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Straight Time and Standard Brand Adult Education
John Ohliger, Ph.D.
There are at least three perfectly legitimate ways of experiencing time: First, as straight time, the march forward from past, present, to future. Clocks and calendars measure it. Second, time just is. It is a fundamental context of our lives. There is no past, present, future. Modern physicists and ancient philosophies agree here. Third, time neither marches only forward, nor just is. It also stops, speeds up, slows down, circles, and it weaves itself into a thousand landscapes of time. Almost everyone who has been in love, has basked in the time-stopping beauty of a sun-warmed day, or remembers idyllic timeless moments from childhood attests to the reality of this third oceanic time sense. There are at least three perfectly legitimate ways of experiencing adult education: First, in its standard brand varieties, as classes, or other (usually larger) institutionally organized instructional contexts, designed to help people make adjustments to prevailing values. Second, as classes, or other (usually smaller) institutionally organized contexts, designed to help people make adjustments of prevailing values. Third, as an embedded, culturally integral, generally undesigned and non-institutionalized activity where the structure and the values are either personally or collectively self-chosen or unconscious.
Two Theses First, the history of the growing dominance of straight time is inextricably linked with the history of the increasing hegemony of standard brand adult education. Second, the mixed blessing of the growing attention to all kinds of time is inextricably linked with the mixed curse of conventional lifelong education's increasing takeover of the populace's available straight time. To Elaborate As industrial society encompassed more and more of daily life in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, straight, linear, point-to-point time became more and more the concern of the power elite through, for example, the unilateral introduction of standard time zones and time-efficiency emphases in factories. During the same period adult education became identified as a modern concern. Though there were some approaches challenging or bypassing the power of the few in the new field of adult education, conventional slot-fitting adult education quickly prevailed then until now more than half the adult population is forced to go back to school to correct some social problem, even though there is no evidence that any of this compulsory adult education is solving these problems. Though early leaders of modern adult education such as Eduard Lindeman, Everett Martin, and Dorothy Canfield Fisher fostered alternatives or cautioned about the dangers of absorption in the economy of the day, adult education more and more aped the school and university systems. As one example of the challenges from early leaders: Twelve years after the opening of the twentieth century Eduard Lindeman spoke of “our unhealthy haste in everything.” He labeled it “the American idea.” And then in his 1926 classic, The Meaning of Adult Education, Lindeman declared:
Adjustments to the propelling forces in the modern world cannot be fruitfully achieved until intellectual, moral, and spiritual values emerge which are capable of giving direction and meaning to life. Optimistic interpreters explain the lack of these values in modern life in terms of time alone: they contend that science and the technologies are merely ahead of our capacities for adjustment-- that we will soon catch up; or, if it happens that we never can catch up, we may rest content in acknowledging the inevitable ‘lag.’ But if life is to have more meaning than is implied in making up time, in overcoming lags, we shall need to learn how to make adjustments of not to.
...[S]o-called postindustrial society advocates enmesh people further in the demands of the clock, in adjustments to time, while many adult educators rejoice in the centrality of the conventional portions of their field as the recipient of more funds and personnel than all other areas of education--elementary, secondary, and higher-- combined, occupying more and more of people's clock time.
Straight time--as the inevitable, forward, and regimented movement from past, through the present, to the future--had been a unique characteristic of Judeo-Christian civilization from its early days. Hope of getting beyond this single vision view of time appeared on the horizon, however, from the late nineteenth century on in science, literature, the visual arts, folkways, and religious philosophy. Linear time was challenged at least momentarily: in science through the development of the relativity theories of Einstein and others; in literature through the attention to different time states in the novels of Proust, Woolf, Wilder, and others; in the visual arts through the multi-time paintings of Picasso and others; in folkways through the persistence of "once-upon-a-time" fairy tales, and other common figures of speech; and in religious philosophy through the attention to alternative time views in the approaches rediscovered from ancient non-patriarchal societies, and from India, China, and other Eastern civilizations. What made these developments a mixed blessing was that they were often caught up in the measurement obsession of the linear view or imported without recognition of some of the disadvantages of the original cultural context. Because these developments were sometimes time-haunted and out-of-context, the rising hopes that more relaxed views of time--accompanied by an acceptance of eternity as a present state, not one postponed until after death--lost momentum. As these mixed signs of hope for getting beyond a singular vision of time were appearing, the curse of lifelong all-encompassing universal compulsory instruction was gaining ground: first in the school system for children, then in higher education, and most recently in adult education. What makes it a mixed curse is the fact that--besides the cracks that continue to exist in the system of lifelong forced learning some people still do manage to learn to begin to liberate themselves—sometimes even in the courses they are required to take—despite the pressures in conventional directions. The current panoply of degrees, credentials, and continuing education units based on required courses saves the time of the administrators of the economic system while stealing the time of everyone else. For instance, employers don't need to make informed judgments in hiring or promotion. They can rely more on requiring certain pieces of paper from educational institutions or from in-house programs instead of depending on interaction with potential employees or supervisors. But some people still do find worthwhile educational paths on their own: By serendipity, through the subversive encouragement of their instructors; or through the assistance of some ecologically valuable approaches like the work of Jeremy Rifkin who calls for a democratic recognition that everyone's time is equally valuable; some socialist proposals like those of Andre Gorz who declares there is an “urgent need to create a society which rejects the work ethic in favor of an emancipatory ethic of free time;” some heart-opening Eastern approaches like the Taoism of Lao Tzu who recognizes the revolutionary priority of nonlinear time over space; and some liberating approaches of feminists like Sonia Johnson who says: "Time is what there is an unlimited supply of in the universe. Any beneficent society that is not simply the old one under a different rubric must first free our time, give us ‘free time.’ That such an expression as ‘free time’ exists is evidence that the rest of our time is ‘slave time.’” However, these personal possibilities for adult learners still leave a serious dilemma for adult educators hoping to get beyond the straitjacketing march of time and the mass marketing of brand name continuing education. Traditionally, adult educators have been able to be of service to the growth of a free society by encouraging movements such as that for the introduction of the public schools with their support of the lyceums in the early nineteenth century. But their very success then leads to greater difficulties now. The schooling system is not only in place as a modest path to learning but has now captured the lives and time of most people—including adults. Simply encouraging new or different educational activities is no way out because it just adds to the already overwhelming anti-ecological glut of programs.
The solution to this dilemma is that we all be on the lookout in our daily lives for ways to break free ourselves and encourage others---individually and collectively--to find fresh paths to better views of time and adult education as well. Some of the ecological, socialist, Eastern, feminist, scientific, literary, religious, and other approaches mentioned above can be helpful in leading us toward the day when time is truly free and adult education is universally defined as “friends educating each other.
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