

Self-Learning Efforts

IV. Professor Allen Tough at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education has pioneered in research on the many self-education projects that adults develop on their own. Tough has a new paper out, "Major Learning Efforts: Recent Research and Future Directions," which has been reprinted in Adult Education Summer 1978 (Vol. 8, No. 4).


V. Probably the best collective educational alternative is the model of Highlander started in the 1930's by Myles Horton. Read about it in Frank Adams' book. Unearthing Seeds of Fire (John F. Blair, Publisher, Winston-Salem, "N.C.), or write Frank for more information at P.O. Box 208, Gatesville, North Carolina 27938. Highlander provides a residential setting where people get together to work on important problems facing their lives. Over the years it has been active in working with groups in civil rights, union, anti-strip mining, and other movements. It's undergoing a resurgence with a new young staff. You can contact Highlander directly by writing Mike Clark at the Highlander Center, Route 3, Box 370, New Market, Tennessee 37820 or call (615) 933-3443.


As far as we know no adequate broad descriptive study has yet been done of the extent of the growth of MCE. The most recent figures we've seen, within the professions at least, appears in an article which Michael Marien, the intrepid and forceful bibliographer with Information for Policy Studies (Webster Road, LaFayette, New York 13084) has called to our attention. Beverly Watkins in The New York Times (September 11, 1977, Education Section, page 3) states that 17 states now require it for physicians, eight for dentists, and 11 for nurses. Thirty-seven states have requirements for nursing-home administrators, 45 for optometrists, 15 for pharmacists, and 18 for veterinarians. Also 23 for certified public accountants, 7 for lawyers, 11 for real-estate personnel, and five for social workers. Watkins' article is based on a study done early in 1977 by Louis E. Phillips, Director of Continuing Education, at Furman University (Greenville, South Carolina) who is quoted in the article as saying that "If the trend continues, continuing education could eventually be required for members of all licensed professions."



(whose latest book is Toward a History of Needs (Pantheon ) . Others include Medical Nemesis. Energy and Equity, and Deschooling Society).

Language has become expensive. A lot of money is spent on it today. It is spent to decide what shall be said, who shall say it, how and when, and on deciding what kind of people should be reached by the speaker or writer. Words are a large but hidden category of the national output measured in the Gross National Product. Most of the words that are designed and pronounced at high cost are meant to be parroted. They are meant to imprint the thought and the speech of vast numbers of people. Tax money and corporate dollars are spent to finance adult education classes and school programs where people are taught to speak and read as they should. We spend money to make the poor speak a little more like the wealthy, the sick a little more like the healthy, the layperson a little more like the professional. We spend more and more on many professional jargony lingos taught in college and adult education programs; just enough to make the students feel dependent on the psychologist, the physician, or other experts. Thus education is to a large extent language instruction but it is not the sole public enterprise that attunes the ears and tongues. For instance, the purveyors of television entertainment and TV commercials, government agency heads and corporate leaders employing large bureaucracies, also work toward these ends.

Energy accounting, barely thought of ten years ago, has now become an established practice. It's relatively easy today to find out how many energy units have gone into growing, harvesting, packaging, transporting, and merchandising one edible calorie of bread. Language accounting is still in the future. The economic analysis of contemporary language

would certainly not be possible unless we knew roughly the amount of money that was spent on the speech of each person. Mere per-capita input alone would not, of course, tell us enough. The poor, for instance, might be much more talked to than the rich, who can buy silence. But each paid word addressed to the rich costs much more than that addressed to the poor.

However, even without access to detailed language economics I estimate that the dollars spent for oil im- ports pale before those spent on American speech. The language of rich nations has absorbed huge investments. In poor countries, of course, people also speak and listen, but their languages haven't yet been capitalized. For the moment I'm restricting my comparison of capital-intensive everyday language and the language on which no money is spent to just one question: Does the structure of language itself change with the rate of investment? I think it does.

Taught everyday language lacks precedent in pre-industrial cultures. The current dependence on paid teachers and "models" for ordinary language is just as much a unique characteristic of industrial economies as is their dependence on fossil fuels. Both language and energy have been recognized for the first time in this generation as world-wide needs. Traditional cultures subsisted mainly on sunshine, captured mostly through agriculture. Equally these cultures subsisted on language absorbed by each individual through his or her roots. The blabbering of infants, literally the speechless, crystallized into the language of concrete persons whom the learner could smell, touch, love, and hate. Colloquial language was never taught; speech comes naturally to human beings.

Language until recently was nowhere the product of a design; it was not paid for and delivered like a commodity - in a word it was "vernacular" - home bred, home spun, home grown, home made.

When I contrast taught language -or the industrial idiom - with vernacular language, I draw a line of demarcation somewhere else than linguists do when they distinguish between the everyday language of the elite and dialects spoken in different regions or by poor people. Elite language is not new; language as a commodity is.

In the case of taught language, as opposed to vernacular language, the key model is the professional speaker - somebody who does not say what he means, but who recites what a script writer was told by the agency head that an executive committee has decided should be said. Taught language is modeled on people paid to declaim with phony convictions texts written by others. The vernacular is engendered by intimate inter- course among people who say things to each other, face-to-face. Vernacular is absorbed by roots that grow from each individual into the environment in which he or she has an "abode." Taught language is fed through screens, pacifiers, and other media constructed by language engineers.

Of course, even in industrialized countries all language isn't completely taught yet. Only machines can communicate without any reference to the vernacular. But a resistance that sometimes becomes as strong as a tabu makes it difficult to recognize the difference between capitalized language and the vernacular or colloquial usages that are still outside the economy. It is the same kind of inhibition that
makes it difficult for us to discriminate fundamentally between transportation and locomotion by metabolic power, between a home cooked meal and a TV dinner. Are not the terms used, the distances covered, the calories ingested the same in both cases? Under some circumstances they might be, but this conclusion does not make the two activities comparable beyond the material measures. The difference between vernacular learning, movement, or food and that which is overwhelmingly a commodity goes
much deeper. What has made the world modern is the correlation of basic needs to commodities rather
than to vernacular activities. What has made technology industrial is the application of scientific progress to commodity production rather than to vernacular competence. What has made life as we know it today is the socialization of work through the administration of inputs and outputs, rather than through small group consensus on satisfaction.

This prevalence of commodity related basic needs is a common factor which underlies the growing dependency in all contemporary societies on lifelong compulsory instruction(language or otherwise). Compulsory instruction, slowly but surely, unless deflected by convivial politics, could turn vital vernacular learning toward the knowledge monopoly of superindustrial inculcation.

I have read an early draft of Second Thoughts and commend it to your attention. I hope all who share a desire for the worthwhile future described in the draft proclamation will join in some of the activities suggested there as a possible first step toward the creation of a truly convivial politics. Perhaps if we all so engage, individually and collectively, ten years from now protection from compulsory adult education will be considered more important than the “right” to more access to instruction in order to guarantee equality for all persons.

But this kind of political inversion is only conceivable if the present monopoly of economics over values can be effectively challenged. The balance of these two dimensions needs to be restored. As my contribution toward that goal I have above shared with the readers of Second Thoughts some of the tentative conclusions of my most recent thinking. I welcome comments and criticisms sent to me c/o Basic Choices, Inc.

This is the first issue of Second Thoughts, a newsletter designed to serve as a link in a network of persons concerned with raising basic questions about mandatory continuing education and related issues. The address for Second Thoughts is 1121 University Ave., Madison, WI 53715.

Second Thoughts is published by Basic Choices, which is a project in values-clarification of Madison Campus Ministry, 731 State St., Madison, WI 53703. Founding members of the group are John Ohliger, Art Lloyd, Vern Visick, and John Hill.

© Copyright 2004 John

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Complete text of all the Second Thoughts Newsletters
New Additions
Second Thoughts Vol. 1 No. 1 May 1978
Second Thoughts Vol. 1, No. 2, November, 1978
Second Thoughts Vol. 2, No. 1, April 7, 1979
Second Thoughts Vol. 2, No. 2, October 1979
Second Thoughts Vol. 2, No. 3, April 1980
Second Thoughts Vol. 3, No. 1, October 1980
Second Thoughts Vol. 3, No. 2, February 1981
Second Thoughts Vol. 3, No. 3, July 1981
Second Thoughts Vol. 4, No. 1, October 1981
Second Thoughts Vol. 4, No. 2, January 1982