Spotlight on the NUT Donation: ‘The New Importance of Adult Education’: Sir Fred Clarke

Last winter we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT), which included 380 pamphlet boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.

Over the last year, we have checked and sorted these resources, discovering many interesting publications during the process. Among these, we have picked a few ‘gems’ and decided to share what we have learnt about each one.

Today is the turn of an address to the Conference of Higher Education Members of the NUT given by Sir Fred Clarke, the Director of the University of London Institute of Education at Friend’s House, Euston Road London in January 1945.

Friends House

Entrance to Friends House Euston Road. (cc-by-sa/2.0 – © PAUL FARMER –

Sir Fred Clarke was the Director of the Institute of Education between 1936 and 1945, you can browse a list of his published works, including Education and Social Change: an English interpretation  via UCL Explore here and more information on the Sir Fred Clarke Archives are available via LibGuides. A biography was written by Professor Frank Mitchell and published in 1967. Further information on the Clarke Special Collections held here in the Library can also be found on this LibGuide.

The address delivered to the NUT is titled “The New Importance of Adult Education” and Clarke begins by framing the debate internationally, suggesting that the situation that society found itself at the time of the address was in part due to the ‘cultural aftermath of scientific revolution’ (p. 6).

Fred Clarke

During the address Clarke refers to a ‘cultural lag’ whereby society changes its habits at a slower pace than the rate of technical change. Clarke identifies the need for the development of a new culture to alleviate the problems caused by this phenomenon and this would be facilitated in part by the development of universal adult education.

Clarke’s membership of ‘The Moot‘, a private discussion group whose members included T.S Eliot, Karl Mannheim and R.H Tawney reflects the depth of his interest in post-war social reconstruction. Clarke hoped that a ‘new order’ would see the creation of an educational philosophy that ‘maintains and enlarges freedom’ and in this address he argued that a system of education needed to be developed which ensured freedom from totalitarianism in the future and argued that this could not be achieved through school and university alone, it required education to continue ‘well into the adult field’ (p. 9).

Clarke envisioned a society characterised by a shared set of values and a sense of community and achieving this would require some form of continued education for all. He pointed out that there were clear differences from school education in both organisation and provision and argued that this universal and continuing adult education should have a basis in the community – specifically within Community Centres.

Clarke was keen not to restrict the idea of adult education to the technical and whilst praising the civic value of courses in politics, sociology and economics run by organisations such as the Workers’ Educational Association, Clarke was also clear that education needed to supply an element of moral education which emphasised a sense of duty in its citizens.

This broader moral education includes a recommendation for the study of modern languages and literatures and as such demonstrates Clarke’s internationalist approach to education. Moreover, Clarke highlights ‘the bracing and steadying effect’ of the study of the arts and crafts. He paints the picture of the rewards gained from the ability of an individual to go into a workshop after a day on the factory line and engage in an activity in which the individual has total control. This renewed sense of individual control was important in a society that had undergone such turmoil and strain.

Finally, a few short lines towards the close of the speech echo down the years, demonstrating that although society has altered drastically, we still seem to be battling the same ‘cultural lag’ brought about by rapid technical advances, perhaps leading us to wonder whether a renewed commitment to lifelong learning might be due…

We are living in a highly mobile world, we are in constant movement ourselves, and we are exposed to the solicitations of every passing stimulus. There is a tendency to “over-simplify” and “over-bittify” everything […] the level on which we live is steadily getting more and more superficial.’

(p. 12)

If you’d like to find out more about other items received in the NUT donation, please see our LibGuide.

About Dan O'Connor

Subject Liaison Librarian at the UCL Institute of Education Library
This entry was posted in History of Education, International education, Library and Archives and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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