GLL – What’s transformative education?

COURSE: Global/Local Learning– GLL

FORUM: Samarbeta

TOPICS: local global learning, development, Transformation, Adult Education

Step 3 – Part 1: What is Transformative Adult Education?

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Youngman, F. (1996) A Transformative Political Economy of Adult Education: An Introduction in Wangoola, P & Youngman, F (eds) Towards a Transformative Political Economy of Adult Education Theoretical and Practical Challenges, USA:LEPS.


Political economy; pedagogy of transformation; capitalism; Marxism; social change; systems thinking; SAP (Structural Adjustment Program); Imperialism; Post-industrial society; civil society; popular education; destatization; state;


Youngman presents a post-Marxist view of the world, where he envisions a transformative pedagogy of adult education that will eventually transcend capitalism. He believes that “The role of adult education in social transformation is to help challenge the dominant ideologies of capitalism and to build a counter hegemony which will embody the ideas and practices that prefigure a new society.” (p. 11)

“The chapters exhibit an opposition to the following: economic exploitation and accompanying divisions between classes and na­tions; imperialism and maldevelopment in the South; uncontrolled industriali­zation and environmental destruction; poverty, inequality, and social domination; the exclusion of the majority from decisions which affect their lives; the processes of globalization and homogenization of cultures; injustice and violence; values of competitive individualism and ideologies of racism, ethnocentrism and sexism.” (p. 10)

“social action for change is conceived not in terms of incremental improvements within existing structures but in terms of fundamental transformation.” (p.10)

To that extend, he advocates for a systems-thinking approach and a “multidimensional analysis” to address the several levels of entwined inequality and oppression, “namely, those deriving from imperialism, class, gender, and race-ethnicity.” (p. 10)


Even though he emphasizes the need to overcome the language of socialism, in order to move beyond capitalism (p. 10), Youngman makes it clear throughout the chapter that the main goal of a transformative pedagogy of adult education is the eradication of capitalism and of its global, imperialistic agenda.

His writing, dating back to the mid-nineties, does not cover important developments that have occurred over the first decade of the new millennium. His insists on analyzing the state of the world through the lenses of the capitalist-Marxist dichotomy, failing to see that that dichotomy itself may be partly to blame for our current conditions. He seems preoccupied in not sounding like an old-fashioned socialist, but does little to suggest a model that would transcend his class-based view of the world. This is not to say that his remarks do not have merit (one can certainly agree on his analysis of the factors of exploitation that affect both development and education), only that his approach does not depart from the perennial struggle between Marxism and capitalism as it unfolded in the 19th and 20th centuries.


First, I want to say that I do believe in education as a transformative force. However, I do not fully agree on the model suggested by Youngman, which I see as stemming from an inherent rejection of capitalism based on established Marxist discourses.

I would prefer a different approach that could leave “old” diatribes behind, not because they cannot be supported by relevant discourses, but simply because I favor a more refreshing and experimental approach. (e.g. Learning Cape).

In a non-performance-driven learning environment, I favor a transformational approach to adult education that would also address the intercultural learning dimension; free the discussion from established, stereotypical essentialist views of cultures; and explore and clarify issues of identity, assumptions, otherization, representation through thick description of discourses and personal narratives. That would include issues of oppression and marginalization as enumerated by Youngman. (see quote above)

Here are two orientations that I believe could influence relevant transformative adult learning approaches: a constructivist transformational orientation, and an enactivist perspective.

Constructivist transformational orientation

Following this orientation, educators could act as promoters of transformation processes. According to Merizow (1991), this approach leads “to a dramatic shift or transformation in the learner’s way of viewing the world.” by “bringing of one’s assumptions, premises, criteria, and schemata into consciousness and vigorously critiquing them.” (Fenwick, 2001, p. 13)

This orientation is suitable to challenge and discuss cultural assumptions through cognitive reflection. However, one has to recognize that not everyone is interested in shifting perspective, or capable of reflecting cognitively, in which cases this approach may feel to some like a piloted operation.

Enactivist orientation

This orientation promotes a new paradigm of learning derived from whole systems thinking. It transcends the confinements of the established world view (what Youngman is not yet ready to do) and its embedded traditional education practices.

This entails an investigative, open-ended approach to learning that is not separate from teaching. The educator is viewed as a communicator, story-maker, and interpreter. (Fenwick, 2001, p. 49) “The educator’s role might be first, a communicator: assisting participants in naming what is unfolding around them and inside them, continually renaming these changing nuances, and unlocking the tenacious grasp of old categories, restrictive or destructive language that strangles emerging possibilities. Second, the educator as story-maker helps trace and meaningfully record the interactions of the actors and objects in the expanding spaces. Third, the educator as interpreter helps all to make community sense of the patterns emerging among these complex systems and understand their own involvements in these patterns of systems.” (Fenwick, 2001, p. 49) In this way, issues of social, gender, national, ethnic, and racial inequality (to mention just a few) would be discussed within a framework that does not forcibly support Marxist-capitalist juxtapositions.

The language used in this perspective is conducive to understanding relations between systems, including the interplay between actors and issues in the education universe. This presides over the co-emergence of an interrelated pattern, in which “each participant’s understandings are entwined with those of other participants, and individual knowledge co-emerges with collective knowledge.” (Fenwick, 2001, p. 49) The Marxist-capitalist dichotomy would not make much sense in such devised learning context.

I view this orientation as linked to the broader, global perspective of whole systems thinking that envisions the emergence of a new thinking paradigm. Accordingly, enactivist educators “can provide feedback loops to a system as it experiments with different patterns leading out from disequilibrium.” (Fenwick, 2001, p.50) This resonates with views of a paradigmal change such as those presented by Dr. Ervin Laszlo, founder of The Club of Budapest, in his work on macroshifts. (Laszlo, 2001)

This perspective, however, may be of difficult application under today’s established educational circumstances, as it requires reframing current paradigms, discourses, and world views.


Youngman has highlighted the role of certain kind of people’s organization. Defining the role of Civil Society, however, entails to first understand what Civil Society is, and how it related to established agencies (state, local government, international institutions). I hope to get a better understanding of this point from our discussion. Here I would like to make some comments of the term “role”. During the last U.S. presidential elections “civil society” crossed over into politics in support of Barak Obama’s “agenda for change.”

After he became president, the “popular movement” (was it really a movement, or just a campaigning strategy?) dropped out of sight, and did not transition into a government role. Something similar happened to the Easter European people’s organizations that were instrumental to the demise of the Communist regimes. I want to add that, when W.G. Bush got elected, he actually brought into government those very interest groups that had helped him get elected. This did not happen in the case of Obama. With regards to these developments, there is also a confusion of terms. Obama rallied around a platform of “change”, but when he got into office, that quickly changed, as he has presented him as a “reformer”, as one that can fix the broken system. This is a contradiction in terms which should stress the importance of clarity in the language we use when addressing education/learning and transformation.


As I mentioned above, transformative orientations are not good for everyone. Does that mean we need ‘consensus” before we can proceed?

I would like to bring up the following three issues, as I believe they have a huge impact on the effectiveness of adult learning transformational practice

Governmentability: defined by Foucault (1991) as “A form of power that is exercised through an ensemble of institutions, procedures, analyses, and reflections, which results in the formation of a specific governmental apparatus.” (Fenwick, p. 42)

Self-subjugation: Chappell et al (2003) recognize that in many traditions the existing social frameworks remain unchallenged, as individual identities remain anchored in established socio-cultural assumptions. This in turn perpetuates issues of subjugation and domination resting on “false consciousness.” It is important to recognize this, as often established discourses override one’s awareness of mechanism of power and discrimination. (p.6)

Confessional education: defined by Usher and Edwards (1995) as “practices such as journaling, life planning, self-evaluation, portfolios, and counseling that are commonly associated with experiential learning.” They believe that people become “objects of scrutiny” as they follow their educators’ advice on issues of identity definition. (Fenwick, 2001, pp. 41-42)

When we discuss transformative education we also need to be mindful of the educators’ role and how that may concur in reinforcing entrenched patters of discrimination and inequality.


Chappelll, C., Rhodes, C., Solomon, N., Tennant, M. and Yates, L. (2003) “Selfwork” in Reconstructing the Lifelong Learner: Pedagogy and identity in individual, organisational and social change (2003) by C. Chappelll, C. Rhodes, N. Solomon, M. Tennant & L. Yates Routledge Falmer, London

Fenwick, T. (2001) “Experiential Learning: A Theoretical Critique from Five Perspectives” Information Series No 385, ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career and Vocational Education now located at the Centre for Education & Training for Employment at Ohio State University, accessed on June 2, 2009 at

Laszlo, E. (2001). Macroshift: Navigating the transformation to a sustainable world. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler

Mezirow, J. (1991) Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Usher, R., and Edwards, R. “Confessing All? A ‘Postmodern’ Guide to the Guidance and Counselling of Adult Learners.” Studies in the Education of Adults 27, no. 1 (April 1995): 9-23. (ERIC No. EJ 504 441)

>>>>>>>>>>>>>FORUM DISCUSSION<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Ginger Norwood wrote:

The role of adult education in social transformation is to help challenge the dominant ideologies of capitalism [or power, or imperialism or or ] and to build a counterhegemony which will embody the ideas and practices that prefigure a new society.” (11)  I’ve been pondering the idea of whether adult education can be both transformational and initiated by the State, and this sentence would make me say no.

This is a point that I also raised in my post. I actually challenged Youngman’s view of transformation as being too concerned with “fighting capitalism.” I believe that such view keeps us inside a repetitive loop of thinking based on the Marxism-Capitalism dichotomy. Youngman’s article does not mention that the 90’s saw a (re)birth of discussions/activities/meetings/literature/experiments/education enterprises/exchange programs that transcended such dichotomy, although they recognized the factors of discrimination/exclusion/exploitation mentioned in Youngman’s writings. This new movement for change and transformation emerged – so I like to believe – from the need to step beyond what had brought us to where we are now, which includes also the perennial diatribe between communism and capitalism (which are actually part of the same worldview). In previous posts I mentioned David Korten as one of those that have been engaged in such approach, but also Vandana Shiva, Ervin Lazslo and many many others.

Ginger Norwood wrote:

It reminds me of Audre Lorde’s famous quote ‘the masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house.’ – the State, as an institution, is interested in preservation, and transformative education implies critiquing the very power that preservation yields.

The quote, like many quotes, may refer to a specific situation, but I am not sure it can be generalized to all contexts. As an example, I remember when Gorbachev introduced his policies of Perestroika and Glasnost. I believe he did that as a way to “reform” the Soviet Union. Instead, his intervention unleashed the demise of his own state, which ceased to exist just a few years later. The same happened when Nelson Mandela and F.W. De Klerk agreed on dismantling Apartheid and, with it, the old South Africa. There is no doubt in my mind that they both knew they were taking a leap of faith and shelving the old system for good.



Here is a paper on perestroika and glasnost and Gorbachev’s “reform” of education:


Elizabeth Saunders wrote:
From the little history I have learned about Hilton Head, it would seem like an example of a sector of civil society having succeeded in maintaining the white dominated way of life, being more right-wing and conservative than the State. This group’s values, life style and behaviour certainly represent a barrier to societal transformation.


Anne, what a great post! Your considerations about that place remind us that class transcends borders. It also reminds me of something I thought when I first came to the U.S. and people were wondering why it was taking the white minority in South Africa so long to relinquish Apartheid. I though that, unfortunately, the same people who were asking that of white South Africans, would have been by far less adamant at relinquishing their privileges in this very U.S. of A. Around the same time, people were asking of the Russians to just dump their “old system” and embrace the glory of Capitalism. Just like that. Now I have been here long enough to know that, when it comes to making NOTICEABLE social changes, Americans are very good at dragging their feet (not all of them, of course. I am talking about societal change)  Health Care “reform”, public transport, building codes, are just some of many examples I could come up with.

At that time I also thought – whether I was right, I don’t know – that the difference between Apartheid-era South Africa and the States was that discrimination in South Africa was codified into the law, whereas the U.S. had a democratic framework. But at the end of the day I couldn’t fail to think that the two countries shared a history of oppression and imperial conquests. Both countries considered territorial expansion as a God-blessed mission. (In downtown San Francisco explicit references to “the American Empire” are visible on several monuments for everyone to ponder on.) The Voortrekkers saga reminds me a lot of the theory of Manifest destiny and the conquer of the frontier so loved in certain American circles. There was – however – a difference. While in U.S. Native Americans were subject to genocide because they were not willing nor able to integrate into a Western-style exploitative system, in South Africa the colonists found a way to integrate the autochthonous population into the perverse economic system that was decades later to become codified as Apartheid.

I am therefore not surprised to hear your story about Hilton Head.



Marie wrote:

My question is: as an era ends and another begins, when changes are happening to us all so rapidly, who educates the educators?

Hi Marie,

I hear you, and share your concern. I believe – like in our case in the ALGC – we are actually educating ourselves. But of course, this is a rather simple way to answer your question.

I have a link to share. It is an article I found at the Linköping University on-line library ( you will need to log on at Linköping University Library to access this:

A Phenomenological Study of the Development of University Educators’ Critical Consciousness

Journal of College Student Development | May 1, 2007| Landreman, Lisa M; Rasmussen, Christopher J; King, Patricia M; Jiang, Cindy Xinquan

The abstract says that “The purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore how multicultural educators known for their expertise in this area acquired the capacity to effectively serve in this role and to explore the kinds of experiences that facilitated these educators’ visions of social justice.”

Click here to go to the file:

A Phenomenological Study of the Development of University Educators’ Critical Consciousness.pdf

This article emphases the use of self-reflection, aha moments (remember Brookfield and Chappel and our discussions on reflective teaching/learning?) to engage in social justice action and coalition building through the development of critical consciousness. (basically Freire’s views). Although I have just taken a quick look at the article, I have the feeling that it connects several aspects of my learning in the ALGC by waving together Freire with issues of intercultural dimension of globalized society (the work of M. Bennett on Ethnorelativism is cited).

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