Tag Archives: Tom Sticht

Multiple Life Cycles by Tom Sticht


Perhaps this article would be a great Adult Education lesson for use in classes.

Adult Education and Brain Development in Adults and Their Children                          by Tom Sticht, International Consultant in Adult Education

The growth and development of the human brain in relation to educational achievement has primarily focused upon the brains of babies and young children. Advocates for investments in early childhood education [universal preschool] often argue that this will help infants develop better brains and, in turn, these better brains will help children learn better in school. Some have even argued that after about the first decade of life children’s brains are pretty much developed and nothing much can be done after that to improve people’s brains.

However, one of the seminal discoveries in the last 20 years is that stem cells in adult brains can grow into new neurons across the lifespan and into old age. Further, both education and diet can stimulate this growth and this can be influential in improving cognitive ability and preventing or delaying neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.

One of the salient findings of educational research is that parent’s cognitive achievement, e.g., literacy ability, is highly correlated with their children’s prenatal, preschool and in-school learning. The relatively new field of epigenetics indicates that aspects of one’s lifestyle may be transmitted across generations via non-genetic, biological factors. This forms a large part of the argument by David Shenk in his book The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ is Wrong (New York, Double Day, 2010). He notes that epigenetic science is beginning to suggest that: quote ”what an individual does in his/her life before having children can change the biological inheritance of those children and their descendants.” end quote (p. 130).

These findings from neurology and epigenetics, both biological sciences, bolster the considerable behavioral and social science that argue for changing our policies of education from those that focus on one life cycle and lifelong learning. Instead, we need to focus on providing educational opportunities based on Multiple Life Cycles Education policy which explicitly recognizes the intergenerational effects of the educational achievement of one generation on the subsequent achievement of the next generation.

One concrete policy shift called for by the Multiple Life Cycles Education policy is a greater increase in the attention to education in parenting for adolescents, young adults, and adults who are likely to become parents. By investing in the education of adults, we may increase the educability of their children, and their children’s children, via behavioral, social, and, possibly, epigenetic transfer.

Neuroscience findings that new brain cells and interconnections among them can be stimulated through education of adults suggests that increasing our investments in out-of-school youth and adults may have long term effects on their continuing education, their access to jobs paying family sustainable wages, and improved health across the lifespan, for both adults and their children.

These findings about adult brain development and its importance in promoting healthier living across the lifespan, and the potential behavioral and/or epigenetic transfer of lifestyle factors, such as engaging in education and learning, eating a good diet, and engaging in other healthy activities, to adults’ children to improve their learning abilities before and after birth, bolster arguments for greater investments in adult education and literacy development for adults of all ages.