Academic and transatlantic focus;Review of the week;Books;FE Focus

5th March 1999 at 00:00
INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY OF ADULT AND CONTINUING EDUCATION. By Peter Jarvis. Kogan Page. pound;35 - 0 7494 2671 3.

DICTIONARIES are curious things - invaluable in some contexts, infuriating in others.

My friend Bertie used to keep the Oxford Shorter open on a wooden lectern in his study, and would regularly punctuate our conversations with arguments about the meaning of words.

He saw the dictionary as the source of authority; I saw it as a snapshot of what meanings were dominant when the text was completed.

The tests of usefulness of a dictionary for me are: does it tell me what I want to know; are its definitions adequate, or illuminating; is it accurate; and is it sufficiently comprehensive?

The International Dictionary of Adult and Continuing Education compiled by Peter Jarvis in association with Dr Arthur L Wilson, and with advice from Hans Hovenburg, satisfies some, but not all of these needs.

On one hand, it can offer helpful definitions: I found "synectics - a method of identifying and solving problems that depends on creative thinking, use of analogy, and discussion" useful in navigating an impenetrable American text.

On the other hand, "whiteboard - the modern equivalent of blackboard. A prepared surface, usually affixed to a wall (or an easel) upon which a teacher or students can write - usually with a coloured marker pen" seemed at best designed for the overseas student market.

We are offered entries that tell us the names of the first people to write adult education PhDs in the UK and again in the United States, but there is no space for the work or ideas of Augusto Boal.

There are useful references to terms used in Israeli adult education, and in Yugoslav (sic) penal education, but the focus is overwhelmingly academic and transatlantic.

So, the Neighbourhood Guild, the first New York university settlement, gets an entry, but the major Australian neighbourhood house movement is omitted. Readers are left feeling this is a book written with someone else in mind.

Despite the caveats, the dictionary is strong on historical links and in some areas it is topical. It provides an entertaining read rather than a comprehensive and absolutely reliable guide to the territory.

Alan Tuckett

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