Lyle Yorks and Sandra Hayes would be the first to tell you that they are scholars—not artists.
Nonetheless, Yorks, TC Associate Professor of Adult and Continuing Education, and Hayes, who earned her doctorate at TC in adult education in 2006, find themselves in the avant garde of a movement that seeks to tap the power of the arts in facilitating adult learning.
“This is a very different world for me, for sure—and for Lyle,” says Hayes, who is now a consultant and lecturer in TC’s
. “We are really building on other work done about the role of the arts in adult learning. While there has been some discussion about the role of the arts in adult education, we wanted to offer something new or at least build on some ideas that had been circulating in the adult learning community for some time. We wanted to highlight the arts as a real possibility for adult learning.” Summer Principals Academy
A key idea driving the notion of the arts—be it literature, painting or even music—as a powerful tool in adult learning is that it has the potential to draw on a person’s feeling and emotions in a way that traditional classroom instruction might not. Tapping those emotions and engaging with others can lead to transformative learning, the concept pioneered by TC scholar Jack Mezirow that refers to person’s complete change of perception or world view.
The goal isn’t to teach or learn a specific art form,
says, but instead to use the arts as a tool to help people learn about themselves and others, an essential component of transformational learning. Yorks
Yorks and Hayes’ work together began in the mid-2000s while Hayes was still a doctoral student. She and Yorks were hired to serve as facilitators for a series of collaborative inquiries by eight community arts leaders and activists from around the country. One of these inquiries was about how the arts could foster social change.
The stories they heard about the arts and how they were transforming individuals and communities proved to be, well, transformative.
“We were on our way to
Seattle, on a plane, and talking about how we were seeing the arts in adult education in a new way because of the group and the discussions, and then I saw an article in the [ New York] Times,” says. “It was about this program using drama and theater with prisoners, and I said, ‘Look at this article: This is what we’re talking about,’ and we thought, ‘We ought to do something about all of this.’ So we started talking about how we could carry the whole idea of the arts in adult education forward.” Yorks
They did that by co-editing one of the first books in the field to deal specifically with the role of the arts in adult learning. Arts and Societal Learning: Transforming Communities Socially, Politically, and Culturally, published in 2007 as part of Jossey-Bass’s New Directions in Adult and Continuing Education series, includes chapters written by both scholars and practitioners.
In some ways, the volume is a practical guide with examples of how community groups are using the arts to promote adult learning and transformation. There is a chapter, for example, on Ifetayo Cultural Arts in
Brooklyn by the organization’s executive director that describes how it uses the arts in community development. Another chapter deals with the production of Shakespeare plays in a prison.
“One thing we wanted to show was that an important component of adult education takes place outside the classroom,”
says. “And, at least for me, it was important to show that you can use art as part of the learning process but you don’t have to be an artist yourself. You can have a relationship to art that is part of the learning process, but you don’t have to have a particular grounding in art per se.” York
Since publishing the book, Yorks and Hayes remain as convinced as ever about the transformative power of the arts. Both the agree that art has had a powerful affect on human learning and development for a very long time, but the scholarly attention from the field of adult education has the potential to make its contributions more visible and understood.
“I think the role of the arts in education has been there all along,” Hayes says. “We just brought it to the fore, made it more visible. I think the time was right for that. It was up to people like us to take up the mantle. How much the idea of the arts in adult education develops will depend on how much interest this book generates, and how much those of us who believe in this continue to put these things out there in front of people.”previous page