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Autor: anton 15 March 2011
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"A strong civil society, which promotes the full participation of its citizens, ensures that we strive toward a participatory democratic goal" (Cunningham, 1993). This quote by Dr. Phyllis Cunningham epitomizes her philosophy of life. She has spent her entire life trying to improve the world in which we all live. Her educational philosophy mirrors her personal philosophy in that she sees the purpose of adult education as means to pursue the cause of social equality. She strongly believes that the purpose of education is to bring about fundamental social, cultural, political and economic change in society.
This paper provides a quick background on Dr. Phyllis Cunningham and examines some of the influences on her as well as how she became and continues to remain involved in improving adult education in our society. Next, this paper explores Dr. Cunningham's educational philosophy and how she sees using education as means to a better and more equal society. The paper also looks at some of her accomplishments and professional writings. Finally, the paper examines the different ways she has impacted the field of adult and continuing education. Dr. Cunningham's accomplishment in the adult educational field is exhaustive and this paper will by no means attempt to address all of her accomplishments. The paper highlights some of the key areas where she is involved in an attempt to shed some light on this outstanding scholar and adult educator.
Currently, Phyllis Cunningham is a Presidential Teaching Professor at Northern Illinois University. She is widely published, has been presented with numerous awards, and was inducted to the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame in 1996. Dr. Cunningham earned her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1973 and has been an active participant in the field of adult education. The main emphasis of the work she is involved in focuses on community development, participatory research, and critical pedagogy. Through her education, experience, active participation, research, and publications, Phyllis Cunningham has made great contributions to the field of Adult Education. She has numerous awards and honors (Woodhouse, 2002, http://www-distance.syr.edu/pvitapc.html):
Ð’â€¢ 1982Ð’â€“Outstanding Adult Educators Award, American Association of Adult Continuing Education, Washington, DC
Ð’â€¢ 1988Ð’â€“Honorary Professor, Shanghai Second Institute of Education, Shanghai, PRC
Ð’â€¢ 1989Ð’â€“Outstanding Service Award, American Association of Adult Continuing Education, Atlantic City, N.J.
Ð’â€¢ 1990Ð’â€“John Ranton McIntosh Visiting Scholar Award, University of Saskatchewan
Ð’â€¢ 1993Ð’â€“Top ten Graduate Teaching Excellence Award, Leadership and Policy Studies Department, Northern Illinois University
Ð’â€¢ 1994-1998Ð’â€“Presidential Teaching Professor Award, Northern Illinois University
Ð’â€¢ 1995Ð’â€“Outstanding Service and Dedication to Latino(a) and African American Students in Adult Continuing Education, Northern Illinois University
Ð’â€¢ 1996Ð’â€“Phyllis M. Cunningham Annual Award for Research for Social Justice; Established in the Adult Education Research Conference
Ð’â€¢ 1999Ð’â€“Northern Illinois University Minority Faculty and Staff Award
Just as important as the awards you see here, is her involvement in the many organizations and programs that advance adult education programs throughout the world.
Now that we have a little background on Dr. Cunningham, let's look at some of the influences on her and how she became and continues to remain involved in improving the field of adult education and our society. The biggest influence on Dr. Cunningham is her concern for social and ethical responsibility. It is this concern that has marked her life's work. She is an active participant in popular education and participatory research projects in collaboration with "grass roots" organizations and low income communities seeking social and political change (National-Louis University, 2005, http://www.nl.edu/academics/cas/ace/pcunningham.cfm). Dr. Cunningham, for the past 20-plus years, is a supporter of the transformation theory of education which she feels deepens our understanding of what it means to learn in adulthood. She aligns herself with the works of Paulo Freire, Laurent Daloz, Jack Mezirow, and others, who address the sociocultural and personal dimensions of transformative learning (Dirkx, 2000). It is through this group of scholars, and organizations like "The Urban Life Center" that she espouses her radical philosophy of adult education. Twenty-five years ago, she, along with several friends, established the Urban Life Center. It brought college students into the south side of Chicago to learn to appreciate diversity and to develop careers in fighting oppression. Faculty from surrounding colleges came to the city for seminars and worked hard to fight racism, sexism, and violence. Her efforts with the Urban Life Center parallels the efforts of other radical philosophers such as Freire, ILLich, Kozol, Habermas, Collins and Perelman and their effect to promote programs such as the feminist studies, free school movement, Highlander Folk School, Afro-centrism, social workers education and social justice education (Philosophy of Adult Education Inventory, 1999).
Dr. Cunningham is also the editor of The Convergence, a major worldwide journal of adult education that addresses issues, practices and developments in the broad field of adult and non-formal education. It is published quarterly on behalf of the (International Council for Adult Education) ICAE by The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE). ICAE is a non-governmental voluntary organization formed in 1973. It comprises over 100 national, regional and sectoral member associations involving 77 countries and 7 regions of the world. The overall objective of the Council is to promote human resource development to enable people to participate more fully in determining their economic, social, political and cultural development. The aim of the Council is to promote the education of adults in accordance with the development needs of individuals, communities and societies as a way of enhancing international understanding, achieving economic and social development, and advancing the skills and competencies of individuals and groups (National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, 2005, http://www.niace.org.uk/publications/Periodicals/Convergence/Default.htm). Again, this is another example to illustrate how she is influenced and motivated.
Let's examine her educational philosophy and how she sees education as means to a better and more equal society. It only takes one a few minutes of observing Dr. Cunningham on video, looking at the organizations she is involved with, or reading a piece of literature she has written to ascertain her philosophy in adult education. She is clearly radical in her way of thinking about adult education. She believes that the focus of adult education should be to bring about change in our society and reverse some of the social inequalities of society.
As a way of examining her educational philosophy and how she sees education as means to a better and more equal society, let's look at a 1993 keynote address Dr. Cunningham gave to the 51st Annual Meeting of the Mountain Plains Adult Education Association in Albuquerque, New Mexico, entitled "Let's Get Real: A Critical Look at the Practice of Adult Education." This address was published later in the Journal of Adult Education. In her address, she talks about four myths in adult education, identifies the reality behind the myths, and proposes reasons for the myths and then suggests some solutions. The first myth she discusses is the humanistic goals of adult education. She believes that the field of adult education perpetuates the myth that what adult educators do is to help mature adults reach self-actualization and to reach their potential. She believes the reality is that most adult education has little to do with self-actualization or with building a better society. She states that most adult educational programs are framed instead by the workplace: learning for earning is the goal. She states the second myth adult educators perpetrate is that we are narrowing the gap between the most educated and those least educated. She believes that the system has turned much of the education of adults into providing more education for the already educated. She states a third myth we have as adult educators is that we are learner-centered and that we empower learners. She believes in actuality much of adult education has little to do with centering on and empowering the learners except as part of our processes. She thinks that while educational programs do provide for student participation in the classroom, we are often in fact domesticating, not educating, our students. The final myth she speaks about is the nature of our societyÐ’â€”what we believe about how it works. She states that we believe that our society is about equality. In fact, we believe our educational activities are about making society more equal because we do recognize at least some historic problems of inequality. Dr. Cunningham believes that we do not own up to the fact that we live in a society in which race, gender, and social class are sources of inequality and these socially constructed inequalities work systematically to keep power relationships in place. Remembering the comment made earlier, it doesn't take long to understand Dr. Cunningham's philosophy in education and for that matter her philosophy in life. This keynote address is an excellent example of that comment. In this keynote address she goes on to propose a solution to these issues. Her solution centers on critical pedagogy and knowledge production. She refers to the ideas of Paulo Freire's liberatory education, feminist pedagogy and the Asian and African views on knowledge production and participatory research. In her solution, she suggest several strategies including a move from a banking model to a participatory, democratizing model where students and teachers are seen as co-learners who do not separate their analysis from action, who do not champion the individual over the group, and who redefine knowledge from its narrow, self-serving, elitist base by democratizing the role of the intellectual and the knowledge production process. Clearly her major theme is that the focus of adult education is to bring about social change for the good of society as a whole.
Let's spend a few moments looking over some of her accomplishments and professional writings. Her awards and honors were outlined earlier in this paper, but they aren't the extent of her many accomplishments. She is an associate of the Lindeman Center and an actively involved in the North American Alliance for Popular and Adult Education (NAAPAE), the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE), and the American Association of Adult Continuing Education (AAACE). She is widely published with over 40 books and articles to her credit. She has co-authored or edited numerous books and articles pertaining to adult education with such titles as (Woodhouse, 2002, http://www-distance.syr.edu/pvitapc.html):
Ð’â€¢ Community Based Adult Education. Handbook of Adult Continuing Education
Ð’â€¢ Radical Thinking in Adult Education
Ð’â€¢ Developing the Text Together: Toward a Critical Practice of Adult Education
Ð’â€¢ U.S. Adult Education and HRD: A Call for Critique
Ð’â€¢ Let's Get Real: A Critical Look at the Practice of Adult Education
Ð’â€¢ University Continuing Educators Should Be Social Activists
The list goes on, but the few notable writings mentioned above is significant to give one a good idea of what Dr. Cunningham is aboutshe believes adult education's focus should be on bringing about social change for the betterment of mankind as outlined in the strategies for change in her keynote address.
Finally, let's look at some of the ways Dr. Cunningham has impacted the field of adult and continuing education. First, she has brought about conscience awareness of adult education and its roll in addressing social problems as they relate to inequality of education and the opportunity for higher education. Not everyone agrees that the primary focus of adult education is to bring about social change, but many educators firmly believe that adult education in and of itself does bring about social change. Her establishment of organizations like "The Urban Center" has had an impact on the educational opportunities for poor families, and will continue providing opportunities for poor families well into the future. Her concepts, theories, and strategies about how adult educators can use education as a mechanism for social change will be the studied by graduate students in all parts of the world.
In summary, this paper looked at Dr. Phyllis Cunningham's involvement in the field of adult education. Specifically, it examined her radical philosophy of adult education and the concepts she espouses to push that philosophy. Next, the paper examined some of her accomplishments in the field of adult education as well as some of her professional writings. Finally, the paper discussed her impact on the field of adult education. Dr. Cunningham has spent her entire life attempting to raise the consciousness of the public to her views of noncompulsory learning, liberation, autonomy, radical reorganization of society and social action to better the world in which we all live.
Cunningham, P. (1993). Let's Get Real: A Critical Look at the Practice of Adult Education, Published in the Journal of Adult Education 22:1 (Fall 1993), pgs. 3-15.
National-Louis University, (2005). Retrieved October 11, 2005, from http://www.nl.edu/academics/cas/ace/pcunningham.cfm.
National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, (2005). Retrieved October 12, 2005, from http://www.niace.org.uk/publications/Periodicals/Convergence/Default.htm.
Dirkx, J., (2000). Transformative Learning and the Journey of Individuation, Published in the ERIC Digest, No. 223.
Philosophy of Adult Education Inventory (1999). Description partially adapted from Elias J. and Merriam S., (1995). Philosophical Foundations of Adult Education (2nd ed.), Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Co.
Woodhouse, L. (2002). Retrieved October 9, 2005, from http://www-distance.syr.edu/pvitapc.html.