The tension between political commitment and academic neutrality in the W.E.A.

Tatton, Derek (1988). The tension between political commitment and academic neutrality in the W.E.A. PhD thesis The Open University.



Throughout the history of the W. E. A. there have been arguments, and sometimes bitter conflicts, about the relationship between educational aims and political objectives.

This thesis examines the tensions and the dilemmas generally experienced in any education involving social and political values, by taking the clash of principles between the W. E. A. (non-party, unsectarian, with its formal emphasis upon objectivity in teaching) and the N. C. L. C. (with its proclaimed Marxist partisanship) as a fundamental challenge for critical re-assessment in the light of contemporary thinking and research.

The study begins with a consideration of six crucial, and even determining, individual experiences and contributions: those of Albert Mansbridge, R. H. Tawney, J. M. Mactavish, J. P. M. Millar, G. D. H. Cole and Raymond Williams.

This is followed by detailed surveys of three particular areas of work - Residential Adult Education, Literature as a W. E. A. Subject, and Community Education from 1960 to 1980 - each of which illustrates how a basic tension between political commitment and academic neutrality permeates all aspects of thinking and practice in the adult education movement.

The final chapter draws together the threads from the survey of particular lives, histories and thematic studies to address theoretical questions about the concepts of liberal education and academic neutrality; - about Marxist and other attitudes towards objectivity and dogmatism; about the nature of the relationship between the Labour movement and the adult education movement.

The tensions are shown to be deep, enduring and seemingly irreconcilable but changes of emphasis and intensity are apparent as the general history and the wider forces and movements in society determine the ideological parameters and the 'paradigm shifts' within which, or against which, the W. E. A. operates.

On the strength of eighty four years' experience, if the W. E. A. celebrates its one hundredth birthday in 2003, it will (and should) do so embodying similar fundamental tensions.

Viewing alternatives

Download history


Public Attention

Altmetrics from Altmetric

Number of Citations

Citations from Dimensions

Item Actions