Reflections on UBC’s Masters of Education, Adult Learning & Education

 

Samantha Robinson

As I approach graduation from the Masters of Education, Adult Learning & Education program at the University of British Columbia (UBC), I find myself in a moment of pause as I intentionally take time for reflection. What have I learned over the last two years in this program? What made sense and was anything surprising or unexpected? Are there things that I still want to learn or areas of adult education that I want to explore in a more fulsome way outside of my degree? Was there something missing from my experience that I think would have been beneficial to learn more about? All of these questions are worth exploring in the months leading up to graduation, especially as I think about how I would like to continue on my own personal journey of lifelong learning. More practically, however, I believe it is imperative that I take this time for reflection as a professional staff member at UBC, where I am responsible for supporting current undergraduate students with their own experiential and lifelong learning outside of the formal classroom setting. Through this period of reflection, I have determined several key lessons that I am taking away from this program and one critique that I hope to name and continue expanding upon as my journey of adult education continues post-graduation.

The most prominent lesson that I am taking away from this program occurred during my first class ever in September 2019, which was in EDST 503. This lesson pertains to the fact that learning is a lifelong process and occurs in much of our day-to-day lives as adults. One of the first readings that I completed in this program was Rubenson’s “Adult Education Overview” (2010) where they provide various definitions of adult education and learning, including the definition of lifelong learning provided by UNESCO (United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization). In addition to defining lifelong learning, Rubenson (2010) shares the three fundamental attributes of the term, which include:

  • “It is lifelong and therefore concerns everything from cradle to grave;
  • It is lifewide recognizing that learning occurs in many different settings; and
  • It focuses on learning rather than limit itself to education” (Rubenson, 2010, p. 5).

Prior to considering the concept of lifelong learning, I believe I had a fairly limited mindset on what could be considered ‘education’. In reading Rubenson (2010), my eyes were opened to the fact that almost anything one does as an adult can contribute to their learning and overall development. This lesson was even more solidified when completing additional readings throughout the MEd program which highlighted learning opportunities in many different contexts, including participating in community organizations, organized sports, and engaging in movements toward social justice. While I hope to remember this lesson as I continue on my own journey of lifelong learning, I also recognize that it should be at the forefront of my mind when supporting student leaders at UBC in my staff role. When connecting with student leaders supporting UBC’s orientations programming, I hope to highlight the many ways that their daily activities, including volunteering, holding club executive positions, and even the conversations that they have with their peers, are all contributing to their own learning and development. These moments of learning can sometimes go unnoticed and holding space with student leaders to reflect on those experiences and the growth they have experienced is something that I am looking forward to continuing in the future.

This brings me to the second lesson that I am taking away from this program, which is in regards to how our experiences with social justice and global movements can contribute to the process of lifelong learning and the role that university institutions can play in educating students on the problems being faced by society today. Similar to the above lesson, which highlights the fact that learning is a lifelong and lifewide process, I had not previously considered all of the ways that individuals can learn and develop through participating in social movements or in moments of activism, or the responsibility that post-secondary institutions have when it comes to tackling society’s greatest challenges.

In terms of the forms of learning that can occur through participation in social movements, including attending rallies or protests, participating in community-based programs directed toward helping those in need, and even coordinating local cleanup crews within one’s neighbourhood, it is clear to me now that the opportunities for learning are endless. Scandrett (2012) discusses the different forms of learning that can evolve out of participation in a social movement. From “the structured educational processes which are sometimes employed within social movements… [and] the informal and incidental learning and knowledge generation within social movements through political practice, repertoires of contestation, and collective reflection” (Scandrett, 2012, p. 42). Hall (2006) also highlights the fact that social movement learning can include “learning by persons who are part of any social movement and… by persons outside of a social movement as a result of the actions taken or simply by the existence of social movements” (p. 6). In reading both Scandrett (2012) and Hall (2006), my eyes were opened to so many forms of learning that can take place through social movements, whether one is a key organizer or simply viewing the movement online as it develops and progresses. I see this lesson coming to life in my own work at UBC through the professional development opportunities that we create for student leaders which include conversations about anti-racism, supporting students in distress, responding to disclosures of sexual violence, active by standing, and so on. While these topics may not all be directly related to social movements specifically, they do create opportunities for current undergraduate students to delve into the material and to learn more about how they want to show up as leaders in the world. My hope is that by engaging student leaders in these conversations, they are able to gain additional insights into some of the wicked problems being faced by the world and the role that they can play in finding solutions, potentially leading them to become more involved with initiatives within the local or global community.

With this hope in mind, the third lesson that I am leaving this program with is the belief that universities themselves have a significant responsibility when it comes to educating students about the challenges being faced by society today and on how they can contribute toward finding potential solutions. Cordero et al. (2008) argue that “higher education… has an important role to play in educating students about climate change, and connecting it to the variety of social dimensions, including access to food, drinkable water, and sustainable energy” (Cordero et al., 2008, p. 870). They go on to state that “action-oriented learning designed around the ecological footprint can improve university students’ understanding of the connection between personal energy use and climate change” (Cordero, Todd, Abellera, 2008, p. 865). While this example focuses exclusively on the current environmental crisis, I believe the key takeaway can be applied to any form of education on social movements and/or challenges being faced by the global community.

This brings me to my primary critique of the MEd ALE program, which is with regards to the required courses. As an uninvited guest learning and working on the land of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples in both a student and staff capacity, it is my responsibility each day to consider the role that I have played, and continue to play, in a colonial system and how I can work toward reconciliation. While this is my individual duty and one that I take to heart, we are operating within a colonial system and all institutions and organizations have a responsibility to do the same. The Canadian education system is no exception, as it has been built as part of the colonial system with historical intentions of erasing Indigenous ways of knowing. For instance, Atleo (2009) states that “Canadian education begins where Aboriginal people are not: from a Euro-institutional perspective of pedagogy in the context of formal Western schooling” (Atleo, 2009, p. 454), which highlights the fact that much of the education being taught in this country is with a very specific, colonial perspective.

UBC is a world-renowned institution with a newly introduced Indigenous Strategic Plan (2020) and encourages common practices directed toward reconciliation, such as providing land acknowledgements at events and gatherings. While these are certainly steps in the right direction, I think the university as an institution should be doing more and individual departments and programs can also take action in how they design and offer their programs. One way that the MEd in Adult Learning Education (ALE) graduate program could take further steps toward reconciliation is in reconsidering what courses are required in order to graduate. Currently, the three required courses of this program are EDST 503 (Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Adult Learning and Education), EDST 514 (Adult Education Program Planning Theory), and EDST 518 (Theory and Research on Adult Learning), in addition to one research methods course (ex. EDUC 500). These required courses focus quite a bit on colonial ways of knowing and learning, with readings centered on Indigenous theories being included by the choice of each individual instructor. Notwithstanding, I argue that this is not enough. If the institution wants to continue taking strides toward real and ongoing reconciliation with local communities that are impacted daily by our histories of colonial violence, I believe it should be required for students to learn more about Indigenous ways of knowing and how they can inform, enrich and expand our approach to a lifelong and lifewide education. One course that I completed during my time in the ALE program, EDST 546 (Indigenous Epistemology and Methodology), focused on Indigenous ways of knowing, and was taught by Professor Maggie Kovach. I learned the most in this course as it was entirely new material that I had not ever been exposed to in all of my years of education, including the importance of building strong relationships with communities as a starting place for conducting research, and various forms of Indigenous methodologies and frameworks, such as Indigenous Storywork (ISW). This methodology, originally developed by Archibald (2019), emphasizes the importance of intergenerational storytelling as a form of resistance and asks researchers to “pay serious attention to how stories can be used in research and education” (Archibald & Parent, p. 4, 2019). I believe that there are many ways that Indigenous ways of knowing could be included as a core requirement for the MEd ALE program, and including Indigenous methodologies like ISW as one of the research methods taught in required courses could be one way of doing so.

It is such a privilege to be able to further my experiences with formal education through the MEd ALE program at UBC and one that I am truly grateful for. Not only because I have learned so much along the way and connected with so many fantastic folks from around the world, but also because I am wrapping up my time with a keen awareness that the learning will not stop once I cross the stage at graduation. My journey of lifelong learning will continue through informal conversations with peers and colleagues, engaging in important discussions pertaining to some of our society’s greatest challenges, and in all of the moments in between. I am looking forward to continuing my own journey with adult education, expanding my learning edges and embracing other ways of knowing and teaching and hope to do so by taking part in forms of education that I haven’t yet done, including becoming engaged with a community organization and bringing some of my lessons learned into conversations with friends and loved ones. I may be preparing to complete my Masters at UBC, but I believe that I have only just begun this new personal chapter of adult learning and education and am looking forward to seeing what comes next.

 

 

References

Archibald, J., Parent, A. (2019). Hands back, hands forward for indigenous storywork as methodology. In S. Windchief, & T. San Pedro (Eds.), Routledge, 3-20.

Atleo, M. (2009). Understanding aboriginal learning ideology: through storywork with elders.

Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 55(5), 453-467.

Cordero, E. C., Todd, A. M., & Abellera, D. (2008). Climate change education and the ecological

footprint. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 89(6), 865-872.

Hall, B. (2006). Review of the state of the field in adult learning: Social movement learning Canadian Council on Learning.

Rubenson, Kjell. 2010. “Adult Education Overview” in Penelope Peterson, Eva Baker, Barry

McGaw, eds., International Encyclopedia of Education. Volume 1, pp. 1-11. Oxford: Elsevier.

Scandrett, E. 2012. “Social Learning in Environmental Justice Struggles – Political Ecology of

Knowledge.” In Learning and Education for a Better World: The Role of Social Movements. Vol. 10, International Issues In Adult Education). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

University of British Columbia (2020). Indigenous Strategic Plan. 22 March 2022. Retrieved from

https://indigenous.ubc.ca/indigenous-engagement/indigenous-strategic-plan/.

Villacañas de Castro, L. S. (2015). Critical pedagogy and marx, vygotsky, and freire : Phenomenal

forms and educational action research Palgrave Macmillan.

 

Author Bio:

Sam Robinson (she/her) is currently preparing to graduate from UBC’s Masters of Education, Adult Learning & Education in May 2022. In addition to attending UBC Vancouver as a student, she is grateful to be a UBC staff member working alongside all of the wonderful folks responsible for planning first-year orientations!

 

Remembrance, Solidarity, and Community: Commemorating Professor Michael Marker (1951-2021)

André Elias Mazawi[*]

 

“My work in the history of education has been like a Coast Salish canoe journey through time and space.”

Michael Marker

 

On December 23, 2020, around three weeks before Professor Michael Marker’s untimely passing on January 15, 2021, I emailed him to convey my good sentiments for the winter break and my best wishes for the year 2021. I noted that 2020 was quite difficult and unusual for so many. The pandemic and its predicaments disrupted our work considerably. For Michael, these were not “ordinary” events. In private conversations and department meetings Michael shared his views that we are living through an “epochal closure”, a term apparently inspired by a Kantian metaphysics of presence that considers an epoch as a system of language and structure – a hegemonic political culture, if you will. As I (partially) understand it, as an “epoch” draws to a “close,” it loses its “logic” as a viable explanatory framework of the human world. In the words of Saitya Brata Das, its “hegemony expires when its principle of ground becomes impoverished”. Under such conditions, it is difficult to discern what would eventually emerge, what is yet to be born. As a nod to Michael’s view on the times we were living through, in my email I sought to reassure him that with every closure there is also a beginning, a birth, new potentialities, new futures which may not have been otherwise possible. I wrote so because, in my view, every new creation is imperilled by risks, dangers, vicissitudes, contradictions, and setbacks. Yet, as both Edward Said and Hannah Arendt captured it so differently, every beginning ultimately entails collective struggles that connect “scattered occasions” (Said) into a punctum that takes diverse shapes, forms and, ultimately, meaningful directions. Preserving hope in the face of adversity is crucial for the conduct of one’s struggles. To convey my sense of optimism, I included a verse by German lyric poet and philosopher Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) that says, among other, “where the danger is, also grows the saving power.” I interpreted that verse to mean that while difficult and challenging life events expose our vulnerabilities and endanger us, they can also push us to think creatively about new ways of being and living.

My choice of Hölderlin’s verse was not arbitrary. Michael’s work resonates with the risks he took in his scholarly work and life. Consistently, he endeavoured to disrupt hegemonic discourses on history and Indigeneity. I knew and appreciated his scholarship well before we met in person at a conference in April of 2003 in Chicago. I then realized that I had included one of his papers in one of my syllabi as a mandatory reading as early as 2001. In his studies on the colonization of Indigenous communities Michael built a scholarly body of work that uncompromisingly sought to disrupt the hegemonic power of a Eurocentric version of modernity and history, particularly those discourses that are adamantly entrenched in schools and higher education institutions. Referring to the “alluvial zones of paradigm change”, Michael proposed a new language, one of life, dignity, justice, self-determination, and healing.

Michael’s response to my email, on the evening of December 23, 2020, was intriguing. Michael thanked me for my “blessings with gratitude and some joy.” Yet, he emphatically and flatly noted, “I do not share your optimism”:

“Yes, I do appreciate the words of German poets and thank you for sending them. Notwithstanding, I am more compelled by a German martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer; a great intellectual cut down in his prime while [Martin] Heidegger found cleverness to defend himself and pretended to not know of good Dietrich’s torture and execution. Bonhoeffer’s words ring true for me: “If you have boarded the wrong train, it does no good to run in the corridor in the opposite direction.” [Hyperlinks added to original text, AEM]

In his stance against Nazism in Germany, Bonhoeffer, a pastor and theologian, “was sharply critical of ethical theory and of academic concerns with ethical systems precisely because of their failure to confront evil directly,” as Douglas Huff points out. The foundation of ethical behaviour, Bonhoeffer believed, lay in reconciling the reality of the world and the metaphysical reality of God, making the latter manifest in and through the former. Ethical behaviour entailed a worldly and fully engaged activism towards the redemption of the human world, in words and actions. For Michael, too, scholarship cannot be reduced to academic concerns. It entails purposeful activism if one is to confront and expose “the varieties of hegemonies that neutralize a legitimate Indigenous voice and which are continuing to dismiss the Indigenous polemical Other as an exoticized outside case scenario.” He asserted that “healing and relationship building can only come of a rigorous decolonizing related to exposing the persistence and pestilence of technocracy and historical amnesia within schools and communities.” For him, decolonizing the ways in which history is studied is akin to “a canoe journey through time and space,” in view of creating a generative discourse and the re-articulation of institutional policies, practices, and cultures.

Michael’s intellectual courage stood out in our (last) exchange, as it did in his engagement with the world’s deep wounds of injustice, and its colonial legacies of oppression, violence, and dispossession. If he disagreed with colleagues, he argued forcefully, yet with courtesy and deference. His burning passion for inquiry, argumentation, and the exploration of ideas was visible to all those for whom the incisiveness of thought is a necessary condition in the fecund pursuit of those ethical values on which we could build our world. Michael was an intense interlocutor. For him, ideas must be pursued with a clear and sharp mind. Ideas command a constant search, a continuous exchange, and unending exploration, if experienced realities are to be captured in meaningful ways. Michael’s contrapuntal reference to Bonhoeffer’s life pushed back on my reference to  Hölderlin’s lyric verse. By doing so, he made me realize that my optimism was underpinned by residues of an a-political Romanticism. His contrasting of Bonhoeffer’s and Heidegger’s radically antithetical destinies compelled me to decolonize myself from entrenched assumptions that have come to inhabit me through my literary education and the conditions under which I was schooled. I never had the chance to thank Michael for this exchange. The conversation was cut short with and by his departure.

One full year has elapsed since Michael’s passing. Remembering Michael – as colleague, scholar, activist, and faculty member – is painful. This text carries a portion of that pain. One colleague commented, “it hurts to remember Michael, but this pain of remembering is also what gives us life, courage and hope” (Pierre Walter). On January 20, 2022, the Department of Educational Studies at UBC commemorated Professor Michael Marker’s passing at the very beginning of its monthly meeting. For me, a department’s capacity to re-member, to re-call, to in-voke the memory of its members – whether those who passed or those who are (still) present, or still, those who moved on in life – is foundational for the maintenance and growth of our common home. A home – basically, a space within which activities take place – is not just physical or material. It is a dwelling that carries a full range of meanings, affects, moods, and memories. These meanings are part and parcel of what a home represents, as both space and experience. Invoking these meanings collectively – as part of an act of co-memoration – represents the most powerful political statement that a human group can utter: we do not forget any member who lived in this dwelling, nor do we leave anyone behind or outside its precinct. Re-membering represents the penultimate act of constructing a solidarity across time, space, and relations; one of several pillars in the process of community-building. Without remembrance I feel we would probably vegetate in a continuously desolate present composed of bricks, mortar, and empty glass corridors. Such a “home” would be daunted by the grinding effects of an alienating bureaucracy, the “iron cage” of surveillance and control, to which (the translated writings of) Max Weber referred. By in-voking the memory of our colleague we ensure and uphold our humanity, trapped – as it is – between its desires for knowledge, truth, and fulfillment and the effective challenges facing the translation of these desires into ethical, equitable, just, and inclusive worlds.

The commemoration of Professor Michael Marker was incidentally followed by a departmental discussion regarding how we could, should, or would be capable of coming together to share the fruits of our work and still feel comfortable with ourselves, in the privacy of our thoughts and concerns. In many ways, for me, co-memorating and sharing represent the two facets of weaving disparate ideas into meaningful horizons of possibility, the creation of a measure of “intellectual intimacy.” Yet, for this “intellectual intimacy” to be effective it must be grounded in a spirit of trust; trust between individuals and trust in that all participants feel engaged and respected in the conversation, while respecting those around them. Building trust represents an arduous and challenging project, no doubt. Without trust, all our endeavours, teachings, and claims to transforming the world would remain vacuous and resoundingly empty. Building relational trust represents an elementary condition in the generation of knowledges that lay legitimate claims to transformative powers within the communities they touch.

May Michael’s memory live among us in the ways we learn to relate to each other, as we strive to build a vibrant, life seeking, and confident Department of Educational Studies. Let the passionate argumentation Michael captured in his way of being in the world increase a thousand fold and let it blossom, among us, like a thousand cherry trees.

Let us commit to remember that.

 

© André Elias Mazawi, Feb 10, 2022.

 

[*] An abridged version of this text was released to the Department’s membership (staff, students and faculty) on January 15, 2021, as part of Professor Michael Marker’s commemoration. The present expanded version includes subsequent reflections shared with the Department. I am grateful to Deirdre Kelly, Pierre Walter, Michelle Stack, Hartej Gill, Bathseba Opini, and Amy Parent for sharing their feedback and comments on previous drafts. I am equally grateful to EDST’s GAA Team for their consideration of this text as part of the EDST Blog and for their support in bringing it to publication.

 

A ‘Hidden’ Crisis: The Cost of Power

Jed Anderson

“Technique has penetrated the deepest recesses of the human being. The machine tends not only to create a new human environment, but also to modify man’s very essence.”

-Jacques Ellul[1]

The Technological Society

 

On a starless night in August, I drove with a clergyman friend through a lightning storm into what seemed like hell on earth.

Racing through a downpour on the backroads near Worsley, Alberta, my hope of catching a glimpse of a starry sky was obliterated by a black blanket of clouds and offset by blinding lightning. This was an exciting alternative to stargazing – fireworks of a different sort. Our route through Treaty 8 Lands passed through the traditional territories of the Dane-zaa and Woodland Cree, through family farms carved out of boreal forest. I chose it for the lack of light pollution.

After a day spent reading books along isolated lakes, watching moose plough through muskeg, avoiding roadside deer, and drinking beer, I had hoped for a glittering quiet drive across the invisible border into British Columbia. Instead, the glow of apocalyptic red flames began to light up the undersides of the clouds, even as forks of blue-white lightning continued to lance down around our small Volkswagen, occasionally hitting so close that we needed to brake as thunder rattled the windows.

Passing into BC, we were treated to the reality of fracking and the LNG economy.

In a landscape devoid of natural light other than lightning, the belching flare-stacks gave everything the character of Tolkien’s Mordor. Flames from metallic towers licked the sky and the stench of petroleum and chemical by-products was heavy in the air. None of these sights, sounds, and smells were alien to me. I have lived in the Peace Country before, although typically it’s grainfields and boreal forest that define the norm. This aesthetic combination of fire and thunder, after years spent in the numbing cocoon of Vancouver, was a brutal reminder of the ongoing crisis. It was an education from the land, a sort of fever nightmare that affected the rest of the trip.

The next day we walked along the edge of the valley which the half-constructed Site C Dam will eventually submerge, obliterating an entire landscape. Protest signs from First Nations and local ranchers line the highway, pleading for someone to “Stop Site C”, but the trees are already being clear-cut. Concrete pilings and towers for a future bridge rise in a farmer’s field, soon to be underwater.

We then went to look at the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, which provides between a quarter and a third of BC’s electricity. The construction of the dam in the 1960s flooded the homeland of the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation, broke up caribou herds, altered whole ecologies, and ended a way of life for thousands of people. The W.A.C. Bennett reservoir is one of the largest in the world and the scale of the destruction its creation wrought is disturbing.

Travelling south from the dam, we passed open-face coal mines, logging operations, and pulp mills. I’m a bit numb to these industrial operations. I live several blocks from the Parkland Refinery in Burnaby, where Vancouver gets most of its gasoline. But it has been some time since I’ve been pressed up against the full reality of raw resource extraction in BC, since I’ve smelled hydrocarbons burning off from active wells, heard the buzz of thousands of hydroelectric gigawatts, or seen the reality of large-scale coal mining in progress. In northern BC and Alberta, one is confronted with the hungry mouth of capitalism chewing through the land, rather than the flatulent residue of consumption and digestion that we tend to witness in Vancouver.

The solution to the crisis which we are most commonly sold is to remove that flatulence.

The electric car, for example, will give us cleaner skies. But last month, Elon Musk’s calls for nickel production were answered eagerly by Vancouver-based Giga Metals, which owns the proposed Turnagain Mine, 70 kilometers east of Dease Lake, BC. Vancouver’s air will be cleaner, at the expense of another tailing pile, another road, another leachate pond. Giga Metals promises a cutting edge environmentally conscious mine, British Columbians would be wise to be suspicious.

All of these things are a ‘hidden’ crisis – both environmental and human. BC casts judgment on Alberta while committing equal or worse acts of environmental destruction. These acts are kept far from the eyes of those who might otherwise take action against them. Indigenous people in northern BC have seen little to no return from the billions of dollars siphoned off from these lands, and non-indigenous communities have had their entire essence oriented to the extractive economy.

It is not an accident that Vancouver is the ‘mining capital of the world’, with hundreds of firms here, many with dubious operations in nations with poor human rights or regulatory oversight. We have had practice on ourselves. UBC is funded with the tax proceeds of fracking, mining, and logging, but can revel in its green leafy malls far from the unattractive sights of such exploits. A huge portion of the power that lights our homes and classrooms is derived from the flooding of another people’s homeland. We’re doubling down on this destruction with Site C, new pipelines, and new mines.

This is a crisis.

In Jacques Ellul’s book, The Technological Society, he describes the nature of technique and the technical society we all live in. It is an unsettling picture of a disturbing monism, where everything in our world is made to serve ‘the machine’, where centralization is an inevitable outcome of technique. Ellul suggests we have made a Faustian bargain for a taste of power and in the hope for a technological ‘paradise’. It was just this type of exchange I was reminded of, as I rolled past small country churches, through darkest night, into silent sulphurous flames, and a stench that the mythological figure of Charon would have enjoyed.

[1] Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society (New York: Vintage Books, 1964), 325.

 

Jed Anderson Bio:

Jed Anderson is a PhD candidate (ABD) in the department of Educational Studies at UBC. He is studying higher education in northern British Columbia and is interested in similar cases in other northern regions in Canada and Scandinavia. Jed is curious how non-metropolitan, rural, and peripheral institutions are created and how higher education relates to regionalism and northern development. His research at UBC has led to a greater focus on the role imperialism and individualist-oriented capitalism plays in maintaining spatial inequality in BC.

 

jed.anderson@alumni.unbc.ca