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A Review of Adult education and worldview construction, McKenzie, L. (1991). Malabar, FL: Krieger.

Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D.


Lawrence McKenzie's (1991) illuminating book, Adult Education and Worldview Construction, is a crash course in graduate philosophy, filled with summaries, citations of the weightier contributors to the history of thought, as well as responses to many the greatest thinkers. McKenzie's essential thesis is that adult education must consider its transcendent goals through a Weltanschauung (German, worldview). Simply put, a Weltanshauung is the comprehensive conscious and unconscious interpretation of reality present in each individual thinker.

Although Plato, Aristotle, Peirce, Heidegger, and Gadamer clearly have a prominent place in McKenzie's perspective, he does not wish to be characterized by their thought or identified with any particular philosophical school. Rather, McKenzie wishes his thought to be a "fuzzy eclecticism" (p. xii). McKenzie certainly demonstrates a thorough understanding of the history and major themes of philosophy. However, while surveying and assimilating many major thinkers, it is clear that Martin Heidegger has made a formidable impact on McKenzie. Therefore, McKenzie's philosophical perspcective is firmly located within the existentialist-phenomenologist tradition.

While identifying with the Enlightenment stance of intellecutual freedom, McKenzie seeks to critically evaluate its assumptions. In this he is clearly developing in the direction of post-modernism. The helpful explanation of deconstructionism, specifically Jacques Derrida, is an example of McKenzie's eclecticism. He explains his gleanings from Derrida, "Deconstruction, in the sense used here, is a form of interpretation that addresses contradictions, dissimilarities, and polarities between an existing worldview and new experiences. It asks what is significant, meaningful, or truthful about new experiences; it also reviews one's existing worldview in terms of its significance, meaning, and truth claims" p. 31).

In the final chapter, regarding philosophical perspectives on adult education, the definitional standards of Elias and Merriam (Philosophical Foundations of Adult Education. Huntington, N.Y.: Krieger, 1980.) are replaced with the continuum of the idealogy of the right and the idealogy of the left. McKenzie, through participation training (PT) wishes to remain a neutral facilitator between the two poles. He is, contra post-modernism, optimistic about the future. "In union with others, in a community of interpreters, we can peel back the veils that obscure the world from inspection until we secure more or less satisfactory explanations of the world in its ultimate, penultimate, and personal dimensions" (p. 126).

In the opinion of this reviewer, Adult Education and Worldview Construction, is an outstanding text in the area of adult education. This thought-provoking work is in keeping with McKenzie's previous analysis of andragogy along philosophical lines and his remorse over the philosophical vacuum in adult education.

Having noted the strengths of the book, a few critical questions should be asked of McKenzie's Weltanshauung. How can truth, qua truth, exist in an existentialist's worldview; a worldview which blatantly declares truth as subjectivity? The construction of an adequate philosophical worldview requires, at the very least, the possibility of objective truth, since an explanation of a worldview is itself a statement presuming to be true. Moreover, how does the goal of a systematic explanation and discovery of the presuppositions of reality comport with existentialism? Of course this not meant to deny the kernel of truth in the existentialist's perspective--the vitality of personal autonomy. But it is nonetheless, this kernel of truth in existentialism is not truth defined as the existentialist defines it. Truth to be truth must be unchanging, real, corresponding to reality, and ultimately communicable in propositions.

So while the book is excellent in its many expositions and its interdisciplinary connection (to the queen of the sciences, no less), it relies to heavily on the indefensible assumptions of existentialism. This reviewer perceives such a reliance as a weekness in the overall conclusion of McKenzie. Nevertheless, McKenzie's goal of thoughtful and systematic worldview construction is the necessary goal for humanity and an inevitable product in the development of the discipline of adult education.