NLA DIscussion: The Janet Isserlis Question
cb.king at verizon.net
Sat May 12 12:31:14 EDT 2001
To Janet Isserlis, who asks:
"Is there a way to speak of the need for increasing
learning opportunities/access without pathologizing
learners? Is there way to make the need for resources
known while NOT only framing deficit views of adult
One approach is to point out the national pathology
that is suggested when the World's Leading Democracy
de facto supports illiteracy, ignorance, and helplessness
among its polity and, therefore, fosters its own decadence.
We are a "culture of individuals" who are responsible for
ourselves, but we are also United. If some in Britain have
understood their adult education situation as a threat to
national security, what might they mean by that?
Internal decay won't go off like an Oklahoma bomb. The
internal decay of a maturing democracy has the face of
Adult Education on it and won't manifest fully until it's too late
to do anything about it. That's not a threat or a necessity--
rather, it's a distinct possibility, and becoming more and
more distinct as we continue to leave our home ground
unhealthy and unprotected.
Any move toward globalization will require more, not less,
efforts to educate our citizens at home ***over the long run***
to meet this huge change of thought that is required by such
moves, and if we are to maintain an understanding of who
we are as a culture and as a political body.
As we seem to be seeing it, the Congressional "they" have the
funding, and the Adults "we" don't. But when "We" as a United
States body politic understand that We are being threatened by
distinct internal decay, it may dawn on us why We want to
begin taking better care of our own nest?
----- Original Message -----
From: Lennox McLendon <lmclendon at naepdc.org>
To: <nla at world.std.com>
Sent: Friday, May 11, 2001 7:24 PM
Subject: NLA DIscussion: The Janet Isserlis Question
> Janet Isserlis asked the following set of questions:
> [From Lennox McLendon's bio]
> "In his current role as the Executive Director of the National Adult
> Education Consortium, he has two functions: First, to respond to the
> adult education information needs of the Congress and White House staff
> members. Secondly, to facilitate professional development activities for
> the state directors of adult education and their staff members."
> Whose voices are heard, filter "up" to folks like Lennox who speak
> for the field? One chronic issue I notice is not so much divisiveness,
> per se, among us -- we *all* want to increase access to learning for
> adults, I think -- but the ways in which we speak to, for and about adult
> learners is often problematic.
> Is there a way to speak of the need for increasing learning
> opportunities/access without pathologizing learners? Is there way to
> make the need for resources known while NOT only framing deficit
> views of adult learners?
> I posed this question to a US Senator who suggested I contact his
> aide. The conversation did not move very far.
> Janet Isserlis
> <Janet_Isserlis at Brown.edu>
> Janet has posed a number of questions. The first ones relate to the
> "voices" that I listen to when "speaking for the field."
> There are a number. The list would go like this: me, adult education
> state directors, National Coalition policy committee members, and key
> Me: I have been very fortunate in that I have had almost every kind of
> adult ed job--teacher of (as a paid teacher and as a volunteer
> tutor) ABE, GED, ESL, and adult high school; local ABE program
> coordinator, local assistant director of continuing education, state
> staff person, state director, Chair of the National Coalition for
> literacy, and attender of any number of state and national conferences
> and institutes. So one "voice" I listen to is mine because in each of
> those jobs I have wished for the addition of this resource or the removal
> of that regulation. So when a staffer calls, I have a base of
> information to draw on. And that has been helpful because, unlike
> inside-the-beltline professionals, I can provide examples of the impact
> that certain proposed options might have on the classroom, local program,
> state program, and the 40 or so national partners in the National
> Coalition for Literacy. Hopefully, when a call comes, I do not have to
> depend on my intuition alone; hopefully I get a chance to pick the brains
> of other adult educators like those listed below.
> State Directors of Adult Education: In 1990, the adult education state
> directors who manage 80%+ of the adult education and literacy work in the
> country had no voice in Washington. Issues arose that concerned them and
> they heard about them months later. As a result, the state directors
> established the Consortium for which I work now to provide that
> voice. So, when I am asked for options and opinions, I usually have time
> to contact the state directors electronically--to poll the troops to get
> their opinions regarding the issue.
> The National Coalition for Literacy: The Coalition is comprised of
> nearly 40 national organizations that have adult education and literacy
> as a major part of their mission. They meet quarterly and until recently
> had no staff. They voluntary come together to share information and to
> "speak with one voice" for the field. The Consortium Policy Committee
> has been a wonderful open forum for hearing the varying views of the
> organizations and hashing out a common message. For a volunteer
> organization, we have been very successful. I have been associated with
> the Coalition for nearly 10 years, two of which I was proud to serve as
> Chair. That association, especially the Chair role, has taught me
> represent the entire field, not just the state directors. Because I
> really respect the Coalition representatives as colleagues and friends,
> it has been a natural occurrence to think, for example "How would this
> issue effect Peggy Barber and the American Library Association?" "How
> would this issue impact Peter Waite or Marsha Tate with LLA and
> LVA?" Believe me, there has been no shortage of Coalition colleagues
> expressing their circumstances and philosophies--to the point that we can
> probably predict how each other will react to issues. All this is to say
> that the "voices" of my colleagues on the Coalition--past and
> present--are an ever present testimony regarding any number of policy and
> programmatic issues.
> Key Colleagues: All of us have key colleagues whose opinions are
> sage. So when I am given the opportunity to seek input regarding
> inquiries for options and impact opinions, I seek out those key
> colleagues. Jon Randall has served a key policy role in the Coalition
> for years. Christy Gullion the policy person at NIFL, though relatively
> new to the job, has clear insights and asks those pointed questions that
> challenge assumptions. Garrett Murphy is the sagest of the sage. The
> former New York adult education state director and currently the policy
> analyst for the Consortium has a wealth of experience in adult ed and has
> thought more about policy issues than I will have time to in my remaining
> years. Jon Weintraub the USDOE adult ed policy person is a wealth of
> knowledge and insight. All of the members of the Coalition are valuable
> information sources on general and specific issues.
> Other folks: In my traveling around working with states, I find some
> really bright, talented practitioners at all levels. They are all
> "voices" I call on and listen to.
> Believe me, I realize that "speaking for the field" which I have to do is
> a task not to be taken lightly. But it is no different from the local
> literacy council director who is called by the local paper for
> information that will represent the entire county. Or the state director
> who is asked to speak for all adult education in the state. We all
> realize the significance of that role and try to get as much input as
> possible before responding to inquiries.
> Now the second part of our question. Is there a way to communicate the
> need without using the "disease" analogy?
> Here is what I believe and it is best illustrated with the use of the
> word "literacy." I believe you should use the word "literacy" in policy
> making and politics but not use it in program promotion and
> programming. (This is affectionately known as the five "p" theory--by me
> if by no one else: policy making, politics, program promotion,
> Policy makers and politicians respond positively to the word
> "literacy" and when we are trying to communicate the need to them, it
> conveys a more precise meaning than "adult education" or "lifelong
> learning." Lately I have started using the term "low-literacy" and
> "low-literate adult " which is easier to say than "adults with basic
> skill deficiencies." And I can avoid that "deficiencies" word.
> It is important to make sure we do not "blame" the learner for not being
> high literate. When working with policy and political people I use two
> examples.--These also get the public school people off of your case so
> they do not think you are blaming them for the number of low-literacy
> 1. It was not too many years ago that you did not need a high school
> diploma to get a good job and have a rewarding career. It was not unusual
> for teens to leave school and begin careers in agriculture, natural
> resources (coal, timber), or manufacturing--most of the jobs. Technology
> has of course changed all of that.
> 2. If the folks at the National Center for Learning Disabilities are
> right, half of the adults who have not completed high school are learning
> disabled -- in my layman's terms that means that they have average or
> above intelligence but they process information differently. They did not
> learn the way we normally teach. In recent years public schools have
> learned a lot about LD but it has not been too long ago that few
> resources were available.
> ASIDE: Dr. Nancy Boraks from Virginia Commonwealth University and I were
> doing a workshop years ago when I made the above statement about learning
> disabilities. To which she interrupted me and said, "If they have
> average or above intelligence but process information differently, they
> do not have a learning disability. We just do not know how to teach
> them. Therefore, they do not have a learning disability, we have a
> 'teaching disability.' We should be careful where we place the blame."
> Policy and political folks relate to that story and I tell it to everyone
> I can.
> The last point I want to make is "research." We can protect the learner
> from being slammed in these discussions if we focus on the research that
> shows the relationship to and impact of an adult's low-literacy on
> children's reading, welfare, public health, workforce. Check out the
> PowerPoint on our web site (www.naepdc.org) that we did for the
> Congressional Forum this past March. There with a bibliography is a
> power piece that relates research related to the impact on social
> initiatives when a significant number of adults have low-literacy
> skills. It also documents successful programs, that if funded (hint
> hint) have addressed these issues.
> So "low-literacy" works well and communicates well with policy and
> political folks. However when it comes to advertising our program where
> potential learners will hear the message, I do not use the
> "literacy" word. Somewhere along my path some said a potential adult
> learner said that he was not "illiterate" so he did not belong in a
> literacy program.
> AND, what were the NALS numbers. Even though 46% of adults were in
> levels 1 and 2, 90%+ indicated that they did not have a basic skills
> deficiency. So we need to communicate adult goals (job, prepare for
> community college, etc) when advertising our program.
> Enough is enough. I hope this rambling addresses your question
> Janet. Needless to say, it was a provocative set of questions.
> Dr. Lennox L. McLendon, Executive Director
> National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium, Inc
> 444 N. Capitol St., Suite 422
> Washington, DC 20001
> (202) 624-5250
> (202) 624-1497 FAX
> lmclendon at naepdc.org
> To UNSUBSCRIBE FROM the NLA list, send an e-mail message to
> majordomo at world.std.com
> Skip the header. In the body of the message type (only) unsubscribe nla
> To SUBSCRIBE TO the NLA list, send an e-mail to majordomo at world.std.com
> Skip the header. In the body of the message type (only) subscribe nla
To UNSUBSCRIBE FROM the NLA list, send an e-mail message to
majordomo at world.std.com
Skip the header. In the body of the message type (only) unsubscribe nla
To SUBSCRIBE TO the NLA list, send an e-mail to majordomo at world.std.com
Skip the header. In the body of the message type (only) subscribe nla
More information about the Nla-nifl-archive