The Alexander N. Charters
Library of Resources for
Educators of Adults


History of the Charters Library

History of the Collections
Overview of the Collections


Rarely has an academic field of study been blessed with the tireless dedication that Alexander Charters has given to adult and continuing education. For more than 40 years, the name Charters has been associated with historical documentation, preservation, and access to resources in a profession that continues to grow in significance. Through Alex's efforts, supported by his wife, Margaret, Syracuse University has become the repository for an internationally recognized collection of primary and secondary resources in various media, spanning the history of the professionalization of adult education. Today we acknowledge, with deep gratitude, their joint endowment of these collections by naming them "The Alexander N. Charters Library of Resources for Educators of Adults."

Alex was born in Alberta, Canada. He earned a bachelor's degree in history from the University of British Columbia (1938) and a doctorate in adult education from the University of Chicago (1948). At Chicago he studied under the great adult educator Cyril Houle, whose papers are kept at Syracuse. Alex began his career in adult education in 1948 when he became assistant to the dean of University College at Syracuse University. Thereafter he moved through the ranks to become dean of University College and later vice president for continuing education at Syracuse. Alex participated, often as a leader, in most of the professional organizations in the field and was instrumental in obtaining their records for the University. Since his retirement in 1983, Alex has continued to play a leadership role in adult education organizations and has worked assiduously with UNESCO to bring the documentation of adult education to the fore of the agenda for that international agency.

Margaret, also born in Canada, has a doctorate in education and consumer economics. She has taught at Syracuse University since 1954, published widely, and been a consultant for many organizations, including the New York State Education Department, the Regional Learning Service, and the (Crouse-Irving Memorial) School of Nursing. Much of her work has involved educating adult consumers. Since her retirement in 1995, she has participated in a variety of international conferences about consumer protection and sustainable consumption.

The Charterses' endowment will provide means for the Library to more actively develop and preserve the newly named collections and allow Library staff to visit donors and attend meetings to promote international access by researchers. An example of a recent acquisition is the papers of the late William Langner, who helped create the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The endowment and the naming of the collections are well timed. The School of Education at Syracuse recently founded the Interdisciplinary Institute for Educators of Adults. In July 1997 Margaret, Alex, and I participated in UNESCO's CONFINTEA V, the fifth international conference on adult education. The conference's "Agenda for the Future" resulted in a proposal, partly written by Alex and me, to develop a "network of networks" linking libraries and documentation centers, adult educators and adult education "consumers," around the globe.

Records reflect human activity. They give us knowledge of the past and a foundation for future efforts. The records of a profession also encourage a sense of identity and community among the members of that profession. By providing access to such records in an open and consistent manner, documentation centers support an individual's right to learn.

Alex and Margaret Charters have dedicated their lives to providing such access. The Syracuse University community and the global community will be grateful to them for generations to come.

Terrance Keenan
Special Collections Librarian
September 8, 1998

History of the Collections

What follows is a slightly revised version of an article by Terrance Keenan that appeared in the Fall 1991 Syracuse University Library Associates Courier. It describes the contents of the newly renamed Alexander N. Charters Library of Resources for Educators of Adults at Syracuse University Library.

Since 1949 Syracuse University has assembled historical documents, including manuscript, print, visual, and media materials, related to adult education. The Adult and Continuing Education Collections, housed in the Department of Special Collections, form one of the world's largest compilations of English-language materials in this field. They occupy 900 feet of shelf space and contain more than 50 groups of personal papers and records of organizations, all of which reveal much about the development of adult education as a field of study and as a practice in such areas as literacy and civic education.

These papers document efforts to define educational authority; to establish creditable standards for learning; and to build programs that teach people to read, to plant better crops, and to adapt to new technologies. One can trace in them the strong threads of anti-intellectualism ironically paired with the equally strong threads of civic mindedness that are part of our cultural fabric, and take note of the perennial conflict between individualism and bureaucracy.

The Adult and Continuing Education Collections came to Syracuse because of the University's reputation for supporting innovative adult education programs, and they are used today by social historians, philosophers of education, and adult educators, including developing-world researchers who face practical challenges and seek to know "how it was done in America."

Initially, materials were gathered through the efforts of Alexander Charters, whose career as an administrator and professor at Syracuse University began in 1948. Dr. Charters was also a member of many of the organizations--and a colleague of most of the individuals--represented in the collections.

The Adult and Continuing Education Collections began in 1949 as a staff library at University College, Syracuse University's continuing education unit. The materials, referred to as the Adult Education Collection, became part of a branch library opened in 1957 at University College. There they stayed until 1966, when they were moved to the Continuing Education Center, a new conference complex of University College on Roney Lane in Syracuse, and renamed the Library of Continuing Education (LCE). In 1972 the contents of LCE were incorporated into the new E. S. Bird Library's Department of Special Collections. The name was then changed to Syracuse University Resources for Educators of Adults. When the Kellogg Project was funded in 1986 to process the adult education materials (among other tasks), the name became Adult and Continuing Education Research Collection. Now the materials are referred to as the Adult and Continuing Education Collections, which reflects the fact that the aggregate contains many collections.

A separate but complementary development in the late 1960s was Syracuse University Publications in Continuing Education, designed to gather adult education publications and make them available in the field. Many of these publications were contributed by adult education organizations, including the Adult Education Association of the U.S.A. Others, such as directories developed under contract with UNESCO, were generated at Syracuse University. In all, there were about 400 publications. These are no longer actively distributed.

Over the years many institutions and individuals have donated funds and materials for the collections. The Ford Foundation is a noteworthy example. In 1954 a Ford subsidiary, the Fund for Adult Education (FAE), contributed all the publications of its Center for the Study of Liberal Education of Adults. In 1957, in memory of Paul Hoy Helms, FAE granted $10,000, which was used to collect materials on liberal adult education. Helms had been a Syracuse University alumnus and was, at the time of his death, FAE's vice president. When the FAE ended in the early 1960s, the University acquired its library--including archives, kinescopes of the Omnibus television series, and 10,000 photographs—as well as $70,000 in residual funds. The Ford Foundation itself gave a grant of $100,000 in 1967.

The U.S. government has also provided significant support. In 1964 Dr. Wayne Yenawine, Director of Syracuse University Library, submitted a proposal to the U.S. Department of Education to set up a model library in adult education. A grant in the amount of $249,000 was awarded, and a meeting of the heads of about 20 adult education programs was haled at Syracuse University to begin planning for the implementation of the grant. This led in 1966 to the establishment at Syracuse University of the Educational Resources Information Clearinghouse on Adult Education (ERIC/AE), which remained here until 1973, when it merged with two other clearinghouses. ERIC provided an additional vehicle for collecting and disseminating adult education information. In 1975 the New York State Education Department gave approximately $350,000 to create a clearinghouse specifically for adult education practitioners in the state (it was called Clearinghouse of Resources for Educators of Adults, and is no longer in existence).

Adult education papers and records, often unsolicited, continued to come to Syracuse. In 1986 Roger Hiemstra, then chair of Syracuse University's Adult Education Program, sought a way to make the collections more accessible to the adult education community. The Kellogg Foundation encouraged him to submit a proposal for "tapping the potential" of the collections using new technologies. His proposal was accepted but, due to technical and other difficulties, the project was not completed as envisioned and was eventually discontinued.

One of the far-reaching successes of the Kellogg Project was its visiting scholar program, which drew researchers to campus not only from the United States, but also from India, China, Japan, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Ireland, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Australia, and South Africa. The project also sponsored three conferences on adult education history, bringing in educators as well as cultural and social historians to study documents that relate to the professionalization of the field, as well as issues of race, gender, and class.

Overview of the Collections

The bulk of the materials originated in the 1950s and 1960s, a period of many changes in the field of adult education. This was the era during which the Peace Corps, VISTA, Project Head Start, and educational television all arose.

Among the documents, as with any historical record, subjects for study are more varied and complex than the general headings would suggest. One might fruitfully pursue such areas as these: how the process of educating adults differs from the process of teaching children; how American educators were, for a brief period, fascinated by Nazi efficiency in education; how liberal education programs occasioned some of the first stirrings of raised consciousness in the Civil Rights movement; and how the United States addressed the growing educational needs of women. The following excerpts from four of the major collections may give some idea of the scope of the subject matter and the treasures available to scholars who wish to do the digging.

Among the recently processed manuscripts--previously unavailable to scholars--are the papers of Malcolm S. Knowles. Born in 1913, he is considered a founding father of the adult education profession.

In a 1983 letter, Henry Klein, a junior college president, wrote to Knowles: "You are the acknowledged American Guru on Adult Education." Although Knowles' influence on the field has been broad, he is perhaps best known for his writings on andragogy (the education of man as opposed to the education of child) and self-directed learning. His progressive and at times controversial ideas have helped shape adult education practice during recent decades.

In the first folder of Box 28 is the draft of a 1968 article titled "The Application of Andragogy to the University Classroom":

The reason for this semantic differentiation [of "andragogy" from "pedagogy"] is that adult educators have become increasingly aware of the fact that their field has been held back by the application of principles of pedagogy to the education of adults. Most teachers of adults have been teaching their adult students as if they were children, since pedagogy was the only formulation of the theory and practice of teaching that they knew.

A group of adults are [themselves] . . . a richer resource for their own learning in most areas of inquiry than is usually true of a group of youths; and so in andragogy a high value is placed on the experience of the students as a principal resource for their learning. But the adult places high value on his experience, too--in a sense, his self-identity is defined in terms of his experience to a greater degree than is true of youth--and so when his experience is ignored as a resource for learning he feels rejected as a person of worth.

Because of this assumption the technology of adult education places relatively less emphasis on the transmittal techniques of teaching (lectures, assigned reading, audio-visual presentations) and greater emphasis on the experiential techniques of learning (various forms of discussion, case method, critical incident process, simulation exercises, skill practice exercises, laboratory methods, action projects, and the like).

In an April 6, 1970, letter to James W. Dykens, associate commissioner in the Department of Mental Health of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Knowles writes:

Now perhaps we'd better devote some space to clarifying what we mean by adult education as we use the term in our proposal. We most certainly are not using the term in the sense in which it has been predominantly used during the past 40 years--to describe an à la carte menu of more or less palliative activities, such as remedial reading, hat-making, public speaking, current events, and the like. We are using the term here to describe a newly emergent social process that is concerned with helping mature people continue to improve their competence to cope with life problems. . . .

I want to emphasize that this use of the term is new, and that the theory and technology for implementing the concept are in the early stages of formulation and testing. To differentiate this new body of theory and practice from traditional education, we are giving it the label "andragogy"--the art and science of helping adults learn. And, as is the [case] in the early stages of any new field of social practice, its theoretical bases are still largely speculative and therefore badly in need of field testing. . . .

It is especially relevant to note that probably the single richest source of theoretical underpinnings for andragogy has been the field of psychodynamics. For example, I was recently asked to list the people who had exerted the greatest influence on my andragogical theorizing, and I came up with Rank, Dewey, Kilpatrick, Sullivan, Horney, Rogers, Whitehead, Fromm, Maslow, Tyler, Hilgard, Havighurst, and Erikson. When I looked over the [list] I was surprised to find that over half of my main sources were from psychotherapy and less than half were from education and philosophy.

In the difficult years following the Depression, educators found themselves dealing with adults forced into career changes and in doubt about the soundness of their society. One of the prominent educators of the period was Paul Henry Sheats (1907-1984). (Further information on Sheats and his papers can be found in the following section.)

As a Yale Traveling Fellow, Sheats visited Germany in 1935, studying the Nazi educational system. Among his papers are extensive notes on this visit as well as correspondence between Sheats and Theodor Wilhelm, director of Germany's Institute of International Education. Wilhelm had a profound effect on the educational philosophy Sheats presents in his book, Education and the Quest for a Middle Way (1938).

The book generated heated response. In a memo of April 17, 1939, to his superior at the U.S. Office of Education, John W. Studebaker, Sheats notes a review of the book by Wilhelm himself:

The Macmillan Company has supplied me with copies of numerous reviews. . . . None has proved more interesting than the copy attached to this memorandum. As you will note, it is written by Dr. Wilhelm with whom I am personally acquainted and who undoubtedly ranks as one of the topnotch educators in Germany today. . . .

While it is undoubtedly true that the philosophical basis for the Nazi educational system has been constructed after the superstructure of practice was decided upon, it is nevertheless exceedingly interesting to me that an attempt is being made to justify philosophically the practices of the Nazi leadership.

Wilhelm's review reads in part:

The book by Sheats . . . belongs to those recent American publications that wish to be and must be taken seriously. It attempts to make philosophical fundamentals such as freedom, individuality, and unity the beginning point for an explanation of the purpose of education, particularly to find through the medium of philosophy a means and a solution to the struggle now going on in the United States concerning these and similar conceptions. . . . We note that the author is essentially influenced in the direction of his thoughts by the political conditions surrounding him.

That is why we do not take lightly that Sheats in the presentation of the "totalitarian" or "fascist" opponents draws the picture in the customary manner. There is the discussion of the "unscientific theory of race" which serves only to demonstrate the superiority of the world of the Germans--while it should be common talk that for us race means the challenge to count in the sphere of humanity and history with the strict constancy of a definitely directed power. We hear that in Germany there is no longer any education, only "propaganda"-- a view that becomes comprehensible when one takes cognizance of the American conception that everything that really definitely influences a person is no longer permitted education, but forbidden propaganda. And we find that the "spiritual unity" of National Socialism has reduced the spiritual and intellectual demands of German youth to a minimum--wherefore we can only hope that the author may be given the opportunity of defending the theses of his book before a German student body. We regret these and other misrepresentations, because they are the foundation of the conceptions with which the author is engaged in the entire book.

These conceptions are the Scylla and Charybdis between which there leads a just-middle-way. The Scylla is the supposed values and methods of the "fascist" states: Force, inequality, collective massiveness, blind obedience, propaganda, and--remarkable--security. The Charybdis is unrestrained freedom, doctrinaire equality, extreme individualism, and the resulting methods. That between the two extremes there may exist a middle way . . . is basically the simple conception . . . [of] the book. . . . Conviction instead of persuasion. That is real Democracy in contrast to the European dictatorships.

We ask the question, if thereby a new more relevant contribution is given . . . to the problem of the "individual and society" or to the problem of freedom[?]. This we must deny. . . .

To the Democratic theory of freedom . . . there is an area of separation between the individual and the State--of liberties sold and rights thereby purchased. All mathematical examples of this kind have their source in a static conception of humanity and its world and therefore remain outside the real human association. To all attempts of this kind to place the Anglo-Saxon Democracy as the preserver of individual freedom and the middle European dictators as despots in opposing groups we always have one answer: That it is not the more or less amount of freedom that moves the individual and determines his actions, nor even the consciousness of this freedom, but that the conduct of the individual is based and takes its issue from those deep strata of his being where feeling and will receive their unified power and affect a decision. . . .

The conception of the "middle way" represents a static thinking by which we never enter the real world of the individual, and that is the real world of education. . . . It is Homo Sapiens and not the individual living in a certain historic situation and belonging to a certain community that receives instruction in this book. . . . It is a man who can do this and also otherwise, on whom at least as a man, no limits are made as to choice. As such he is not a real human being.

The chill that rises from these words is almost palpable as we look back on them with the knowledge of where such ideas led.

As World War II progressed, educators observed that the nation's adults were ill prepared to grapple with the domestic and international implications. Sheats followed the lead of Studebaker, who implemented public forums designed to foster greater civic awareness throughout the country. Sheats' role can best be understood by studying his contributions to the Public Forum Project as reflected in his scrapbooks and reports.

After the war there was a flowering of adult education organizations, many of them supported by major foundations. The Fund for Adult Education (FAE) was established by the Ford Foundation in 1951. Its purpose was to encourage liberal adult education in political, economic, and international affairs. FAE helped establish the Educational Television Network (ETV) in the U.S. and financed the Test Cities Experiment, which organized discussion groups in one community after another. Among the FAE papers there are important materials on urban development, civil rights, women in the workplace, the Peace Corps, VISTA, and science education after Sputnik. There are also numerous data on the following discussion group projects: "Great Men, Great Issues," "Meet the Humanities," Ways of Mankind," and the "Experimental Discussion Project." In the 97th (and last) box of papers is an overview of FAE activities entitled, "The Challenge of Lifetime Learning--Continuing Liberal Education, Report 1955-1957."

Among these efforts the Test Cities Experiment is of particular interest. FAE chose 13 demographically representative cities from several sections of the country and presented to them in a packaged program--a kind of market test for liberal educational ideas. The hope was to attract blue-collar workers, but the discussion groups caught on with the middle classes only. In the south, not unexpectedly, there was some resistance to the program. In Chattanooga, for example, the reality of segregation had to be addressed. On September 30, 1951, Robert J. Blakely, the FAE coordinator in Chattanooga, Tennessee, wrote a memo to his superior at Ford, Scott Fletcher:

I found the usual interest in the idea, perhaps rather more. There are two possibilities looming: One, that the "coordinator" be in the University of Chattanooga; two that he be in the public library. There are difficulties implicit in each. The President of the University of Chattanooga seems to think of the coordinator chiefly as a kind of promotion and contact man for the community college of the University; I wonder whether he would not influence the coordinator to slight all the informal adult education activity in which we are also interested. Also, the University of Chattanooga is an all-white school. This, combined with the emphasis on formal classes, would make the program almost entirely "Jim Crow."

The Librarian, Miss Elizabeth Edwards, has vision and enthusiasm. But her library has no money. They have to close on Wednesday as well as Sunday. However, the library board, partly to make better use of the money available and partly out of progressivism, has opened up the main library to Negro adults.

Edwards wrote to Blakely herself on October 1, 1951:

I am particularly interested in the response of some young couples who have . . . tried the Great Books and have also gone to evening college at the University. The evening college, they say, costs more than the University of Chicago, and it is not credits they want. They want something not quite as prescribed as the Great Books. Although they enjoyed the last, they doubt the Foundation's belief that it has broad popular appeal.

Many of us feel that the old order in Chattanooga is changing, but have a hard time finding an answer for the general statement, "That may be all right some place else, but not in Chattanooga. We just are not ready for anything like that yet anyway. You know that the people in Chattanooga just won't support anything out of the ordinary." This feeling does not have anything to do with chronological age, as some of the younger people are more conservative than their elders; although some of the elders are working hard to preserve the status quo.

A few days later Blakely received a letter from David A. Lockmiller, the university's president, who wanted to participate in the program and to receive the FAE funding necessary to do so, but was not prepared to give up segregation:

There is a job to be done in Chattanooga, and we sincerely hope that some organization or group of organizations, with the support of the FAE, will do it. The University is interested, and we shall be glad to undertake it or to cooperate with others.

Under the most favorable circumstances our Negro citizens will present problems to any group, but these must be handled with tact and understanding. We are currently instructing Negroes in noncredit extension classes in music. They have not been admitted to the University as students, but Negro citizens frequently attend public forums in our library auditorium. A year or two ago the Public Library was opened to Negroes, and they are slowly making use of its facilities. The public schools in Chattanooga are segregated, and public school facilities will probably be needed for group neighborhood meetings. While mixed meetings may be possible, I am sure that some segregated meetings will be held by choice rather than compulsion if the large numbers in need of this program are to be reached. . . .

I think it wise for the Fund to keep "hands off," but helpful suggestions will be welcome to the end that our enthusiasm is balanced against realities to assure a successful and continuing program.

In spite of President Lockmiller's hesitation, the FAE went ahead with the program, spurred on by the vision and energy of Elizabeth Edwards. Such documentation of social movements is precious.

Although women and minorities had much to do with the development of adult education, they are not, with the exception of Eva Elise vom Baur Hansl, well represented in the collections, and the Library is attempting to redress this lack. Hansl (1889-1978) was a writer, editor, and radio broadcaster who dedicated herself to women's vocational issues. At the end of an autobiographical resume (ca. mid-1960s) she writes:

Much of my lifetime I have devoted to promoting the interest, activities and welfare of women, in the family, the community and the labor force. In the midst of the feminist and suffrage movements (1911-16) I reported their progress for the New York Tribune and the Sun. During the years of raising a family I pioneered in the parent-education movement; helped to launch the Parents' Magazine, served as its first editor and organized play-schools and parent study groups in Princeton and Summit, New Jersey, and in Greenwich, Connecticut.

My children grown, I returned to newspaper work on the New York Times, then supervised two radio network series reviewing the contribution of women to the American way of life.

In 1963 Hansl published "American Women"--a report of the Commission on the Status of Women (set up by President Kennedy). In November 1968, Syracuse University sponsored an "Eva vom Baur Hansl Day."

Her papers stand witness not only to a remarkable life, but to the changing roles of women and work during two world wars and into the modern era. Rosie the Riveter may seem a "quaint" character today, but the struggle of women to adjust to the workplace while men were at war, then to be sent back home when the boys returned, were real issues that Hansl addressed in her broadcasts and journal articles.

What is the value of these records? Because of the constant need for adults to learn in our evolving world, society has risen to meet that need through what we have come to call adult education. It did not begin as a discipline or concept but as a response. It became codified in the process of educators finding ways to make the response adequate to the need. This documentation shows us what they did and suggests what we might do now. It tells a story of how we became who we are; how we see ourselves is reflected in how we cultivate knowledge. These documents show that cultivation in action and reveal the very stuff of our modern cultural identity.

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