Professor Clive John Millar was the first chair of adult education at a South African university and had a profound influence on the development of university-based adult education in South Africa. He was a founder of the Kenton Conference, an annual meeting of teacher education leaders that helped to inform and influence the shape of teacher and adult education policy, practice and research in post-apartheid South Africa. He passed away at his home in Scarborough in Cape Town on 18 July, ending a long battle with cancer.
Millar was born in Cape Town on 24 June 1936 to parents who taught him to appreciate the fine, if simple, things of life, and to embody the principles of integrity, fairness and justice, and the value and appreciation of humour and personal warmth.
He attended the South African College School and, after what he described as a poor matriculation pass, he entered the University of Cape Town. In that environment he blossomed both intellectually and personally, achieving a first-class honours degree in English in 1957, a bachelor of education degree with distinction a year later and a master of arts in English in 1962.
Between 1959 and 1963 he taught at Westerford High School in Rondebosch, Cape Town and the Gordon Schools in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. He joined the staff of Aberdeen College of Education in 1963 and remained there until his appointment to the staff of the University of Cape Town in 1967. In 1972 he successfully completed a master of science degree in education at the University of Stirling, Scotland.
In 1975 he took up the inaugural chair of teaching science at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa. He remained there until he was appointed professor of adult education at the University of Cape Town in 1979 – the first chair of adult education at a South African university. He held the chair until his early retirement due to ill health at the end of 1998.
‘A subtle, rare and respectful gift’
As a teacher he was noted for his openness, modesty, warmth and humanity. He didn’t come with a prescription for any particular action or direction; rather, he provided space to explore different options and directions to the point where those with whom he was working would reach a realisation of what could be appropriate in any given situation. It was a subtle, rare and deeply respectful gift.
As a researcher and writer he possessed an acuity few of his colleagues could match. As family friend Professor Barry Hymer has written, “Clive’s work reflected a profound respect for the reader and a finely tuned capacity for problematising easily accepted norms or understandings. His writing style was impressively accurate and succinct, whilst his logic and written work was admirably spare, elegant and unpretentiously lucid.”
The well-crafted and prophetic arguments of his University of Fort Hare inaugural lecture in 1975 resonate to this day as the present government of South Africa and South African universities attempt to address the meltdown in these institutions.
The boldness of what he had to say on that occasion, and his subsequent oratory in the decision-making halls of the University of Cape Town, while generally courteously received, marked him as a person to be taken seriously, if not to be kept at arm’s length by those threatened by his insights. He had the ability to expose the contradictions implicit in teacher and higher education, contradictions which persist to this day.
Teaching as communication
He saw teaching as a kind of communication with learners while he also recognised the power of the context to demotivate and disempower both teachers and learners. A clear thread is notable in his personal development too, from a belief and confidence in technical skills to the evolution of an acute personal and experiential awareness of personal knowledge and a sound awareness of the significance of context.
His role in shaping the future of university-based adult education in South Africa was profound. The move to the University of Cape Town as its first professor of adult education gave him the opportunity to develop and nurture a model of a collective institutional academic enterprise, a model which his close friend and colleague Professor Tony Morphet has described as bringing together people and ideas in which the intrinsic goods of intellectual work are corporately and intensely valued.
As Morphet has remarked, “Clive was a craftsman – boats, houses, combis and second hand cars, all the ordinary things anyone gets involved in, conjoined with intellectual craftsmanship – the use of propositions, logic, argument, debate, and reason”. It was a model which brought together marginal people and immersed them in processes which encouraged them to find a common focus in a coherent project.
It is significant to note that as early as the 1980s Millar, his colleagues and students (all learners) were using and practising such concepts as curriculum negotiation, facilitation, process, problematisation, academic discourse, experiential learning and reflection – all of which have become orthodox today and, indeed, are all features of an intellectual craft and academic work.
On the national stage Millar is probably best remembered as one of the founding fathers of the Kenton Conference, an annual get-together of teacher education leaders which did much to inform and influence the shape of teacher and adult education policy, practice and research in post-apartheid South Africa.
Over the course of his academic career he wrote several books and seminal papers which, when read today, surprise the reader with what they say about the present challenges facing the education sector in South Africa and, indeed, many other countries too. Last year, in spite of rapidly declining health, he published A Practical Guide to Classroom Research. The book brings together the best in classroom-based research by teachers and their training.
Millar is survived by his wife Sheila with whom he shared a long and happy marriage, and two sons Christopher and Paul, their wives and five grandchildren. As one of them has said: “Apart from all he did with us, he was great company too.”
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