Privileges and access to learning Adult Education


Catherine DevenyCatherine Deveny, writer and comedian

“Nice scarf, did you knit it?”

“Thank you! Yes I have.”

“Who taught you to knit?”

Insert a pin into this conversation for a second.

How would you predict the answer? “My mother”, “my nana”, maybe “a friend with whom I shared a house in my early twenties”.

Let’s find out, shall we …

“I learned to knit on YouTube. This is where I learn everything nowadays. “

“Ah yes. YouTube is the new TAFE ”.

Thanks to the democratization of information in the form of the Internet, we are living in the golden age of learning.

Adult education and lifelong learning are terms that are as familiar today as they are revealing. “Lifelong” and “adult” suggest that, not so long ago, education and learning were viewed as something that only occurred in childhood and adolescence. Not so long ago, being considered an adult marked the end of developing new skills, knowledge, and skills. From late teens on, it was a lifetime of rinse and repeat.

Think about it. You have learned to run, speak, dress, read, write, make your bed, tie your shoelaces, ride a bike, cook, clean, wash your clothes, drive a car, and anything Luckily speaking another language, learning a sport or playing an instrument. At 21 you were given the ‘key to the door’. And the door was the entrance to the room you were stuck in forever.

It was fine if you were lucky enough to have access to learn what was needed, but if you weren’t unlucky your future was limited. Many who have failed to learn important life skills have spent their years navigating a world of roadblocks and dead ends, not paths to different learning opportunities. This has resulted in a life of limited employment, earning potential, unhealthy dependence on others, and often toxic relationships.

It meant that some people had the opportunity to lead meaningful happy lives, while others just didn’t.

People with access to the resources and skills necessary to learn life skills were privileged. If you were neurotypically and physically born in a society that had access to education and a family that had enough patience and money, things generally went well. If not, you were destined for a life of disadvantage. It was a bonsai life, an existence grid, a journey that you hobbled with bound feet.

Without being born in privilege, few had the tenacity and resilience to find and use what they could to get where they wanted. Even if people wanted more for themselves, they may not even know where or how to look for it. Choices were limited for the lucky ones and nonexistent for most.

Some would suggest the system is not working well. You would be wrong. The system worked perfectly. It was a rigged system built and maintained to punish the poor, the neurodiversity and the disadvantaged. Access to education, literacy and platforms (in the form of publication and broadcast or access to a pulpit, a seat in parliament or inherited property) have always been used for discrimination. The skills, opinions, and abilities of certain people were increased, which in turn increased their privileges in terms of access to money, power, decision-making, and leisure. This made the gap between those with the skills and without widening. In the past, bridges between these gaps were rare, tight and only available to those who would help maintain the discriminatory privilege system.

There are a lot of bridges these days, they are wide, sturdy and accessible. There is still a lot to be done, but we have come a long way in a short time.

During this time of Covid, most people spent at least some of their time on lockdown projects to acquire new skills or brush up on old ones. Baking sourdough, learning a language, picking up an instrument, or rediscovering an old hobby, skill, or pursuit from the past is not considered learning or education, just how we spend time. Nobody thinks this is unusual, in fact it is viewed as a logical coping mechanism. The question people ask is “What was your lockdown project?” not if people have one.

When people can’t go to sea, they fix their nets. That’s exactly what they did thanks to this YouTube tutorial.

Never underestimate the legitimate interest some individuals, institutions, and groups have in the unfortunate existence, so that they can feel like the lucky ones they don’t, so that they can be the have, the underprivileged, so that they can feel like the Privileged, the unfortunate can look at You can be lucky.

We are racing toward a world that simply normalizes learning and education as life. In the meantime, the use of the terms “lifelong learning” and “adult education” reminds us that there are opportunities and different ways for all of us to improve on things that make us happier and able to live life the way we do choose and earn.

Toni Morrison said: “The function of freedom is to set someone else free.”

There is enough for everyone.

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