NLA Discussion: waiting lists / a program example
cb.king at verizon.net
Sun Apr 8 14:00:42 EDT 2001
Since when are matters of community conscience and
political responsibility (and acumen) reduced to merely
"care"? And even if you follow and accept the argument,
why must be pit "care" against "achievement" in
order to systematize or advocate for adult education in
David Heath makes the crucial point early in his note
about waiting lists that:
"I believe the problem many educators have with the
idea of a 'waiting list' is that we seem to be agreeing,
however we lay out the rationale, to turn people in need
away, to ignore a person's complex request for assistance
and constitutional right to a general education, as well as is
often the case, an unspoken desire for intimate community."
But then, later in his argument, he drops the crucial threads
of the "constitutional right" (and **promise**, I would claim) "to
a general education" for all adults **who ask for it** in the
United States, and he drops the "intimate community" argument.
David focuses instead on the following argument where he sets
off "efficiency" against "care," which again (and like Bob's and
Jon's argument) is not, and should not be, an acceptable
either-or in the argument for quality adult education.
With David's, et al, argument we are setting ourselves up for loss
either way we go. And we do not have to do that, nor must we
be "too idealistic" to understand the deficiency of this argument
for adult advocacy.
We are speaking for all of our adults here, and not for ourselves.
Dropping altogether the "Constitutional rights-promise and
community" argument, David says:
"Since adult education services may well play out in a value
community that holds relationship and care at a higher mark
than agency and academic achievement, the motive to serve
all "who call" is an understandable one. That it is understandable
does not make it necessarily achievable or best if it becomes
Then, to support this argument, David curiously moves to the
very **real problem** of retention--of trying to serve those who
have been accepted, but then don't stay in our programs.
But I would counter, though retention is indeed a "front-burner"
item, we should not confuse retention problems with the ethical
and political or community import of program intake--that is,
accepting and trying to serve those who, at least at first, show
a desire to improve themselves through the services that we
offer (not everything for everyone).
Retention and intake are two different problems. Perhaps
the problem is with the statistics both produce (or more likely
don't produce) and the half-truth and even naive judgments
that are made from the implications of those statistics on our
Waiting list statistics are a part of potential intake, but we don't
seem to be seeing "denial-at-the-door" as part of program
failure. This is curious indeed--if we are working under a
communitarian model, which is not merely about "care" but
more about ethics and politics, and the spirit of the community.
But we need not see turning away students as "failure" if we
begin (as David seems to suggest) by assuming that those
waiting lists are only a bunch of retention problems waiting to
happen, and that this "imbalance" has occurred because we
have been too warm-hearted--we can't serve them, David
argues, because our "efficiency" has been thrown out of
balance. This speaks of a bad business model (like health
care?) reducing human issues to the level of machine
If we ask Tom Sticht, we might find that, from the point of
view of the student, who-will-be-retained has little or nothing
to do with intake. But from the point of view of the program,
isn't program "failure" tied more to retention problems--
wrongly (I am arguing) associated with intake, and aren't
retention problems what some are trying to avoid?
The truth of this argument is that diminished service **may**
lead to retention problems. But isn't diminished service about
so many other things--like program organization--and only
tied to intake in the most cursory of ways? Isn't the legitimate
problem **how** we intake, and not **whether** we intake?
To tie the two directly, without all the other program complexities,
is naive indeed. And if we follow David's argument (and Bob's
and Jon's) then we need to be less warm-hearted for the sake
of program quality.
We have already said that no one here thinks Bob and Jon or
anyone else are making waiting lists for the express purpose of
waving them in the faces of legislators. This claim would also be
an absurd over-simplification.
What I am saying is that incorporating waiting lists as an
acceptable method of developing program "quality" speaks to
(an unaware) ethical and political corruption, it supplants
"commonwealth" with "business-corporate" badly perceived,
and furthermore, it shows clearly that we have forgotten the
most powerful ethical, political, and community-spirit
arguments we have (and that David mentioned early on in his
note but forgot along the way) by falling into the either-or of bad
programming, and by and pitting "care" against "achievement,"
as if we must sacrifice one to keep the other, or to maintain a
" balance." David, this is an abstraction that won't fit with the
fullness of the situation of adult education and programming.
I would ask those who have stuck with the argument, do all
these students--"all who come"--have to have a copy
of the United States Constitution printed on their t-shirts, and
a written mandate from the community, for us to understand
that we are turning away ***citizens*** who are at our doors
asking that the promise of the Constitution and a democratic
community-culture be fulfilled?
Good feeling and care and achievement notwithstanding,
David--these are not where the argument gains its power.
On the contrary--it is doomed to failure, along with education
as anything but "marginal" for our adults in this commonwealth.
"However when this caring climate becomes unbalanced by
taking on an unrealistic, unhealthy and totalizing posture that
"we are here to be all things to every and all individual students"
it sabotages individual initiative, growth and learning. It
undermines and even cuts loose its psychological partner that
might be characterized as a culture of challenge, risk,
discipline and individual responsibility."
I don't see any evidence of a "totalizing posture" of care.
Waiting list students make that initial first step--and this is
known to be difficult indeed for many of them--but they don't
even get the ***chance*** to be "challenged" under a system
that regards retention stats as more important than service.
I think few, if any, of us think "we are here to be all things
to every and all individual students." David has, I think, grossly
misinterpreted most of us, and fallen into the problem of
psychologizing a problem, and therefore diminishing
(or just forgetting about) the power and ethical-political-
spiritual import of what we are doing when we turn students
away. (And are we serving statistics again instead of
Our psychology and theirs is certainly meat for study, but
turning away students is not about pitting feel-good
psychology against "efficient" programs. It's about
political responsibility, which is **not** pie-in-the-sky idealism,
and ethical concerns, which is **not** about co-dependent
spend-thrift program managers. It's about understanding
the larger picture of who we already are and what we are
about as teachers and managers. If we are going to argue
our case for "mainstream," neither the "efficient programs"
(at the expense of willing students), nor the "teary-eyed
sympathy" arguments hold the power of lighting the
permanent and long-term truths of the Adult Education
situation on the United States:
It is not idealistic, but concrete and historical, to tie the
failure of our programs to failure to serve--***and through
failure to serve, to the failure of our legislators to set up
the conditions to fulfill the promise of the Unites States
Constitution to every one of its citizens,*** not only children
It is far from idealistic to understand the **concrete reality**
that the door to your program is the door to our participatory
And we are Slamming It? with the supposedly justifying
claim that, though "care" is good, we should "balance" it
more with "efficiency"? because we can't be everything
Is that really what program managers out there think about
what you are doing for your students? Is it feel-good care,
or is it ethics and politics we are talking about and that
inspire us-them to NOT turn students away? Since when
are matters of community conscience and political acumen
and responsibility redefined as merely "care" or reduced
Isn't it rather about recognizing (1) the ethical and political
"call" with every student who walks in our door, and whose
face should beam out like a light at us as if they had a lighted
Constitution written there, and (2) it's about understanding,
beyond psychological and individual needs, the long-term
needs of an entire historical human-culture movement, which,
as I have argued here before, is central to civilizing a global
--aren't we supposed to be ***leaders*** in understanding
what it takes to keep a democracy alive and "healthy," and
is it really "idealistic" to expect our teachers and program
managers to understand this larger dimension of what we
are already doing, and more important, not doing?
Best to all,
----- Original Message -----
From: David Heath <dheath at apex2000.net>
To: <nla at world.std.com>
Sent: Saturday, April 07, 2001 3:43 PM
Subject: NLA Discussion: waiting lists / a program example
> NLA Colleagues,
> This is a follow-up to my previous message describing changes
> in our ESOL program. It outlines what I believe to be some key
> intellectual conclusions behind the decision to serve fewer better
> and the means we decided to do that.
> I believe the problem many educators have with the idea of a
> "waiting list" is that we seem to be agreeing, however we lay out
> the rationale, to turn people in need away, to ignore a person's
> complex request for assistance and constitutional right to a general
> education, as well as is often the case, an unspoken desire for
> intimate community. On the other hand, any thoughtful and
> organized response to this need, requires resources and resources
> are supported by money and money to be had has first to be
> convinced by some reasoned form of an investment/outcome model.
> An investment/outcome model need not be tied to the hip of a
> quantitative, behaviorist model of standardized outcomes. Nor need
> it be intrinsically connected to an economic cost-benefit analysis as
> the unquestioned and final exemplar for judging the worth of literacy
> education. What it must be connected to is the reasonable argument
> for agency and individual achievement. And it is the argument for
> agency that reasonably justifies what Bob and Jon are calling for
> when they suggest states should be considering the option of serving
> fewer better. Whether more resources follow is a second argument.
> And one that will be passionately made by many of us. But let's
> stick to why the argument is reasonable without waiting lists as
> political leverage.
> Since adult education services may well play out in a value
> community that holds relationship and care at a higher mark than
> agency and academic achievement, the motive to serve all "who call"
> is an understandable one. That it is understandable does not make
> it necessarily achievable or best if it becomes weighted unevenly.
> This nurturing learning culture that one finds so strikingly
> of adult education services in general is foundational and seminal,
> I believe, to a culture of individual achievement. Adult learners are no
> different than any other learner, they need <first> to feel accepted, safe
> and cared for in order to open up to learning, growth and change.
> However when this caring climate becomes unbalanced by taking on
> an unrealistic, unhealthy and totalizing posture that "we are here to be
> all things to every and all individual students" it sabotages individual
> initiative, growth and learning. It undermines and even cuts loose its
> psychological partner that might be characterized as a culture of
> challenge, risk, discipline and individual responsibility.
> I believe effective adult education programs, like people, require
> a balance of nurturing/caring forces with disciplining/challenging
> forces. A balance of relationship and agency. Caring must be
> tangibly present in a learning community when the student arrives at
> the door. It must be plumbed at greater depths as the student stays on.
> But compassion and feeling must also challenge the student to change
> and to take responsibility for that change.
> I would argue that if you are serving students best you are serving
> students both ways. For certain, the hand should be around the
> shoulder, but the foot may need to give, in one form or another, a
> gentle shove or even a kick in the butt. Standards, limits and rule
> may be the kick in the butt.
> Finally, as research has told us, institutional and organizational
> dynamics will never completely account for the power to keep students
> once they come. To think otherwise may be hubris. Other critical
> forces, more individual and more deeply rooted in social forces and
> cultural and psychological foundations are at play here. Situational
> and dispositional forces may be the greater markers of a student's
> Waiting lists may give any given state or program political leverage.
> It does not necessarily follow that waiting lists are created solely or
> strategically for that purpose. Could it also be that waiting lists are
> a result of moving to a different organizational paradigm, one that
> attempts to balance agency and access? To make for a better
> gestalt of relationship and instrumentality?
> David Heath
> Odessa College
> dheath at apex2000.net
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