David W. Stewart


“Already the most vital sector of the adult education movement. . . .”(1) So Eduard Lindeman characterized workers' education in his classic small volume, The Meaning of Adult Education, first issued in 1926. This was an over-optimistic assessment. Worker education might have a "brass-band style of inauguration," as Lindeman's friend Mary Parker Follett termed it, (2) but its tenure as an adult education success story was brief.

It was fashionable for left-wing intellectuals in the 1920s to support the cause of workers' education. This was not necessarily a blessing from the workers' point of view. Labor unions were gratuitously invaded by a host of educators bound and determined to make a revolution--educational or otherwise. Classes were authorized and taught--often by teachers who cared enough to work without pay-but attendance was frequently sparse.(3)

In this environment, not all of the adult education leadership was impressed with what happened in the name of workers' education. Everett Dean Martin, for one, was thoroughly skeptical of the workers' education movement. “Much of it,” he said, “is little more than a recrudescence of antiquated radical propaganda, designed to enable the proletariat to 'emancipate itself from the slavery of capitalism,' and to get it 'ready for a millennial industrial democracy.' The initiative often comes not from studious minded workers, but from enthusiastic intellectuals and idealistic uplifters. The cultural gesture is often pathetic or comic. It is not uncommon for those who have completed the courses of study in a 'workers' college to find themselves more unadjusted than they were before.”(4)

There were further difficulties. Sharp divisions within the labor movement about issues of importance made educational programming a delicate matter. Also, impartial consideration of labor-related subjects seems to have been the exception, rather than the rule, in courses of study sponsored by educational institutions.(5)

Lindeman was aware of the "highly developed habits of conflict and almost none of cooperation," especially among the old guard unionists (significantly called "war-horses"). He was anxious to promote workers' education as a means of (encouraging "reason" rather than "coercion," the "rational head," rather than the “hard hand.”(6)

These were noble aspirations, but Lindeman was no more successful than others of his breed in realizing them. Even by the late 1920s, much of the steam was out of the worker education fad. John Hader, with whom Lindeman worked in research and writing on worker education and related issues, was less than impressed by much of what he learned about workers' education as actually practiced in 1929. The Workers Education Bureau itself--supposedly the epicenter of the movement--had "no spark, no zip," reported Hader, though it was located "right out the back door" of the bustling New School for Social Research.(7)

If the workers' education movement as an adult education enterprise was a flash in the pan, the intellectual precipitate of work done in its name has enjoyed a better fate. In articulating adult learning as the essence of workers' education, Lindeman made important and lasting contributions to the generic conceptual development of American adult education.

Lindeman proceeded systematically as he acquired the information that would fuel his interest in workers' education. He was an avid learner on events of interest to the American worker education movement on his trips abroad. The churning European labor movements in particular captured his attention.

In 1925 he attended the Trades Union Congress in London. The gathering was being held in the midst of a severe industrial recession in Britain. The desperation of many of that nation's unemployed was not matched, in Lindeman's view, by any excess of imagination or zeal on the part of their leaders in the Labour Party. It seemed to Lindeman that the Labour Party was growing more conservative-a stance that was driving "minority radicals" to the left.(8)

The Congress itself was disappointing. If the older delegates exerted little leadership, the younger ones were "the victims of phrases." Resolutions were introduced and set off endless and futile debates. And there was a tiresome general principle: :If they wanted a program for organizing shop committees they were obliged to include in the resolution a sentence affirming that by this means the capitalist system could best be overthrown.”(9)

Lindeman wasn't much more impressed with the 58th Trades Union Congress held in Bournemouth, England the next year. Encouraged by an editorial in The New Statesman that suggested workers' education would be the most significant item on the agenda, Lindeman went with high hopes. Everything, it seemed, was in place for the right kind of action.

The previous Congress, insipid as it was, had at least taken a few steps in the direction of consolidating the various workers' education movements.(10) More importantly, the Countess of Warwick, an advocate for labor and adult education, had donated Easton Lodge, her estate, to be equipped as a university for labor and as a centralizing agency for relevant educational projects. Ruskin College, the London Labour College, the Workers' Educational Association, and the various programs of the National Council of Labour Colleges were to be involved.(11)

Unfortunately, the Boumemouth Congress was not "educationally disposed." The minds of the delegates were focused almost exclusively on something else-the massive General Strike of the previous May. A resolution asking for a levy of one penny per affiliated member for a period of three years in order to create an Easton Lodge fund was soundly defeated. The miners opposed it on grounds that they could not very well ask members to contribute to education while their families were on the verge of starvation. Jack Jones of the General and Municipal Workers' Union had a more theoretical reason for his opposition. According to Lindeman, Jones proclaimed the time had come for workers to turn their backs on "these youngsters who go to Ruskin College for a few months to wear worker's clothes and then blossom forth with halos and plus-fours demanding good jobs in the labor movement"(12)

As an educator, Lindeman found the debate on this matter "deplorable." The real issue, i.e., "the essential conflict between resident teaching and classes conducted, in the local community," was hardly mentioned. Neither was the larger question of education and its place in the modern labor movement What had happened? According to Lindeman, the vote on the resolution had not been a vote on education at all. It was instead an opportunity for the delegates to embarrass their General Council whom they blamed for their recent failure with the General Strike.(13)

Somewhat more promising were concurrent events on the European continent--in Germany. Lindeman was influenced to a substantial degree in his thinking about adult education by the worker education development that was taking place after World War I at the Frankfurt Academy of Labor. With the demise of the old monarchy and the birth of what would be an extremely fragile new republic, Germans were struggling to find ways in which workers could involve themselves in the task of rebuilding the nation.

One of the characteristics that drew Lindeman to the Frankfurt Academy of Labor was its commitment to education as a tool for national regeneration. The old world was not to be annihilated; it was to be reorganized. In short, labor's intelligence was assumed to be more effective than its capacity to use force.(14) This was encouraging to the thoroughly non-Marxist Lindeman.

The Academy of Labor, though it was affiliated with the University of Frankfurt-am-Main, was by no means in the business of knowledge and scientific education for its own sake. Rather the central question from which its curriculum started was: "How can our needs be met? How can we meet our. situation?" Universities and high schools might "give knowledge," but the Academy "must learn how to arrange, review, criticize, coordinate knowledge, not for purposes of a logical system but to the end that it is incorporated as a living, healing power. The task is not to balance theory and practise but rather to transform theory."(15)

An understanding of the program of the Academy of Labor and Lindeman's interpretation of it need to take into account the context of the times in which there was within the European labor movements a strong strain of dissatisfaction with the capitalist system. Lindeman noted that the average worker came to the Academy “believing thoroughly that the present economic order is about to decay and deserves nothing but condemnation.”(16)

The "anonymous and impersonal character" of the capitalist view of economic life was cited by Lindeman as a further environmental element affecting the philosophy of the Academy of Labor. The human being "no longer stands at the center of the economic order. In his place is an anonymous sack of capital with objective profit-motives. .." Amidst these forces, the individual lost significance. "In discussing economic events even . . " newspapers prefer to use the same categories with which they speak of the weather." In this environment, the aim of workers' education was “to bring into existence an economic order in which man will again become in a , more perfect manner the sovereign of his fate.”(17)

Eduard Lindeman's most impressive work in workers' education is represented by the monograph entitled Education Through Experience that he coauthored with Martha Anderson in 1927. Published by The Workers' Education Bureau Press, Inc., this piece was essentially a description and interpretation of the methods used by the Academy of Labor at Frankfurt-am-Main in Germany. Miss Anderson's role was primarily that of Lindeman's research assistant and translator. It was characteristic of him that he allowed her coauthorship with her name listed first on what would become an important document in the history of adult education.

The authors examined the content, method, and philosophy of workers' education as enunciated in the writings of Eugen Rosenstock, Ernst Michel, and Wilhelm Sturmfels, among others. The analysis required close collaboration between translator Anderson and Lindeman for as they said in the "Preface," their intent was to convey "what Germans have said expressed in the way Americans think."

Adult education was not for everyone--certainly not for the person who "merely knows something." Knowledge derived from experience, on the other hand, was the essence of adult education. The worker would seek education "because he has reason for personal complaint." It was the "field of action" that distinguished the educational situation of the adult from that of the child. To the learning situation, the adult brought "guilt, entanglement, want and pain," wrapped in experiences of a sort still foreign to a child. A child's education flowed with nature, whereas adult's was in conflict with nature as he or she strove for self-mastery. "Adult education grows on the graves of those budding dreams which have not ripened."(18)

As a Deweyan pragmatist, Lindeman was no more inclined to offer a definition of workers' education than he was of adult education. To him, such definitions if offered at an early stage tended to obstruct, rather than advance, philosophical inquiry.(19) So, in Education through Experience, one has to settle for more nebulous statements.

What was Lindeman's concept of workers' education? "Labor will come into its own when workers discover better motives for production and finer meanings for life," Lindeman said in The Meaning of Adult Education.(20). Workers' education was to be distinctive, however, something “more than the transference of liberal-bourgeois ideals to the working class.”(21)

What was the beginning of workers' education? It must be "at the lowest boundary, the crossing of which signifies the first intellectual independence of man." Wisdom was the "final fruit of man's detachment from the yoke of matter." But workers' education could not presume to offer wisdom. It must rather “begin by exploring the knowledge of rights-­the right which awakens in him the feeling of responsibility.”(22)

In The Meaning of Adult Education, Lindeman briefly describes how a mature adult might study economics as part of an adult education curriculum. This was an example drawn directly from his study of the methods used at the Academy of Labor and in Education through Experience, he provides a more detailed explanation.

The starting point would be the "immediate facts of the worker's life, his position in industry, his role as a wage-earner." Then, the study of both the economics of production and of distribution would be undertaken so that economics could be approached as reality, not theory.(23)

With the student presumably discovering economics as a characteristic field of action for himself, he was in a position to study economic questions. This would be done by reading from standard texts.(24) "Systematic instruction through co-ordination of discovered facts" would then be undertaken. "Factual lectures" would follow only after problems had been "recognized through the mutual work of the groups."(25)

This was essentially a three-step view of the development of curriculum and instruction: (a) questions arise from the students' situation, (b) supportive reading begins, and (c) systematic instruction coordinates discovered facts.(26) This scheme for facilitating adult learning under girds Lindeman's work in The Meaning of Adult Education.

Lindeman's concept of the nonauthoritarian role of the teacher in adult education also came in part from his study of the Academy of Labor. Here, the "usual assembly of instructors" was being replaced by "a true community of teachers, coming into being through discussions, conferences and understanding. . . ." Lindeman noted furthermore that teachers coming to the Academy from high schools and universities found it “advisable to burn their college books and abjure their earlier teaching habits." Teachers of adults had to demonstrate that they were "collaborators.”(27)

Teachers at the Academy were conscious that they could not “transmit education but. . . only awaken the possibility for learning in students. . . . Somewhere knowledge as mere information changes into knowledge as self-formed wisdom and the Academy wants to discover this process [emphasis in original].”(28)

The Academy was neither a vocational school nor a university--though it was noted that both institutions were needed. Instead, the function of the Academy was to “educate the whole man as worker.”(29)

Parenthetically, it might be noted that the Academy, supposedly a pioneering adult education institution, had a rather arbitrary definition of adulthood as it accepted applicants for its programs. Students under 25 or over 32 were “not welcome.”(30)

One of the more intriguing footnotes to adult education history is represented by Lindeman's introduction to the United States of a term that would much later become used--some might say overused-by adult educators. It was as he did research for his work with the Workers' Education Bureau that Lindeman came upon "Andragogik" as a reference to the method for teaching adults. In a quirky one-paragraph article published in the journal Workers' Education in 1926 Lindeman somewhat offhandedly Anglicized the word and offered it to North Americans.(31)

Lindeman with coauthor, Martha Anderson, used the term again in Education through Experience. They called andragogy "the true method of adult learning" . . . in which theory becomes fact. . . words become responsible acts, accountable deeds, and the practical fact which arises out of necessity is illuminated by theory.”(32)

No one seems to have picked up on this new terminology and "andragogy" went into limbo until Malcolm Knowles resurrected it in 1968. Martha Anderson worked closely with Lindeman for five years but she seems to have been less than attentive when Lindeman inserted the term in the article they coauthored in 1927. When interviewed about her work with Lindeman in 1984, just weeks before her death, she had this to say when asked about their use of andragogy: “I don't even know what it means”(33)

In summary, Lindeman said, the curriculum and the teaching method of the Academy aimed to "(a) induce self-reflection, (b) give science a social setting, and (c) evoke responsible decisions." The student recognized that his intellectual attainments were socially significant “only when they emerge from the field of his necessary life. Life, and especially intellectual life, means responsibility. Responsible activity presupposes a responsible orientation and understanding of the situation which makes action necessary.”(34)

It was logical that Lindeman should find an outlet for his research and development energies at the Workers' Education Bureau in New York. The Bureau was established in 1921 as an effort to coordinate the work of trade-union colleges.(35) It basically functioned as a clearinghouse for information and as a source of guidance for labor classes. It also published texts and syllabi for their use.(36)

Eduard Lindeman began as Research Director at the Workers' Education Bureau on October 1, 1926, just after his return from Europe. He had served as a member of the editorial board of the organization's Workers' Bookshelf for five years and had served as instructor for a number of workers' study classes. In the winter of 1925-1926 he had conducted a class on "Technique of Workers' Education" at the New School of Social Research--a class he repeated the next year. The Advisory Committee for Lindeman's research department included Harry Overstreet, Alfred Dwight Sheffield, Hilda Smith, George Soule, Florence Thorne, and John Troxell.(37) A number of these people were, or would become, Lindeman's close friends.

The sailing was not all smooth for Lindeman at the Bureau, however. Hard-charging, imaginative--and often with erratic work habits--Lindeman may have run afoul of more conservative elements in the organization. An ambitious proposal for improved teacher training was printed in Workers' Education in November 1923, but in the same issue, an anonymous writer (undoubtedly the editor of the journal) threw cold water on the project. He called for "a more modest experiment. . . near the national headquarters in New York City" than the "more comprehensive program" set forth by Lindeman.

The writer went on to warn "those in charge of workers' educational activities" that not too many workers would "respond suddenly to actual systematic study." No other adult groups in society cared much about study “and the adult worker is no exception to this rule. If those in charge of our educational activities will take cognizance of this fact, it will save them unnecessary disappointment.”(38)

A major project for the Bureau was undertaken by Lindeman (with John Hader) when they examined the content of workers' education in the United States and Britain in the 1920-1927 period. Also included were some comparative notes about workers' education in Germany. Lindeman and Hader issued their booklet under the title What Do Workers Study? in 1929 but found it necessary to apologize for the incompleteness of their work. They were among the first to find that very low on the typical labor leader's agenda is a response to inquiries from researchers.

Lindeman was every inch the pluralist so it is not all that difficult to predict that he thought workers' education ought to be very diverse in its organizational structure. Specifically, he had four types of workers' education in mind:

·        Educational enterprises conducted under the auspices of organized labor, financed by trade unions funds and used to carry out the programs of those who control and support labor movement.

·        Educational enterprises possessing a higher standard of excellence and a broader freedom organized within the labor movement but exercising equal control in its councils with other organized branches. This type would, presumably, consist almost solely of labor colleges.

·        Educational enterprises which do not in any sense presume to represent existing labor principle and policy but which maintain an independent status for the main purpose of criticism, challenge, and experimentation.

·        Educational enterprises which include representatives from organized labor, from organized agriculture, and from intellectual groups promoting a type of education designed to create and experiment with those values and principles which need to be realized if the workers are to influence and guide those economic processes which have their setting in government and the law; in other words, education for future political action.(39)

With these categories, Lindeman was running counter to more doctrinaire proposals of what workers' education should be. Specifically, he was reacting against what he observed as a tendency to "classify workers' education according to 'good' and 'bad' categories" based on "preconceptions and biases."(40)

Propagandistic workers' education of the "right" or "left" in objectives was cited as one of the most obvious of these. Some, for example, did not consider any educational effort to be part of workers' education unless it expressly affirmed a "revolutionary purpose." Others discounted all workers' education except that conducted under the auspices of organized labor--a stance thought lamentable by Lindeman and Hader.(41)

In contrast, Lindeman urged toleration of all of multiple educational enterprises and their relationships. In return, he said, the labor movement might actually move "resolutely and intelligently toward a changing social order in which enlightened workers and learners could find new meanings and new motivations for their values." If there were problems in such a diverse set of approaches, no matter. They would "gradually be absorbed by our enthusiasms."(42)

Lindeman had little patience with long discussions about the organization and control of workers' education. He thought the focus should instead be on education itself. "Education, once its light begins to shine, illuminates all of life's values; those who would reduce its ministrations to a single interest or value will in the end succeed only in reducing education to stereotyped training or propaganda."(43)

What was Eduard Lindeman's chief contribution to the workers' education movement? In brief, it was a. proposed philosophical base rooted in the pragmatism of John Dewey and in the tradition of Nikolai Grundtvig. (Lindeman's views of adult education were also influenced by his understanding of Ralph Waldo Emerson, but this aspect of his thought occurred largely after the peak of his interest in workers' education.) Lindeman also tried to help the workers' education movement find its situational and operational bearings. In neither of these endeavors was he notably successful. Workers' education of the variety tried in the 1920s did not root well in the United States.

Perhaps a better question would be: What did the workers' education movement contribute to Eduard Lindeman's thinking? With his study of the European roots of workers' education, Lindeman was able to test and refine his philosophical views about adult education. This was an exercise that bore fruits to benefit all adult learners in America.

To his work in workers' education, Lindeman applied his axiom that adult education must start with the situation of the learner. "The intelligent worker does not study merely to adjust himself to industry; he proposes also to call forth from industry some adjustments on behalf of his enlarging and evolving needs, desires, and aspirations."(44)

This was not a view looked upon with much understanding or sympathy by employers in the 1920s--or unhappily by very many leaders of industry or government today. With its emphasis on development of what is called "human capital," and its preoccupation with training for "improved productivity," much of what passes for workers' education in present day industrial America runs directly counter to Eduard Lindeman's vision.



1. Eduard C. Lindeman, The Meaning of Adult Education (Montreal: Harvest House, Ltd., 1961), 27. (Original work published New York: New Republic, Inc., 1926)


2. Mary P. Follett, Creative Experience (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1924), 191.


3. Horace M. Kallen, Education, the Machine, and the Worker (New York: New Republic, Inc., 1925), viii-x.

4. Everett Dean Martin, The Meaning of a Liberal Education (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1926), 2-3.

5. Harry A. Overstreet and Bonaro W. Overstreet, Leaders for Adult Education (New York: American Association for Adult Education, n.d.), 108-9.

6. Lindeman, "Labor's Outlook to Life," review of The Philosophy of Labor, by C. Delisle Burns, New Republic 48 (25 August 1926): 22.

7. Author's interview with John Hader (21 May 1981).

8. David W. Stewart, Adult Learning in America: Eduard Lindeman and His Agenda for Lifelong Education (Malabar, Fla.: Robert E. Krieger, 1987), 83.

9. Ibid.

10. Lindeman, "The British Trades Union Congress and Workers' Education," Workers' Education 4 (November 1926): 13.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid., 13-14.

13. Ibid., 14.

14. Lindeman (with Martha Anderson), Education through Experience: An Interpretation of the Methods of the Academy of Labor, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany. Monograph No.1, Workers' Education Research Series (New York: Workers' Education Bureau Press, Inc., 1927), 5.

15. Ibid., 12.

16. Ibid., 36.

17. Ibid., 37.

18. Ibid., 3.

19. Stewart, Adult Learning, 12.

20. Lindeman, The Meaning, 27.

21. Lindeman, Education through Experience, 13.

22. Ibid., 6.

23. Ibid., 23.

24. Ibid.

25. Ibid., 31.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid., 25.

28. Ibid., 34-35.

29. Ibid., 40.

30. Ibid., 28.

31. Lindeman, "Andragogik: The Method of Teaching Adults," Workers' Education 4 (November 1926): 38.

32. Lindeman, Education through Experience, 2-3.

33. Stewart, Adult Learning, 108-9.

34. Lindeman, Education through Experience, 40.

35. Margaret T. Hodgen, Workers' Education in England and the United States (New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1925), 248.

36. Kallen, Education, xii-xiii.

37. "The Research Department of the Workers' Education Bureau," Workers' Education 4 (November 1926): 39-41.

38. Editorial comments, Workers' Education 1 (November 1923): 5.

39. Lindeman, Relation of Workers' Education to the Labor Movement (New York: Workers' Education Bureau Press, Inc., 1928), 70.

40. Lindeman (with John Hader), What Do Workers Study? Monograph No.2, Workers' Education Research Series (New York: Workers' Education Bureau Press, Inc., 1929), 39-40.

41. Ibid.

42. Lindeman, Relation of Workers' Education, 71.

43. Ibid.

44. Lindeman, "Why the American Labors," (n.d.) Adult Learning, 193.




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