From John

ACET (Adult and Continuing Education Today)
A Marxist Analysis of the Contributions of Benjamin Franklin and the Junto to Adult Education; A Dialectical Approach.

September 24, 1990

Mickey Hellyer prepared the following remarks based on his doctoral dissertation at Northern Illinois University titled A Marxist Analysis of the Contributions of Benjamin Franklin and the Junto to Adult Education; A Dialectical Approach. They were published in the 1989 Adult & Continuing Education Almanac (Manhattan, KS: LERN, 1988):

Virtually all historians of adult education believe that Benjamin Franklin and the Junto which he is credited with organizing are fitting role models for today's mature person seeking knowledge for its own sake. My research has led me to question those conclusions.

I drew on basic historical research and the original documents themselves that reveal the Philadelphian's true activities. First, the evidence casts doubt on Franklin's achievements. In many instances, his accounts of private and public ventures turn out to be distorted. Frequently, they are simply untruthful. For example, a work of Benjamin Franklin's that Karl Marx praised lavishly was blatantly plagiarized from a book by a 17th century economist.

Moreover, Franklin himself did not pursue knowledge for its own sake. Rather, he concentrated on learning and practicing those things that insured his success in business and a more prestigious place in the community. For example, the Junto. Historians of adult education have led many in the field to assume that Franklin was the lone and driving force in forming and presiding over a semi-formal discussion group. Today this private club is heralded as having important implications for adult education in general. In reality it was just one among many similar clubs which started as a group, not an individual, effort.

What occurred in the Junto meetings has been misrepresented by our historians. Actually, the Junto meetings concentrated on business matters and reflected the commercial atmosphere of Philadelphia. In addition, they provided relief from the boredom of the Quaker controlled city as members entertained each other with humorous stories, bawdy songs, and local gossip. Increasing the party atmosphere, they toasted each other with large quantities of wine and rum. There is no evidence that much time was devoted to the discussion of literary works, poetry, philosophy, or the arts as the current adult education myth says they did.

Franklin was not, as claimed, the first to discover that lightning contained electricity. It was two Frenchmen. He did not single handedly organize the Philadelphia Library Company, a hospital, a university, and fire companies. All these succeeded due to cooperative, group activities in which others played as important, sometimes more important, parts.

Finally, many give Franklin full credit for inventing the almanac and creating the sayings in his Poor Richard's Almanac. On the contrary, the almanac was not his original idea, his was one among many, some established long before he was born. Nor was his the best seller. Most of the sayings, proverbs, and maxims in his almanac were not "poor Richard's" as he claimed, but came from many other authors without attribution. More plagiarism.
One maxim often attributed to Franklin is, "Honesty is the best policy." It actually dates from a previous century and included the warning, "but he who is governed by that maxim is not an honest man." A thought we should bear in mind when considering Franklin's role as the "patron saint of adult education," especially in these days when "policy formation" is such an important part of the rhetoric of the currently dominant leaders in the field.

LERN has granted non-exclusive permission to this website to post any articles written by John Ohliger for Adult and Continuing Education Today.

© Copyright 2004 John