NLA Discussion: Advocates' talk
Sioux Falls Literacy Council
sfliteracy at mcleodusa.net
Mon Mar 29 07:23:33 EST 1999
GEORGE E. DEMETRION wrote:
> On Thu, 25 Mar 1999 08:54:23 -0500 Art LaChance <arthur at ellijay.com>
> >Not too long ago, from where I don't remember, I heard a prediction
> >that in the not too distant future there would be two classes of
> >Those with college degrees and those without. It appears that the
> >class may be in a process of fragmentation?
> >The real unfortunate thing is that the numbers of incarcerated appears
> >to begrowing as much as, or more than, the overall population is
> >I see great big red flags when I tie in the rate of illiteracy in the
> >incarcerated group.
> >Art LaChance
> >Gilmer Learning Center
> >Ellijay, GA 30540
> I'm not too sure there's any correlation between the expansion of an
> underclass (a phenomenon pervasive throughout the 20th century) and any
> fragmentation of the middle class which is not to deny a trend (how
> extensive I do not know) toward downward mobility, myself included
> (involuntary) of the middle class. Even in the Depression, corporate
> capitalism and the middle class survived and with the war effort, both
> boomed while poverty, racial discrimination and classism persisted.
> I see nothing on the current horizon that points to any serious
> fragmentation or disintegration (if that's your point) of the middle
> class, although increasing economic disparity looms large on the social
> So, what are the implications for adult literacy education? Will
> literacy serve as a significant variable that will enable people in
> statistically significant numbers to experience a modicum (open to
> definition) of upward mobility? I'm dubious about that without denying
> the positive impact of literacy on one's economic/job status in some very
> modest (to the outside observer) ways, yet that have significance for
> specific individuals. The ethnographic literacy of what Juliet
> Merrifield refers to as "The New Literacy Studies" points to this, but
> whether such "impact" registers on the radar screen at the level of
> policy, particularly given the emphasis on "outcome" measures and the
> accent in the Workforce Investment Act on "quantifiable" and "objective"
> data, is at least a dubious proposition.
> The gap between the "modest" and highly idiosyncratic impact literacy
> does have in its enmeshment with other variables in contrast to the
> criteria of the most recent policy formulations, is, in my view, a
> reflection itself of the increasing gap between the haves and have nots
> with the middle class literacy providers attempting to mediate the
> translation. It's one heck of a struggle particularly if you're trying
> to be honest to all constituencies involved. But more fundamentally, the
> policy emphasis on quantifiable and objective criteria for an issue that
> just cannot be subject to such exacting control without killing the
> spirit of what we are about, is less about instilling "quality" in our
> programs than another effort of the elite to control the "deficient" and
> undesirable" Other through distancing criteria that moves so far from the
> reality of what is going on even in the best of our programs, that it
> would be laughable if it wasn't so sad. Allan Quigley argues similarly
> in his analysis of 100 years of social policy on adult literacy and ABE
> which he characterizes as "A Century of Fear and Loathing." Thus, the
> polarization between the haves (the corporate and governmental sector)
> and have nots (literacy students) is very much of a reality in our field,
> with the underpaid practitioner in the understaffed agency required to
> effect "communication" between the two sectors.
> There's a lot of Social Darwinism operating in our field to eradicate or
> further marginalize programs that don't deliver the goods according to
> the dictates of the policy setters and those within Our House who seek to
> set the standards for Our Field by such said policies rather than from
> the intellectual framework of our best practitioners and researchers,
> particularly those who embody the principles of The New Literacy Studies.
> Why is policy for literacy being set by the Washington crowd rather than
> by practitioners, theorists and researchers of The New Literacy Studies.
> Why: because knowledge and power are inextricably linked and those with
> the power get to set the standards, whether or not they know much about
> our field. The question is whether the advocates of The New Literacy
> Studies try to temper their understanding of literacy in order to get to
> the table or whether they (we) make a concerted effort to define the
> field for the Washington crowd. Do we speak with one common voice? I
> think not.
> I don't see the political, social, and economic conditions changing much
> and the above very well may be a lost battle. I agree with you that the
> disparity between the wealthy and poor is as wide as ever and its playing
> out in our field as in so many areas. At the same time, I see no see no
> serious collapse of the middle class, but agree with you as well that the
> middle class is far from a unified body, with downward mobility a
> significant feature of Reagan-Bush-Clintonesque global economics. It
> would be instructive to look carefully at our field to see how these
> dynamics are being played out, including the incredible pulls and strains
> of the local literacy and ABE programs to "mediate" the cultural and
> material gaps between the haves and have nots and the struggles so many
> of us go through between the tension of being "pragmatic" and telling it
> like we really believe it is.
> As I review this note, I'm tempted to censor myself and have already
> pulled a couple things out. This need on the part of so many of us to be
> our own censors is indicative of the power/knowledge correlation and is
> really scary, particularly if we believe that literacy is inextricably
> linked to making meaning, making change. Something to think about.
> That's enough.
> George Demetrion
> GDemetrion at juno.com
> You don't need to buy Internet access to use free Internet e-mail.
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Dear George et all,
In response to the following in your email to Art:
...."I'm not too sure there's any correlation between the expansion of
an underclass ... and any ... fragmentation of the middle class ...
toward downward mobility ...of the middle class."
And in the next paragraph, you wrote: "I see nothing on the current
horizon that points to any serious fragmentation or disintegration ...
of the middle class ..." contradicting a statement you quoted near the
end of your email: "...Allan Quigley argues similarly in his analysis
of 100 years of social policy on adult literacy and ABE which he
characterizes as "A Century of Fear and Loathing." Thus, the
polarization between the haves (the corporate and governmental sector)
and have nots (literacy students) is very much of a reality in our field
So doesn't this strike you that the deterioration of the middle class
has already begun? Take a look at the literacy/ABE programs for salary
levels as an indicator. How *fabulous* is the salary where *you* are?
The Women's Literacy Conference drew a lot of conversation here on the
NLA ... who would have ever *thought*! Because how many men do *you*
know who are paid staff of volunteer literacy agencies? Most men in my
community would not even think *twice* about interviewing for the
director's position with the level of salary it offers! Does this not
deteriorate real-up-front-and-personal the "middle class" leadership of
our very *own* programs? Are we directors/coordinators an "outstanding
role model" for our learners who are trying to provide a middle class
lifestyle for *their* families???
Have you interviewed for a job lately? The "Have's" are those with
multiple degrees. They are the ones who are "recognized" for their
"skills" and offered the higher paying positions. Aren't they? While
the "Have Not's" are even unsuccessful at being *interviewed* for that
job! They do *not* hold the powerful pieces of paper.
So send a new learner (a beginning reader/speller) out there to look for
a job. What do you suppose are *their* chances when they don't even
have that *GED* paper yet?? And isn't "class", in reality, related to
dollars-earned? Get more, buy more, live better. So if you don't HAVE
$$$, aren't you going to experience "downward mobility" in your family's
Just a personal opinion. I agree with Art. I think that the two
classes of worker bees already exist. And you know something? We as a
group *do* need to stand together to educate these politicians
controlling the federal purse strings. Otherwise we aren't going to be
able to make a lot of differnce for the population we all serve! They
will *never* climb up out of their lower class PIT! It takes $$$ to
offer programming that affects change for individuals.
Nancy Hansen, E.D.
Sioux Falls Area Literacy Council
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