Book by Andre P. Grace, Tonette S. Rocco, and Associates
Review by Debra L. Dukes
Teacher Education
Academic Mentor 
Western Governors University 

Challenging the Professionalization of Adult Education: John Ohliger and Contradictions in Modern Practice is a collection of essays by those who have been influenced by Ohliger including leaders in the field of adult education and excerpts by the author himself. Ohliger (1926 – 2004) was far more than an author; he was a prolific writer who strongly believed in working toward social good regardless of the form that it took. In the book he is referred to as a radical liberal or “radlib” (p. 21) as well as a scholar (p. 3), a social activist (p. 17), an agitator (p. 30) and an outsider (p. xi). He was obviously a complex individual about whom much has been written and said, most of which he probably would dismiss. Ohliger’s persona was larger than life and may have stood in the way of what he worked so hard to achieve: educating the masses to be passionate, involved and participatory in experiential learning for the greater good. 

The strengths of the book are many. It not only serves as a biography, it takes readers through the philosophy of adult education as practice, not just a “profession,” and informs readers of the history and politics of Ohliger’s time. It also does a nice job of comparing the various philosophies and pedagogical understandings of those past and present in the field of adult education. It is especially gratifying to read about Ohliger’s insistence that adult education be voluntary and his declaration that education is never neutral; that an action should eventually come out of any learning or at least be a reflection of the past to inform the future. Ohliger wanted us to think about, and continuously move toward, social change and enlightenment. 

In today’s world of compulsory adult education and what Ohliger referred to as the “competency treadmill” (p. 19), this book is probably more important than ever as a primer in the field of adult education. As an academic advisor for adults, I reflect back on the basic premise and theories of educating adults and how relevant those ideas are even though they may be contrary to why many of my adult students are enrolled in college. I remind myself that while attaining degrees, licensure, and certifications are foremost on my students’ minds ,that it doesn’t mean those are the only things students take away from their educational experiences. They take away so much more than they can adequately identify. But isn’t that the point? To infuse learning so completely that learners integrate it into who they are and what they do.

Finally, the book is intended to serve as a way to honor John Ohliger. The authors do this admirably by taking us through his contributions to the field both insightful and messy. Readers are challenged to analyze and disagree, but above all, to think. I believe Ohliger would have liked that most of all. What a great reminder for colleagues young and old of the roots of our profession and the diversity of ideas and thoughts from which we come. 

Challenging the professionalism of adult education: John Ohliger and contradictions in modern practice. (2009) Book by Andre P. Grace, Tonette S. Rocco, and Associates. Review by Debra L. Dukes. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 384 pp., $40.00,  ISBN 978-0-7879-7827-3
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