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Whither PACE? : the Pacific Association for Continuing Education and the transformation of adult education Smulders, David

Abstract

The tradition of adult education as a domain of knowledge and an area for professional practice has yet to define itself to any degree of satisfying consensus, although there are discernable threads or dominant narratives that run through its history and represent particular views of the field. This study takes a close look at one instance of how this struggle for an identity within adult education has played out by examining the final years of the Pacific Association for Continuing Education (PACE), a voluntary professional adult education organization, and considering the reasons behind some of its successes and challenges and ultimately the decision by its membership to disband in the year 2000. The study also focuses on the personal narratives of some of PACE’S members and seeks to allow the voices of the organization’s membership to contribute to the description of its overall character particularly in its final years. The stories of the study participants provide important insights into the unraveling of PACE and how this experience fits into the big picture of adult education. Despite commitment to the aims of adult education, members found themselves in an organization that had been conceived and launched under a particular set of social and political circumstances, which then changed over time. Subsequent years of PACE’S history were thus marked by the members7 attempts to reconceptualize the role of the professional adult education organization as their identities as adult educators and the field itself were changing. As a result of these changes, the membership drifted both on an individual basis and collectively from its close association to the post-secondary institutes where adult and continuing education received its most formal recognition. During these years, PACE’S leadership began to change as well, becoming less influential and socially connected within and beyond the world of adult education. Such changes prompted the PACE membership to devote more and more time looking inward, hence the collective self examination that members came to know as ’Whither PACE?” - a series of discussions, reflections and research efforts into defining PACE’S raison d’étre and future directions. Ultimately, the decision was reached that as an organization PACE could no longer represent the voice of adult educators and learners in British Columbia. As a result, members had to confront the unpleasantness of their organization’s own demise.

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