Breaking New Ground: The Development of Adult and Workers' Education in North America





Breaking New Ground:

The Development of Adult and Workers' Education in North America


Proceedings from the Syracuse University Kellogg Project's First Visiting Scholar Conference in the History of Adult Education


March 1989



Rae Wahl Rohfeld


Copy Editor

Irene Quinlan


Copyright @ Syracuse University Kellogg Project Syracuse, New York


November 1990





Reprinted by permission of the Kellogg Project Director



The Authors (shown below)


Introduction by Rae Rohfeld (shown below)




I. Defining Adult Education

Challenging the System: The Adult Education Movement and the Educational Bureaucracy of the 1920s

          Amy D. Rose (pp. 1-15)


The American Library Adult Education Movement: The Diffusion of Knowledge and the Democratic Ideal, 1924-1933

          John R. Rachal (pp. 16-31)


A Primary Source for Everett Dean Martin's Agenda for Adult Education

          Michael J. Day (pp. 32-48)

The Danish Folk High School and Its Reception in the United States: 1870s-1930s

          Harold W. Stubblefield (pp. 49-63)


II. Adult Education as a New Academic Field


Early Ideas on the Training of Leaders for Adult Education

         Ralph G. Brockett (pp. 64-82)

Social Science and the Making of Adult Education Theory: Influences on the Study of Participation, 1930-1960

         Sean Courtney (pp. 83--97)


III. Workers' Education--Adult Education: Inclusive or Separate?


Early Interpretations of Workers' Education

         Patrick Keane (pp. 98-114)

Education and Working Class Culture: German Workers' Clubs in Nineteenth Century Chicago

         Fred M. Schied (pp. 115-131)


Workers' Education as Counter Hegemony: The Educational Process at Work Peoples' College, 1907-1941

                Richard J. Altenbaugh (pp. 132-153)


Dangerous Knowledge: Canadian Workers' Education in the Decades of Discord

    Michael R. Welton (pp. 154-173)


Fannia Mary Cohn: An Education Leader in Labor and Workers' Education, Her Life and Times

    Huey B. Long and Constance Lawry (pp. 174-192)


Eduard Lindeman and Workers' Education

    David W. Stewart (pp. 193-206)


Workers' Education and Adult Education

    Jonathan D. Bloom (pp. 207-213)


The Women of Summer: The Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers, 1921-1938

   Rita R. Heller (pp. 214-223)


Workers' Education and the National Urban League

   Charlotte T. Morgan (pp. 224-232)


Building for a Long Future: Workers' Education in the Progressive Era

   Catherine Casey (pp. 233-251)


IV. Adult Education, Workers' Education, and National Policy


New Deal Teacher-Training Centers, 1934-1935

   Joyce L. Kornbluh (pp. 252-264)


Education in the Work Place: A Brief Overview

   Robert A. Carlson (pp. 265-272)


The Morale of the People: Reflections on Adult Education in British Columbia in the Great Depression

   Gordon R. Selman (pp. 273-292)



Richard J. Altenbaugh holds a Ph.D. in the history of education from the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently a professor of history at Northern Illinois University.

Jonathan D. Bloom is currently executive director of the New York-based Workers' Defense League. He has taught labor history and labor studies at SUNY-Old Westbury, Cornell-New York Metropolitan District, and Rutgers University. He is completing a full-length history of Brookwood Labor College.

Ralph G. Brockett is an associate professor of adult education in the Department of Technological and Adult Education at the University of Tennessee. He holds a Ph.D. in adult education from Syracuse University.

Robert A. Carlson is a professor of education at the University of Saskatchewan, specializing in educational policy studies. He earned his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin.

Catherine Casey is currently on leave from her position as the Continuing Education Officer at the University of Waitako in New Zealand in order to pursue her Ph.D. in education and human development at the University of Rochester, New York.


Sean Courtney earned his Ed.D. in adult and continuing education from Northern Illinois University. He is currently an assistant professor in the area of human resources development in the Department of Vocational and Adult Education at the University of Nebraska.

Michael J. Day holds a Ph.D. in education from the University of Michigan and is the chair of the Division of Lifelong Learning and Instruction at the University of Wyoming.

Rita R. Heller is an assistant professor at the County College of Morris in New Jersey and coordinator for the local history program. She earned her Ph.D. in American history from Rutgers University.

Patrick Keane earned a Ph.D. in education from the University of Bath. He has been an associate professor at Dalhousie University since 1974.

Joyce L. Kornbluh is the founder and director of the Program on Women and Work at the Labor Studies Center at the University of Michigan. She earned her Ph.D. from the same university with a concentration on the history and social foundations of education.


Huey B. Long is the Kellogg Professor of Continuing Higher Education, University of Oklahoma, and the director of the Oklahoma Research Center for Continuing Professional and Higher Education. He holds a Ph.D. in higher adult and continuing education.

Charlotte T. Morgan is an assistant professor at Lehman College in the Bronx and the former chair of the Department of Black Studies. She holds an Ed.D. in international education development from Columbia University.

John R. Rachal obtained his Ed.D. in adult and community college education from North Carolina State University. He is presently professor of adult education at the University of Southern Mississippi.


Amy D. Rose earned her Ed.D. at Teachers College at Columbia University. She is currently an assistant professor of adult continuing education at Northern Illinois University.


Fred M. Schied is a doctoral candidate in adult education at Northern Illinois University.


Gordon R. Selman is an associate professor of adult education at the University of British Columbia, where he also earned his master's degree in history in 1963.


David W. Stewart earned a Ph.D. in continuing and vocational education with a minor in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is now the director of program development at the Center for Adult Learning and Educational Credentials of the American Council on Education.

Harold W. Stubblefield holds an Ed.D. in adult education from Indiana University. He is a professor of adult education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Michael R. Welton is an associate professor of education at Dalhousie University. He earned a Ph.D. in social and educational studies from the University of British Columbia.





Rae Rohfeld (pp. v-x)




Encouragement and support for research in the history of adult education is a fundamental element of the Syracuse University Kellogg Project. The idea for the Project grew from the desire to make the University's manuscript collections in adult and continuing education more accessible to researchers. This led to several major project activities: the creation of an optical disk storage and retrieval system for manuscript materials; the development of new communication networks (electronic and nonelectronic) for sharing information and ideas; and the facilitation of historical research by providing consultation and financial support for research activity. This publication reflects the Project's interest in encouraging and making available new knowledge about the history of the field.

The papers in this volume were presented in March,1989, at the first in a series of Visiting Scholar Conferences in History sponsored by the Syracuse University Kellogg Project. The goals of each conference are to build a network of scholars in the history of adult education, to increase awareness of the Syracuse University Adult and Continuing Education Research Collection, to act as a catalyst for future research, to foster interdisciplinary exchange, and to disseminate historical research. At this first conference, participants had an opportunity to become acquainted with the manuscript collections and consider research they would like to pursue in them at a future date. Their presentations, however, were the products of previous research conducted mainly in collections elsewhere.

Speakers at this first conference addressed the development of workers' education and of adult education between the Wars; several speakers explored the links between these two areas. In selecting these two focal points, the conference organizers purposely chose topics which had already captured considerable attention among two groups of scholars: adult educators and labor historians. Thus, the subject matter offered opportunities to develop new insights based on interdisciplinary discussions. Conference participants were at varying stages in the progress of their work. Some discussed the fruits of many years of research; others were in early stages of exploring new questions, but each added to the body of knowledge and enriched the interdisciplinary exchanges which took place.

One of the unstated questions behind the two publicized topics--­workers' education and adult education between the Wars--was whether conference participants would, indeed, see these as two separate topics or whether they would see workers' education and adult education as overlapping. Did the different labels reflect the perspectives of the researchers or the philosophies of the educational programs? Participants undoubtedly left the conference with different answers to this question, depending on their views of societal structure and conflict. Worker educators, and the labor historians who write about them, tended to see two areas of education; adult educators, and their historians, were more likely to call worker education an aspect of adult education. The discussions illuminated significant qualities of workers' education and adult education that helped people reflect on the similarities and differences in the two areas of education.

In what proved to be an exciting variety of presentations, a few themes emerged from the conference sessions. By identifying particular papers with a theme, the editor does not mean to imply that the theme is central to the paper. Indeed, each paper defines an important question to the field and makes its unique contribution to dealing with the question. Nevertheless, certain ideas seem to recur in one form or another, and it seems useful to identify them.

One theme that ran through many discussions was control of the educational process. Worker educators almost invariably discussed workers' education as something workers had to control or influence rather than as something that others would give to them. Workers wanted to participate in determining their group's needs and in planning the educational programs that would meet these needs. Adult educators spoke of adults in general and believed, firstly, that they could identify the needs of any group--perhaps with some input from the clients; and secondly, that it was their professional responsibility to design all programs. They based these beliefs on the notion that "education" was different from "propaganda," mainly because education dealt objectively with agreed-upon knowledge. (In this view, they reflected the early 20th century confidence in "objective knowledge" obtainable through scientific study.) Although adult educators advocated student involvement in planning their education, the meaning of "involvement" left room for differences over the issue of control. On the other hand, even the least class-conscious workers and worker educators expressed the view that workers had to have a clear role in making educational decisions so that the programs would reflect the workers' true interests.

Many of the papers discuss these control issues, either as a central focus or as a component issue. Richard Altenbaugh uses Gramsci's concepts of hegemony and counter hegemony to analyze a workers' college in terms of whose interests the education served. Patrick Keane demonstrates how class and control issues in education for workers were present as far back as the late 18th century. Fred Schied's writing on 19th century German workers' clubs and Michael Welton's on turn-of-the-century labor activity in Canada present two very different settings in which workers' education programs sought to establish and maintain the workers' own culture in the face of an opposing one. Jon Bloom shows that the leaders of Brookwood Labor College clearly stated the differences of class interest that occurred in workers' education as opposed to adult education. Huey Long and Constance Lawry discuss the worker control issue in connection with Fannia Cohn's career in workers' education. Rita Heller shows that at Bryn Mawr, probably the most traditional educational institution involved in workers' education, the College's leaders, M. Carey Thomas and Hilda "Jane" Worthington Smith, came to accept the necessity of workers' involvement in educational decision-making. Looking at the workers' education efforts of employers rather than those of employees, Robert Carlson demonstrates how employer and government-sponsored workers' education attempted to achieve social integration of the classes and minimize the sense of class interest. While workers recognized and valued their class interests, employers and government sought to diminish their importance. Catherine Casey's paper discusses the Progressive Era as the backdrop for developments in adult and workers' education.

A second theme that emerges from the papers is the pluralism of ideology among different adult educators. Michael Day, David Stewart, and Amy Rose, writing on Everett Dean Martin, Eduard Lindeman, and the Carnegie Foundation leaders, respectively, describe people with diverse educational philosophies, particularly regarding the relationship of education to societal needs. Yet, all the subjects shared the common cause of building the adult education movement. And, while workers' educators often differentiated themselves from adult educators, there were also significant links between adult and workers' education. Some links were the result of personal involvement: Eduard Lindeman and Charles Beard were among the more prominent individuals whose work spanned the two areas. Some links were conceptual: Joyce Kornbluh's paper demonstrates the link that developed through a shared pedagogy. The adult education field seems always to have contained--even prided itself on--a wide diversity of belief.

The adaptation of imported and created structures to meet needs of specific communities is a third theme apparent in several papers. People brought educational forms to the United States to support immigrant cultures and interests, as Altenbaugh and Schied demonstrate, or to facilitate social change, as Harold Stubblefield describes. The National Urban League created its own new form, the workers' councils, described in Charlotte Morgan's paper, to prepare black urban newcomers for labor union participation. Once introduced, these forms underwent significant change. The larger American culture absorbed the immigrants and their children of whom Altenbaugh and Schied write, and these immigrant working-class cultures gave way to the hegemonic culture. The Urban League's Workers Councils varied their activities in the course of dealing with urban racism, but as Morgan reports, they declined by the end of the 1930s. Importing the Danish Folk School to achieve social improvement fared no better, Stubblefield shows, until the concept underwent a major change to suit the American environment. Then it survived in the form of Highlander School, which has remained a model of social change and community development through adult education.

With the proliferation of interest in adult education and new educational institutions and programs for adults after World War I came the emergence of a field and the beginnings of professionalism, the fourth theme that occurs in these papers. Amy Rose discusses the establishment of the American Association of Adult Education (AAAE) and its metamorphosis into the professional group for a diverse field, thus frustrating its founders' efforts to define adult education in the particular way she describes. John Rachal explores the connections between the AAAE and the American Library Association and demonstrates the important role that librarians played in the adult education movement. Ralph Brockett looks at several components of professionalism and focuses on the emergence of professional training for adult educators. Sean Courtney examines the social science foundations of adult education and traces the move from a social science base to a behavioral science base. This change seems reflective of a certain tension that existed among adult educators between the collective or community-oriented goals of education, such as those described here in the papers on workers' education, and the individual-oriented goals, such as those discussed in Michael Day's paper on Martin. Looking beyond the field itself, Gordon Selman discusses how the Province of British Columbia included professional adult education in its public policy and service during the Depression.

The papers in this collection provide an opportunity to examine the formative period of the field of adult education, the development of workers' education, and the interrelationships of the two fields. Many of the issues discussed have present-day versions: Where does adult education fit in education as a whole? Who controls adult education? What is the role of student involvement? What do we include within adult education? Is adult education a profession? Should it be? What is the desirable relationship between learners and professional educators? How can the field build stronger theory? How can adult education influence government policy? Examining these issues as they arose in the past can help us develop new perspectives and insights for the further development of the field.

Producing this volume required the contributions of many members of the Syracuse University Kellogg Project Staff. I particularly want to thank Irene Quinlan for her outstanding work as copy editor. Thanks go as well to Joanne Ranz, Glynda Spencer, and Joyce VanDenburg for their typing and editing. Without such a dedicated staff, this publication would not have been possible.


May 12, 2003



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