Howard - in his late 70's

Howard - in his late 70's

Howard Yale McClusky: Adult Education Pioneer and Statesman

Lifelong Learning: The Adult Years, 4(2), October, 1980, 5-7, 25 Copyright © 1980 by the Adult Education Association of the USA. (ISSN 0148-2165). Reprinted on this Web page by permission.

Roger Hiemstra, Professor of Adult Education, Syracuse University

A tribute! A testimonial! A labor of love! This article is all of these. I have known Howard for 13 years and consider him to be my prime "mentor." It was his personal and very convincing long-distance tele­phone call in 1967 that started me in an adult education graduate pro­gram at the University of Michigan. However, this is not intended as a maudlin reminiscence of how one person affected the life of another. It is based on the deep respect I have for Howard, on a growing appreciation of the impact he has had on the field of adult education, and upon the realization of how many lives he has affected.

This project was begun nearly two years ago after reading an interesting write-up by Gary Dickinson in Adult Education on Coolie Verner's contri­butions to adult education. That article stimulated my underlying feeling that the lifelong learning field would be strengthened by the evaluation of contributions made by various individuals. Howard shared this thought—he indicated in a letter, responding to my request to write an article about his contri­butions, a hope that an analysis of his efforts would contribute to a greater understanding of the field.

Many questions can be answered by studying past and current leaders: How has the lifelong learning pro­fession made various turns in its historical road? Who has made the various contributions to its current state of development? Why is there even an adult education field? These are only a few of the many questions we explore by studying our own mentors. Thus, what follows is an analysis of the role Howard has played, a description of his contri­butions, and from that some impli­cations for better understanding and carrying out of personal roles.


Michael Day's accompanying photo essay [in the original article] provides an interesting visual study of Howard.

A Pioneering Role and Spirit

A typical dictionary defines "pio­neer" as a person who originates or takes part in the development of something new. That definition truly fits Howard McClusky. In a private conversation, Howard ex­pressed the feeling that his role was to help in the development of the discipline. And has he been success­ful! His Delbert Clark Adult Educa­tion Award in 1956 and AEA Pioneer Award in 1975 were well deserved recognitions of that success. Among his many achievements are the following:

• Taught the first college course in the U.S. on mental health,

• Was elected first president of AEA,

• Was a charter member of Com­mission of Professors of Adult Education,

• Worked in the early stages of development of NTL,

• Established the Department of Community Adult Education at the University of Michigan in 1947,

• Helped the American Youth Commission establish their effort with parents (Associate Director in 1940-42),

• Helped to establish the Uni­versity of Michigan's Extension Service through a Kellogg Foun­dation grant (1938-45),

• Initiated the community council movement in Michigan and sur­rounding areas (1930s),

• Wrote the first National Paper on Education Gerontology for the 1971 White House Confer­ence on Aging.

Currently, Howard continues his pioneering efforts in another monu­mental project. He is a co-editor of the new Jossey-Bass Handbook Series on Adult Education.

How does a person born in 1900 near Whitesboro, New York, become a pioneer and a statesman in the field of adult education? The effort re­quired was not easy; it took hard work, lots of dedication, and an ability to see what was needed slightly ahead of everyone else.

All that hard work began with successful undergraduate work and a degree from Park College in Missouri where Howard excelled in forensic activities. From there he enrolled in a graduate psychology program at the University of Chicago in 1921. While a graduate student he became active in perhaps his first real pioneering effort—an involve­ment in what became known as the Commonwealth Fund Investigation of Visual Education (the forerunner of media technology). He helped to carry out some significant experi­mental research related to the use of media in instruction.

In 1924, Howard began what was to become 56 years of service at the same institution, the University of Michigan. He has served there in so many important ways—as a School of Education faculty member, in an adult education role as the first assistant to the Vice-President for University Relations, as a developer of the Department of Community Adult Education, in his work with community groups throughout Michigan, and in his more recent stint as administrator of the Uni­versity's educational gerontology program.

A Statesman—A Spokesman—A Bridge Builder

...//" there were no AEA/USA one would have to be organized, and if so it would be compelled to meet the demand for a broad identification of an involved membership with the field. It would also be compelled to create some form of admin­istrative arrangement that would place the wide ranging 'Pluribus’ inherent in the operational domain of adult education under the canopy of a functional, feasible, flexible 'Unum’ without which the many elements of adult education would, like quail, fly off in all directions over the andragogical terrain without any saving sense of collegiality.

In gathering information about Howard, I interviewed or corre­sponded with many of his friends, colleagues, and past students. One of the most consistent comments has been the recognition of Howard as a good spokesman for the field. He has served as an informal advisor on adult education to many university presidents, vice-presidents, and deans as partial evidence of this spokesman role. His role in the initial development of adult education at the University of Michigan and in the formation and initial years of AEA are further indicators.

Howard also has been very popu­lar over the years on what he calls the chicken and mashed potatoes circuit: "I've drunk enough banquet coffee to float a battleship." Although no doubt many were missed in the data collection effort, record of 431 speeches given by Howard at ban­quets, workshops, and meetings in the past 56 years was found—these were delivered in some 30 states, in Washington, D.C., in England, and in Canada. Many of these speeches required arduous travel by automobile over two lane high­ways or by train.

Many people refer to Howard as one of the leading elder statesmen [sic.] of the field. Howard speaks to this point thusly, "I just happened to be coming on the scene at a very crucial time, as the old leadership was be­ginning to drop out and I repre­sented a new crowd." There is no question that Howard garners con­siderable respect from many people.

Just try to talk to him at a conference—it means waiting in a line five to six people deep all the time. One of the reasons for this is his skill as a listener—his ready enthusiasm for the ideas of others.

Perhaps Howard's greatest gift to the profession has been his bridge-building, his ability to help people outside of adult education understand the field. It doesn't take much stimu­lation to get him all fired up about the wonder of adult education. Howard describes it this way: "I have often felt I was very fortunate having the kind of interests which enabled me to adapt to the move­ments around me."

A very interesting phenomenon related to this bridge-building skill is the fact that many disciplines call Howard one of their own. Mental health, public health, community education, community development, psychology, youth work, educational psychology, gerontology, and educa­tional gerontology are all fields of study which have made some claim on his expertise and loyalty. He has also had a fairly direct impact on the fields of English, Library Science, Music, Sociology, and Speech in some capacity during the past years. As another example, to date he has published in 49 different, far-ranging periodicals, including such publica­tions as Camping Magazine, Child Development, Clubwoman, English Journal, Farm Journal, and Pi Lambda Theta Journal, in addition to almost every educational and psy­chology related periodical that ever existed.

He also has served in an advisory capacity to a wide range of groups. The Detroit Public Schools, Girl Scouts of America, Council of Churches, Office of Civilian De­fense, Office of War Information, Commission of Rural Education, General Federation of Women's Clubs, and American Jewish Con­gress are only a few of the many diverse groups he has served. In almost all of these contacts one of his main goals has been to build an awareness of the adult education movement.


A Master Teacher and Scholar

I saved a description of Howard's often unsung but vital "back home" role to this point because of how important I believe has been his pioneering and statesman roles. However, the fact still remains that he has played one of his greatest roles in his day-to-day contact with students and colleagues.

To many people, Howard is the person who personifies the field of adult education—he is the role model toward which many have strived. For those fortunate enough to have been his student or co-worker, he has developed to a high degree the art of adult education teaching—he can critique, encourage, listen, challenge, and stimulate all in one class session. His constant humor, his insatiable appetite for reading with its resulting frequent bibliographic updates, and his final class sessions in his home are only a few of the many personal touches that symbolize Howard as a teacher.

Actually, an unbelievably large number of students have passed through his on-carnpus University of Michigan classes, his huge number of off-campus, extension courses, and his courses taught outside of Michigan. He has been a visiting professor at 10 universities to date. A University of Michigan Faculty's Distinguished Achievement Award, Board of Regents' Citation, and State of Michigan Legislature's Award for Special Service are some of the honors he has received that represent this teaching and service ability.

He also has provided service to many people as a graduate advisor. To date, he has been on 102 doctoral committees, chairing 37 of them, and on an unknown number of masters and specialists committees. Colleague, Carl Brahce, in an article written for the Michigan ACE Reporter in 1979, summed up this contribution area perhaps best of all: "I have always considered Howard to be a tremendous mentor. I am always amazed by his conceptualization as he moves into different ideas of continuing education development; I just try to keep up with him. He has set the pace."

Howard also has set a torrid pace in getting his ideas into print. Since 1924, he has had published a total of 69 journal articles, 31 monographs, book chapters, or books, and 57 pieces in bulletins, newsletters, or conference proceedings. His current co-editorship of the new Handbook Series and several other writing projects underway are indicators that this writing is accelerating, if anything. (An on-line bibliography of Howard's publications is available.)


What can we learn from the impact of people like Coolie Verner and Howard McClusky on the field of adult education? There are partial answers in the bridge-building, spokesperson roles so many of these people have played and continue to play. The discipline necessary for prolific publishing, the constant sharing of rigorous thinking, the stamina necessary to be a voice to literally thousands, and the willingness to accept leadership roles time and time again are some of the attributes many of us must emulate.

However, there is another important but subtle learning that can be acquired from a better understanding of Howard and his contributions. It can be seen in the visionary, almost missionary, approach he has always taken. Howard, himself, said in an interview that he feels adult educators must be futurists not reactionaries: "We must conceptualize why we are doing what we are doing—we need to take time for this."

Howard gave some visionary suggestions for the future in a keynote speech during the 1979 Adult Education Research Conference:

·        We must better understand the adult as a developing learner—an analysis of the stages of life is required.

·        We must make a continuing effort to improve the teaching and learning process.

·        We must better understand the field as a whole, including existing and potential clientele, and determine the role AEA should be playing.

·        We must better understand the intersection of higher education and adult education.

Although none of these suggestions are necessarily new, they put into perspective some of our most urgent needs if we are to keep up with and be a part of the lifelong learning notion that everyone has a right to education.

It is my thesis that we are now into the fourth era of adult education in North America—an era that can truly make the difference in meeting some of the visionary needs suggested by people like Howard. The first era included a long time period, from the 1700s through the early 1900s. It culminated when Thorn-dyke helped to turn around some thinking about the potential of the adult as a learner. The second era runs from the 30s through the 50s, when people like Howard, although not trained specifically in adult education, were establishing graduate programs, setting up important adult education associations, and recruiting professionals into the field. The third era involved the 60s and the early 70s when a large corps of professionals trained entirely in adult education were entering the field. These individuals have begun to pick up the leadership roles, have carried out research that has added to existing theory bases underlying adult education, and have developed new theory.

But it is the fourth era people, those professionals completing graduate programs in the late 70s and at the present time, in essence receiving their training from the third era people, who have the most potential for adding substance to the theory formulations of Howard and his many contemporaries. The field so desperately needed the Howard McClusky's to lay the groundwork and to set the pace. Howard continues setting a torrid pace but it must be the role of brand new professionals to continue such efforts.


Created on May 3, 2002

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