Penn State

Ian Baptiste - Professor of Adult Education, Penn State University Park

Book Title: Defining the Enemy: Adult Education in Social Context

Author: Michael Newman

Book Description:

I consider myself an activist educator. My research, teaching and service are aimed, ultimately, at alleviating social inequities. I believe that inequities are due, in part, to willful and principled human action. In other words some people perpetuate inequities, not because they don't know better, but because it is in their enlightened self-interest to do so. I call such people enemies.

Defining the Enemy articulates best my concerns, and provides tools (intellectual and otherwise) for addressing them. In it, Newman (1994) argues that when it comes to dealing with perpetrators of violence and social injustices, fashionable adult education theories are simply too nice, too unfocused, too inward-looking, or too mechanistic (see especially chaps. 2, 3 & 6). Labeling these theories as "traps, tricks, and hegemonic sidetracks," Newman shows how they enfeeble our efforts and leave perpetrators free to continue "burning Rome." This neglect, according to Newman, is because most of our theories of adult education avoid or ignore dealing with enemies. Our focus, he argues, is largely on enlightening ourselves and the victims--those upon whom hurt and harm are inflicted.

Introspective activism is one of the labels Newman uses to describe our enfeebled efforts. This activism, he argues, comes packaged in statements such as these: "The revolution starts with us. We can begin by cleaning up our back yard. We need to achieve and inner peace if we are to strive for world peace. We must educate ourselves before we can educate others" (1994, p. 103). He counters this introspective activism this way:

These are seductive and comforting phrases, but they can deflect us from laying blame where it is due, and from taking effective, coordinated action to oppose those who would do us and others harm. We may look outward for a while, we may see problems and be tempted to criticize those responsible for them, but at some crucial moment we retreat, we begin saying the solution is in ourselves. We rattle sabres but then we wander off disconsolately into some kind of personalized reverie or reflective mumbling, disempowered by a liberal humanist hegemony (p. 103).This book is a "must read" for anyone who is serious about using education as a mechanism for alleviating social inequities.


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