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Obituary: Konrad Elsdon, 1922-2004

Konrad Elsdon graduated in English at University College Leicester in 1949 with first class honours. Hardworking and with high standards, he was also grateful for being liberated into a congenial English environment. 

Many of his contemporaries were not aware of the experiences he had endured before 1946. He was the youngest son of the liberal-minded Eisig family, who ran a factory near Stuttgart, and where Jewish connections inevitably led to Nazi oppression. 

[Photo: Konrad Elsdon in 1949]
Konrad Elsdon in 1949

The family escaped in 1939, but were separated - Konrad at 17 finding himself at Cleckheaton in Yorkshire. Within six months he had matriculated, only to be interned as an enemy alien, and subjected to transportation and the hardships of camps in Australia for two years. He found, however, positives in his situation - discovering academics and artists among the deportees, and soon organising and teaching study groups. Thus began his lifelong involvement with adult education in its most liberal form.

Freed in 1942, and with his drive intensified by his experiences and encouraged by classes at Vaughan College in Leicester, he worked to save up for college. At University College Leicester he admired his teachers, particularly A S Collins, whom he thought a great teacher, and Arthur Humphreys, both as tutor and an admirable head of department. The latter, with his wife Jean, became supportive friends. Konrad undertook some tutoring for him, followed by research on Milton in London.

From 1952, now known as Konrad Elsdon and married to Sheila Armstrong (BA English (Honours), 1950), he spent two years as Warden of the Wilmslow Guild, an adult education centre. He recognised the opportunities as well as the frustrations of the job, and gained much from other lively minds in the Manchester adult education circle.

Thus enabled, he brought vigour and success to his post as Warden at the Folk House in Bristol, a centre perhaps unique in England for bringing together in one organisation all adult education activites with the active co-operation of university, LEA, WEA and business leaders. For six years his work became the basis of his in-depth knowledge of what adult education could and should be.

After a brief spell at Huddersfield Teacher Training College, he became an HMI. He was at one with the ideals of the Inspectorate in those days - wide knowledge of the state and needs of the education service and a commitment to serve and advise. He was to carry this out with dedication in a wide range of 'Other Further Education' work. Ultimately he was in demand as a consultant in India and UNESCO.

After retirement, his advice was drawn on in India, Kenya, Chile and Europe. He was made a Special Professor in the adult education department of Nottingham University. 

Until the end of his life he researched new but related themes with great energy. Voluntary Organisations (1995) drew on his field work amongst a wide variety of active groups. He showed what a valuable element they are in the enrichment of our social and personal lives. An Education for the People (2001) was a history of lifelong learning since the war, and of how the 'Other Further Education' section of HMI managed to foster it in spite of a lack of political will.

This work led to the discovery of lost documents concerning the Government's failure in 1944 to incorporate into the Education Act the advice given by Archbishop Temple's conference at Oxford on adult education policy. As with Konrad, Temple's group was motivated by both a deep Christian and liberal humanism and a concern for sound structures.

Konrad Elsdon's last book, Crisis of Opportunity (2003), published just before his death, is a lucid, passionately-argued exposition of how a real opportunity to establish the kind of lifelong learning for all which would have enriched the whole of our social and personal lives was lost. It was a failure that Konrad recognised and fought against throughout his life. [Photo: Professor Elsdon in later life]
Konrad in later life

Konrad Elsdon died on January 30, 2004.

Denis Watson

Denis Watson adds: "I knew Konrad Elsdon in the forties, and then, much better, in his last years. Our working lives separated us, but ran on parallel lines. We later found that our values and approaches to teaching adults were similar - perhaps they had their origins in the teaching we received and the community atmosphere of the University College in those days. I regard his significant contribution and the quality of his work as of considerable importance in his field."

Jean Humphreys writes: "Konrad was one of the most supportive of those early students. He was a great friend to us all his days."

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Last updated: 7 April 2004 12:00
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