Arch Nelson Address abstract

Arch Nelson and the end of the ‘great tradition.’

The Address will be given by Dr Bob Boughton UNE

Arch Nelson’s life, which spanned almost the entire twentieth century, can teach us much about the development of adult education during that period. Born in 1911, he initially became a school teacher, before completing a degree at the University of Adelaide, where he was taught by one of Australian adult education’s founding fathers, Gerry Portus. When World War 2 broke out, he was recruited by another of the field’s founding fathers, Bert Madgwick, to the Army Education Service. In 1955, Madgwick invited him to join the University of New England’s adult education program, where he worked until his retirement. After that, he took on the role of Chairman of ACAL, a position he held almost until he died, in 1998.

When Nelson reflected on his own life, in his memoir written in the early 1990s, he looked back on a ‘golden age’ of liberal adult education. Like Jack Mezirow, the US founder of transformative learning theory, Nelson and his university adult education colleagues believed in a world made rationally, through reasoned dialogue among equal citizens. They worried about adult illiteracy, as they called it, because a better educated and more literate adult population was needed to build a more democratic, peaceful and equal world. In 1950s and 1960s Australia, however, as the Cold War took hold, their commitment to the established order of things required them to uphold the view that such a democracy could only be built within a capitalist economic system. So, while they read Paulo Freire and attended international meetings with the many radical anti-colonial leaders of the time, they chose not to bring the revolution home.

Today, as we reach the end of the second decade of the 21st century, ecological disaster, resource scarcity, unrelenting wars, massive population displacements and rapidly growing inequality compel an urgent rethink. What does university adult education today have to offer the 800 million people around the world who have not even had the most basic education, the people who cannot read and write in an official language of their own countries? To build a practice and a theory which can take us forward, I argue we must to put the liberal tradition aside, and connect instead with the tradition of adult education for revolutionary transformation, led now as it always has been, by the popular education movement of the Global South.

More about speaker Bob Boughton

More about Arch Nelson

ACAL Conference

'Critical re-imagining: adult literacy and numeracy practices for sustainable development'

4-5 October • 3 October Preconference

University of Technology Sydney