George E. Demetrion
sophocles5 at juno.com
Sat Dec 7 14:36:26 EST 2002
Folks have made a compelling case on strategic and historical grounds on
why what Tom Sticht refers to the AELS should remain with K-12 education.
The issue that I've raised, which I think is the same issue raised by
Debbie and a few others, is that the university connection is critical if
the realm of adult literacy studies is to maintain a semblance of
As we see especially now, there are powerful political pressures afoot to
define ABE/adult literacy research exclusively through the prism of
scientific-based educational research, however narrowly or broadly
construed. The recent grants awarded by the federal govt. on adult
literacy reading required a mandate to include randomized trials in the
research. That's putting the cart in front of the horse in that rigorous
science requires a subordination of methodology to whatever is needed to
meet the specific research project at hand. These could include such
methodologies as randomized trials, but in mandating this methodology
ahead of any specific research projects, perhaps there's another science
at work called political science.
In terms of the broader definitions of scientific-based educational
research as advocated for in the recent National Research Council
document on the topic, that obviously merits close scrutiny and
consideration by the scholarly community. Any researcher who does not
take such work into consideration invariably diminishes his or her
research. However, even such intelligent use of science still depends on
the questions asked in any research project. There is nothing inherently
valuable in science itself other than what it illuminates in any
particular research project.
The concern remains not that of good science, but the role of science in
the interdisciplinary field of adult literacy studies and the relevant
value of other scholarly traditions like cultural anthropology, history,
literary theory, and social philosophy. These realms of scholarship open
up other types of questions related to a wide variety of matters, over
values, power, the role of imagination, symbolism, rhetoric, etc. in the
shaping of what counts (and by whom) in adult literacy studies.
The National Research Council document acknowledges these other academic
traditions. However, it doesn't place much weight on them in publicly
supported studies on adult literacy. The USdoE Strategic Plan simply
trashes the role of these other intellectual traditions as fads and
ideology, brandishing science (however narrowly or broadly construed) as
synonymous with all that can be viewed as public knowledge. I contend
that that's ideology and not science.
At stake is nothing short of how adult literacy will be publicly defined,
which questions can be asked, what questions are off the table and become
invisible, and what counts as public knowledge. My emphasis in stressing
the importance of the connection between institutions of adult literacy
and the university community is to keep intact and even to strengthen an
alternative environment to the federal government where these issues (
many of which have already been part of the scholarship on adult
literac), can be authentically explored.
Large agencies like ProLiteracy Worldwide, NCSALL and others, perhaps
even NIFL if it can maintain even a semblance of autonomy, will need to
be bi-lingual in the capacity to relate to and work with both
traditions--the scientific and humanistic wing of the emergent field of
adult literacy studies. The failure to do so will spell the death
knell of adult literacy studies based on the integrity of its own
research and theoretical paradigms
My main argument is that unless the university connection between
communities of adult literacy practitioners and communities of
university-based academic scholars and think-tanks are strengthened, then
there will only be one public entity, the federal government, which gets
to define public legitimacy when it comes to articulating the scholarship
upon which adult literacy studies is to be defined.
There's some creative thinking out of the box and subtle bi-lingual work
that will have to take place to prevent this current train of political
activism by the political right to define the field of what counts as
legitimate educational scholarship.
I submit that this is no minor issue, particularly if the knowledge base
upon which the field shall be established matters.
gdemetrion at msn.com
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