Lifelong learning and the limitations of economic determinism
The contemporary efflorescence of lifelong learning discourse in education and social planning is argued here to be, substantially, the product of economic determinism. That discourse is evaluated from the perspective of three progressive sentiments that have informed lifelong learning advocacy: the individual, the democratic and the adaptive. Each progressive sentiment is seen as expressing a central programmatic purpose for educational reform and as capturing its ethical thrust. Contemporary lifelong learning discourse is found to be only superficially expressive of these informing sentiments. The progressive, ethical, liberatory nature of each sentiment is marginalized or excluded from the discourse, which may best be seen, accordingly, as seriously regressive, counter-ethical and non-liberatory. It is substantially lacking in critical concern, social vision, and any commitment to social justice and equity. It constructs education as a commodified private good, for which individuals should pay. It focuses strongly on individual interests and on vocational skills development. That education which is funded by the state, is focused increasingly on the development of basic life and vocational skills in the interests of engagement in and service to the global economy. Educational engagement is increasingly seen as desirably embedded in the economically productive activities that are its desired outcomes, further limiting any opportunity for socially progressive learning. It is suggested that if the prevailing lifelong learning discourse is to be made more culturally progressive- in both its educational activities and its learning outcomes- it cannot be through a return to traditional progressive ideologies. Rather, it must accept prevailing epistemology in refocusing that discourse. Paradoxically, although non-compliant educationists are now largely marginalized and ineffectual in their influence on the nature of the contemporary lifelong learning agenda, their vocation and their increasing suffusion throughout contemporary cultural formations places them in a potentially strong position to lead cultural and educational change in directions that are more culturally progressive.