Book by: Stephen D. Brookfield and John D. Holst
Review by: Doug Ballard
Washington State University – Global Campus
Education and economics are inextricably intertwined. In a modern age, one cannot exist without the other. For Brookfield and Holst, society must move toward democratic socialism in order for a true understanding for compassion and creativity (p. 6). Radicalizing Learning seeks to understand the conditions under which socialism may be possible, and what the role of the educator is in order to realize this vision. Many of the examples used help to illustrate their point of education done through training and educational programs as the foundation of socialism. The African American Freedom Movement’s Citizenship school is a commonly referred to throughout the book, as is the training programs of Che Guevara.
At its core, Radicalizing Learning must first establish within the reader an understanding and agreement of what it means to live within democratic socialism. A good portion of the book is dedicated to this concept. It explicitly lists the conditions under which a socialist society can exist, and in fact how it can thrive. There is very little contrast, but their overall explanation of democratic socialism helps the reader identify and conceptualize how adult learns can participate and be successful in this radical society. In an evolving world, educators must not remain neutral. In fact, Brookfield and Holst argue that educators are obligated to provide the perspective necessary to establish democratic socialism.
Holst and Brookfield are slow to build upon their foundation to establish democratic socialism in the US and globally. It is not until two-thirds of the way through the book, that the reader finally sees how this can truly be employed. The authors spend the majority of their writing expounding upon trainings and educational programs and providing a long list of examples, which slows the pace of the text at times. The authors did their due diligence in researching and addressing their issues at the macro and micro level, but did so in a way that made a synthesis of their ideas much more difficult.
It was not until the last two chapters, that true implications of their work is explained. It is framed in terms of how to provide students with the necessary skills to do the most important thing of all, critically think. Within these chapters, the true theme of the book emerges; the dismantling of privilege (p. 206). When information of the dominate culture is provided alongside those of the minority, the establishment view will always prevail. Very appropriately then, the radical educator must confront students and provide only the ideas that otherwise would be avoided (p. 192). Probably the most captivating portion of the text, it presents with ideas that are often times glossed over in social justice conversations, but deserve more focus. These final chapters are vital to understanding how democratic socialism would prevail. While often disguised as historical social movements, the work that is done has enormous impact when there is polarization. Their analysis of education as it intertwines with economics and politics is very on point given today’s climate in the United States as the 2016 presidential election approaches, for which they contend that polarization is the only way that social change becomes possible (p. 220).
The impact that this radical learning has outside of the classroom can be just as powerful as the learning in a traditional setting. In an academic advising setting, this is even more important. Students express disdain for coursework that is out of the ordinary or experiences that they do not feel will benefit them based on their preconceived notions. Educators of all types are then charged with the duty to ensure that repressive tolerance does not take hold in the University, where it has remained for too long. As advisors must advocate for students, Brookfield and Holst empower the educator to “take uncompromising stands on the side of those they see as oppressed” (p. 198).
Radicalizing Learning: Adult Education for a Just World (2010). Book by Stephen D. Brookfield and John D Holst. Review by Doug Ballard. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. 288pp., $40.00 (Hardback). ISBN 978-0-7879-9825-7.