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UBC Theses and Dissertations

John K. Friesen : adult educator, mentor and humanitarian Kennedy, Kathryn Anne


Dr. John K. Friesen is a Canadian who, for over 50 years worked first in the field of adult education in Canada and then in population planning internationally. He gained prominence in his own country, considerable international stature and a reputation for his vision and capability. Friesen successfully used a democratic, cooperative approach in discovering and responding to community requirements in adult learning. This biographical study provides new material about his character, goals, influences. The thesis focuses on Friesen’s work as Director of Extension for the University of British Columbia (UBC), Vancouver, Canada (1953 - 1966) but also outlines his life and career before this term and gives a synopsis of his international work. A brief description is given of Friesen’s upbringing in a small rural community in Manitoba, his experiences as an educator and leader during the great depression and of his war service in the RCAF. His work in organizing adult education programs for the Manitoba Federation of Agriculture and his life during post-graduate studies at Columbia University are described. He was involved in the cooperative movement and provided informed, effective leadership in Manitoba’s post-war efforts to renew its educational system and to develop a network of hospitals. The thesis examines Friesen’s commitments, methods and the management style he applied in expanding the UBC Extension Department into a sophisticated organization. Under his leadership the department became influential in adult education, leadership and citizenship training in British Columbia; also it was involved in international adult education work. Research was conducted into the work of Friesen and others in originating a graduate program in adult education at UBC. The nature and outcomes of his work in promoting continuing professional education is also examined. The role of Extension in the Vancouver International Festival and other cultural development work is discussed. Friesen is shown to have extended the work of the University into communities throughout the province using study-discussion groups, lectures, credit and noncredit programs in this work. A change in University policy (1963) forced the Department to abandon much of its community based work; the consequences of this shift are considered. Comment from seven of Friesen’s senior colleagues provides insight into his leadership quality and the perceived value of the work carried out during his term. Some conclusions are drawn about Friesen’s life as an educator and humanitarian and on his approach to adult education. The ideas, ideals, commitments and convictions demonstrated by Friesen remain valid today.

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