NLA Info: Research into practice
gdemetrion at email.msn.com
Sat Feb 10 18:36:13 EST 2001
(I was going to send this to Tom as a personal note, and then thought the
issues raised merited a public hearing. Actually, I did send it. Please
note that this is long, though to the point and accessible).
My concern with An Acton Agenda is that the process may not become
sufficiently open or inclusive to significantly move beyond the current
leadership that is presently in charge of it. Particularly for the long
haul, I believe the Gordian Knot between policy expectations and sound
research and practice needs to be untied. I think this is implicit in
Merrifield's NCSALL policy study "Contested Ground," for which the time
frame of An Action Agenda may provide a basis for the type of dialogue
across ideological, social, and educational strata that *could* result in
the needed consensus for which Merrifield calls.
Such consensus, through the resolution of substantial issues, is not likely
to happen this year or next. However, it becomes critical to tackle this
formidable challenge within the context of longer term envisioning and
planning, lest the field continue to be shaped by the human capital
development thesis that Quigley ("Rethinking Literacy Education") maintains
has been pervasive in policy since the early 1960s, with the culture wars in
our field unabated. That is, I argue that the literacy mainstream needs to
embrace a broader vision of what is plausible (and so it might) even while
the literacy left (in my view) needs to publicly engage in serious and
ongoing public discourse with the more mainstream voices. Please note, that
such consensus cannot be had through the surrender of the literacy left, but
only through a very penetrating clarification of the issues and the
development of an inclusive plan that substantially speaks to them.
I would agree with you that there cannot be any viable ABE system (or
whatever we ultimately call it) without substantial governmental buy in,
which does not mean that many programs cannot exist just fine without such
support. Many can. At the same time, it would be suicidal to buy such
support at the price of surrendering what the field views of value in terms
of what its work is all about. This requires at least two things:
a) That the leadership of An Action Agenda base its work on such a premise
without compromising from the get go in order to be policy "realistic."
b) That if (and only if) this premise is accepted, that the literacy
mainstream and the literacy left begin to work toward some understanding on
what this might begin to look like.
These are the Gordian Knots that needs to be unraveled-- that sound research
and sound practice drive policy and that the ideological conflicts that
dominate the field be substantially worked through--a formidable challenge.
As I've previously stated, I don't believe that such a prospect is going to
fall into the laps of the ABE/adult literacy movement. Rather, the field
itself will need to develop sufficient momentum to enact a policy
reconstruction, including a broadening of what is viewed as the public good.
No doubt, this is a tough row to hoe. We've discussed this a bit here in
the emphasis on shifting the perceived value of adult literacy from an
economic argument to that of enhancing the democracy, which includes the
former, but does not place it as the central policy raison d'etre for the
EFF also supports this broadening by emphasizing the relationship between
adult basic education and the three primary roles of citizenship/community
member, family member and worker through which conceivably an underlying
value of democracy could be based. To this, I would add the importance of
individualism or "Self," and the shift in primary emphasis from that of the
social roles to that of lifelong learning (Fingeret and Drennon's Literacy
for Life), which *include* the roles, as a basis for a reconstructed policy,
but is not the base. Keep in mind that the formation of EFF was premised on
National Educational Goal 6, a premise that does not have to constrain the
work of An Action Agenda.
As I see it, there are at least three major contributions of adult literacy
education to the public good, and hence, to the democratic republic of the
United States of America:
a) The impact (potential and actual) on our mediating (largely
local--family, work, civic) institutions and social networks (including
VALUE and the NLA) wherein individuals with enhanced formal education can
make increased contributions through them while helping to strengthen them.
Such enhanced mediating institutions and social networks, in turn, help to
> create better bridges between the autonomous individual and large social
forces and strengthen the body politic in its varied manifestations. This is
largely the focus of EFF. Robert Bellah and his colleagues argue for the
importance of such mediating space both in Habits of the Heart (1985) and
the Good Society (1991). Their work, especially their emphasis on civic
democracy, could play a critical role for a viable consensus for our field.
b) The impact on creating a more vibrant culture wherein the varied voices
and experiences of adult literacy/ESOL students resound throughout our
culture through the proliferation of anthologies of essays, oral histories,
videos, curricula for all levels of schooling, public forums, and other
venues. Such "texts," if you will, would focus not only on the impact of
> schooling (past and present), but rather, on the totality of life
experience to better bring out the pluralistic ranges of perspectives, which
characterize our national life. This would mightily contribute to what
social historians refer to as voices from "the bottom up," which expand on
who has the right to speak and be heard within a public context. The
contribution to the public good is that such an expansion of such voices
"from the bottom up," would enhance the richness of the entire culture.
c) The impact of renewed resources for the field on well supported practice
and research, which, in turn, could better inform our understanding of the
educational process as a whole. More than a few of us believe that adult
literacy education, at the least, is one of the most creative forms of
education that exist. A well supported system would better enable the field
to push its creative edge further not only to inform its own house, but
through such work, to make a contribution to practice, research, and theory
throughout the field of education and most certainly, throughout the
sub-field of adult education within its many branches.
All of these contributions in linking adult literacy to the public good
would contribute in moving the field from the margins to the mainstream;
that is, if as a nation, we are willing and ready to embrace such a
reconstruction of the mainstream--a formidable challenge, though plausible
within a political culture premised on the ideals of democracy,
notwithstanding the gap between the reality and the promise.
To conclude, the challenges in the broadest of terms are two-fold:
a) Can the field mobilize the internal resources to put together a viable
consensus to build its house for the long haul?
b) Would such an effort result in the desired impact? Would the work be
worth the effort?
I don't know the answers to these questions. I am neither optimistic nor
pessimistic about the possibility of such prospects as sketched above. I
simply visualize the prospect of moving forward through An Action Agenda and
seek to draw out the potentiality of what might be there.
This is how I see it. What do others think?
Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford
Gdemetrion at msn.com
Gdemetrion at juno.com
Gdemetrion at lvgh.com
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