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EDUCATION AND SOCIETY:
Have The Universities Taken Over Adult Ed?
by John Ohliger
June 19, 1993
Have the universities taken over adult education? You would think so, to read the definition of "adult education" in the only new unabridged dictionary published in over 20 years. The Random House Dictionary says adult education is "a program of noncredit courses for adults regardless of previous education, offered typically by a university extension or institute."
At one time adult education had nothing necessarily to do with courses of any kind, but meant any path grownups followed to stimulate worthwhile thinking. Ron Gross believes the lights are now dimming on campuses when it comes to anything involved with the life of the mind. Even when narrowed to courses or programs, higher education is now responsible for only about one third of it, says Bill Draves, LERN executive editor.
A Carnegie Foundation study states that corporations are now spending as much for employee training as universities spend for undergraduate instruction. But Sam Brightman, ACET columnist, claims the bulk of adult education still comes from colleges and schools.
The Last Intellectuals
However, if Russell Jacoby is right in his controversial book just out in paperback, The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe (Noonday Press, $9.95), the universities have just about taken over all of thoughtful life. Jacoby argues that there is no rising generation of young public intellectuals: men and women who write and speak, not just for each other inside the academy, but present clear and understandable reasoning for general discussion or broad learning.
Prominent older public intellectuals such as Gore Vidal, John Kenneth Galbraith and Christopher Lasch strongly endorse his book. Atlantic magazine believes he has carefully proven his "grim thesis." The New York Times says he didn't go far enough and should have pointed to the emergence of an all-embracing administrated culture presided over by specialists working under the umbrella of large impersonal institution'.
But The New Republic finds him guilty of "demagogic language." The New Leader dismisses his book as "special pleading." The Nation says Jacoby has left out feminist intellectuals, less isolated from nonacademic audiences.
Judge For Yourself
Judge for yourself. All agree The Last Intellectuals is an exciting and enjoyable book to read. I spent a pleasant hour recently talking with Jacoby on the sunny terrace of a coffee shop over-looking the shores of the Pacific Ocean near his apartment in Venice, Calif. I found him very friendly and engaging, provoking thought and laughter. The American Book Review says "Jacoby has no clue as to what might be required to survive nowadays on less than $15,000 a year." But he commented, "As a free-lance writer, I unfortunately know how to live on much less than that amount."
Jacoby believes universities could be losing their dominance over adult education while they might still be monopolizing more and more of intellectual life. He was surprised that those left of center -- Jacoby is himself -- have been so critical of his book. Maybe it's because in it he charges that many leftists have found a safe haven on the campuses and have surrendered to obscure and unreadable jargon. But he also flails right-wingers who he says "hate the state but love the state police."
Employ Jacoby As A Speaker
Jacoby would make a fine speaker at your next conference, if you want to get into the really important issues of the day with someone who can talk about them with wit and humor. (Contact him at 32 Breeze Avenue, Venice, CA 90291.) You might even ask him to address the tough question of whether adult educators are indeed intellectuals, public or otherwise, engaged in thoughtful activity for the benefit of all society or primarily for the benefit of the universities and other massive institutions.
Just don't introduce him as the vice president of the International Pessimists Society, which a dean at a renowned southern university did recently, drawing on published information. Jacoby laughingly admits he made that up as a way of poking fun at pretentious academic resumes.
John Ohliger is the co-editor of the new book Radical Thinking in Adult Education, $12.75 from Syracuse University, Kellogg Project, 113 Euclid Avenue, Syracuse NY 13244-4160.
LERN has granted non-exclusive permission to this website to post any articles written by John Ohliger for Adult and Continuing Education Today.
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