[AAACE-NLA] What's in a name - "AELS"
sissy.kegley at verizon.net
Tue Dec 9 10:48:42 EST 2008
[Included at the end of this message is the original question posed
by Jackie Taylor in 'What's in a name -- AELS', as it has taken me a
while to post this response.]
My initial reading of Jackie Taylor's question focused on her words
"I wonder if this confusion then contributes to things like the NIFL
expanding its focus to literacy across the lifespan". My take was
different than those who have responded here, but only in a very
I recall the outrage 6 or 7 years back at the announcement that under
the new Bush administration, NIFL, (until then the only publicly-
funded institution dedicated to (among other things) conducting
education research exclusively related to *adults*) would have its
mission diluted. Debbie Yoho's points (also included below) about WIA-
related challenges are well-taken, and I agree with the overall
sentiment of her message.
But, in reading Jackie's original question, I was reminded that
throughout the current administration there has been a denial that
reading theory as applied to adults could be any different than
theories applied to elementary-aged children. Support for healthy
debate about what works in the field has been all but eliminated.
There is denial that for many of our adult learners the journey from
success in our classes to actually contemplating college enrollment
follows a long and bumpy path. Instead, policy is now geared towards
serving those who are just about poised to access secondary
education. A July 2008 OVAE report on "Federal Adult Education
Programs" features this from Margaret Spellings: "College access is
not just about access for high school students. It’s about access
for adult learners." And this from George Bush: "It is the policy
of the United States to use existing Federal programs that serve
adults, including new Americans, to strengthen literacy skills,
improve opportunities for post-secondary education and employment,
and facilitate participation in American life."
My point is to call attention to the subtle (or not) shift in
commitment for who gets served by public money. NIFL was at one time
one of our field's greatest resources. While I'm not privy to circles
who set policy and strategy directions for our field, I'm sure there
are many of us contemplating what we may achieve under the Obama
administration. Will there be any opportunity to re-direct the
current focus? Is it possible to address the earlier mission-shift of
NIFL, for example? Because, really, we ought to work to re-claim that
resource and set the record straight. Meanwhile, we are seeing
reports of last-ditch attempts by Bush to impact policy --with
potentially-far reaching implications--- via a range of tools
available to him. Could this include, also, the adult education field ??
So, for me, rather than invoking the tired old debates in our field,
Jackie's question raised a flag about political agendas and semantics
being applied at this point in time that will make future reforms
that much more difficult. I don't have a clue what's on the table.
But, if there is any precedent within the administration to apply a
term such as "literacy", exclusively or not, to elementary-aged
children they certainly will feel empowered to build on it.
While I agree in general with Debbie's point that re-hashing the
relevance of various terms is counter-productive, when she
*accurately* describes legislators as not being interested in what
terms we use to describe ourselves, she overlooks the reality that
ideological extremism trumps what the legislators control. Off the
record and in the staff offices on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue,
the rhetoric of the ideology can hang pretty thick. Nor is the impact
restricted to Washington DC, because state governments and even
private funders are under the spell. And, yes, in order for us and
our programs to survive, we can focus on our success and our
creativity in either ignoring the labels or making them work in our
favor, but what this discussion prompted me to think about was the
potential opportunity/potential threat to policy, now or in the future.
sissy.kegley at verizon.net
On Dec 2, 2008, at 11:18 AM, Debbie Yoho wrote:
Jackie Taylor has raised the issue of whether the term "AELS--Adult
Education and Literacy Sustem"---needs to be changed.
I don't think the term AELS had anything to do with NIFL's changes.
What happened there was dictated by Bush administration policy. As I
recall, Tom Sticht suggested the term AELS on this very list years
back, when we struggled for a term that encompasses those CBOs and
"public programs" that receive WIA funds. David Rosen also launched
an on-line survey on the subject, and I think AELS was the "winner".
My only contribution to a re-definition of the term is to offer the
observation that referring to this entity as a "system" is
laughable. We have a loose confederation of widely diverse local and
state programs, not a system. If the WIA was an attempt to create a
"system", after ten years, I think we can conclude it has failed to
In my opinion, if we need a term to use among ourselves to mean adult
programs that receive WIA funds, I think we should just say "WIA
Title II programs." Picking apart the other aspects of this issue
only fragments the field. As a CBO leader, at one time I believed
passionately that I did not want to be lumped together with early
childhood literacy, family literacy, "school district adult ed",
etc. I've made that case here many times. But I've changed my mind.
I feel that establishing a term that encompasses all aspects of adult
education and adult literacy to "set us apart" from other education
programs is moot, and counter-productive. Locally, I am getting much
more mileage by working with various programs that include everything
from grade school libraries to for-profit higher ed entities. I am
no longer worried about the wider public understanding our mission as
something distinct from other educational programs. We are all after
the same thing--an educated public, and we are all in the same boat,
struggling for funding. People outside our field don't care about
esoteric terms, so neither do I. I refer to myself as an "educator"
or when I need to be specific as a "director of an adult reading
program" and leave it at that. When I have the chance, I explain
further, and what I say really depends on what pots of money I have
at any one time to do xyz.
When it comes to legislation and appropriations, I doubt the field
can control the definition of terms. That's because what ends up in
legislation is really a result of who has successfully lobbied for
what. I have struggled to get to know my legislators at all levels,
and not one cares what term we use to define ourselves.
My own volunteer-driven , small CBO program no longer receives WIA
funds. That fact hasn't changed our mission or our identity in the
community. If there are "professional adult educators" out there who
want to exclude us from the field, let them try. After fifteen years
fighting that battle, I am still here, because adult learners we
served know we helped them, and they tell others. I am no longer
threatened by efforts, real as they are, to cut out my program or
anybody else's. There are many "professionals", like Bob Weng on the
COABE board, who respect what we do and want to work with us. As a
field, I suggest we focus on coming together, and not quibble about
exactly "who we are".
Division Director, TURNING PAGES/VOAC
(formerly the Greater Columbia Literacy Council)
Secretary, SC Association for Adult Literacy Education
803-765-2555 fax 803-779-1657
PO Box 1447, Columbia, SC 29202
yohogclc at earthlink.net
"True progress preserves order amid change and preserves change amid
order." (John Morgan, You Can't Manage Alone)
----- Original Message -----
From: Jackie A. Taylor
To: aaace-nla at lists.literacytent.org
Sent: 11/29/2008 12:19:17 PM
Subject: [AAACE-NLA] What's in a name - "AELS"
I am wondering about the name – the Adult Education and Literacy
System (AELS) – which many in our field use to refer to adult
education/adult literacy programs funded wholly or in part by the
Workforce Investment Act Title II (Adult Education and Family
Literacy Act - AEFLA).
I wonder if the name “AELS” could be confused by others outside of
our field to mean literacy across the lifespan. I wonder if this
confusion then contributes to things like the NIFL expanding its
focus to literacy across the lifespan.
If the name “Adult Education and Literacy System” is indeed confused
with “literacy across the lifespan,” then what name do you recommend
using when we talk about the programs authorized under AEFLA?
The adult education and adult literacy system?
The adult education and family literacy system?
Thanks for your thoughts,
jackie at jataylor.net
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