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Is Adult Education a Frill?

The term adult education will undoubtedly conjure up images from history textbooks of rows of immigrants being taught English and citizenship in night school. Although this perception is still partially true, it fails to convey the full menu of options, including acquisition of high school diplomas and career skills.

That's why the announcement that the entire adult education division in the Los Angeles Unified School District is slated to be eliminated because of lack of funding is disturbing. In December, the school board was presented with a proposal to ax the program, which in the past was budgeted at $120 million ("Adult education on L.A. Unified's chopping block," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 28). Thousands of students 18 years or older who have benefited from the classes offered were blindsided by the news.

Yet they shouldn't be surprised. The fact is that they have always been the most vulnerable because they lack defenders in Sacramento. Adults are not considered a priority. In a way, this view is akin to the practice of triage in medicine. Attention is given first and foremost to those in greatest need. With state budgets already strained, legislators understandably focus on K-12. They just don't think adult education is important.

In the late 1960s, I was asked to teach English at night to adults at the same high school where I taught English during the day to students in grades 10-12. I was immediately impressed by the appreciation expressed by the adults who ranged in age from about 24 to 52. One of the questions I asked was their reason for choosing a night class in a high school setting rather than a night class at the local community college. Their response has relevance to the possibility of eliminating adult education: They felt less embarrassed and intimidated when surrounded by others in the same situation on campus.

I don't think we fully understand what it takes to attend adult school and hold down a full-time job at the same time. Not only is exhaustion a consideration but so is awkwardness. That's why I think the proposal to eliminate adult classes is counterproductive. It will send the wrong message to adults who still believe in taking responsibility for their own future.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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