Wednesday, November 7, 2007

is there a next generation?

On this forum we've heard about the wide discrepancies between working conditions. In some parts of the country practitioners are paid $11.50 an hour for 30 to 35 weeks of the year, while in others college instructors are paid $78,000 a year. The disparities reflect the reality of federalism, which allows each jurisdiction to decide how it will support, or neglect, adult literacy.

Despite the limits of federalism, literacy workers have been thinking strategically. Some people believe that if adult literacy workers were accredited, the work would be taken more seriously which would lead to increases in program funding.

Others point out that governments only respond to power. They argue that the only way to have literacy work recognized and supported is to unionize -- a truly mammoth undertaking given 13 jurisdictions with their own school boards, community colleges, workplace programs and community programs.

What do you think? Would either strategy build support for literacy work?

If we don't find a way to build an infrastructure, is there a future for literacy work?

Who are the next generation of literacy workers? Where are they?

How will they enter the field, and what will encourage them to stay?

Given the growing emphasis on evidence-based performance measures, is literacy work in danger of being overrun by outcomes, worksheets and teaching to the test?

What can we do to teach future generations of literacy workers about the human side of literacy work?

Please share your dreams about how we can build a better future for literacy work.

P.S. Don't forget to answer our new poll ---->>>


  1. The questions you pose are critical for the future of adult literacy - all need to be addressed quite urgently, I think - but how can that happen - since there is no real infrastructure, since there are no fora (apart form Literacies) for literacy workers to meet, engage with each other and think about these questions. The creation of more opportunities to do that seems fairly critical - but how, where, - I really do think that we need to look at what can be done online - it seems the most feasible option for bringing people together. Any takers?

    As to unionizing - I think we may need to step back and think about organizing first - how could we a) map what's going on across the country b) find out who in the literacy field is unionized
    I'm a member of CUPE - and I know first hand the benefits of being unionized - unionized workers are generally better protected and paid. I think this is the best option for literacy workers - but I think we need to hear from workers in the field about what they want and need - we need to hear those voices - and then we can think about how we can organize ourselves to deal with the appalling discrepancies in wage rates and working conditions.
    So, I look forward to hearing what literacy workers have to say about organizing....

  2. I am opposed to accreditation.

    One large, personal reason is that it would constitute an enormous expense - enough to make me strongly consider leaving the field - and would have as its sole objective making me more attractive to funders, etc. without reference to the quality of the work I do and have done.

    Another reason is that it flies in the face of the self-directed, learner-centered, functional philosophy that underscores - or ought to underscore - adult learning principles.

    I know the content and nature of the "adult education" classes at my "local" (1.5 hrs drive away - and me without a car) university. I've read the course work and plodded through some of the assignments (picked up from people who were in the program). Those programs don't have anything for me or the work I struggle to do among disenfranchised families. The professors and I disagree, strongly, on things like best practices or the nature of barriers. Why would I pay them money - hundreds and hundreds of dollars - to test me on work they scarcely understand?

    Credentialism is an unnecessary burden. Think of all those capable, earnest adult learners who are being denied employment opportunities because, unable to parse a poem or unscramble an algebra question, they lack GED certification.

    In her article "If You Could Wave A Magic Wand", Pat Campbell (who once gave me assessment training, and whose work I respect) wrote: "The respondents were well educated.... Only four per cent did not have a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree." Well, guess I'm not well educated.

    Yes, its true my learners experience success. I've won Canada Post (Educator) and Lieutenant Governor's (Early Childhood Educator) awards, managed staff, co-developed two award-winning literacy programs, and dressed up as Barney, Franklin and Clifford the Big Red Dog. But, you see, I'm not university approved. Not accredited. Not, as they say, "well educated".

    Alright. That's my rant for today.

    Guess I'll save the union for tomorrow. LOL ;)

  3. Hi,

    A colleague in the field, Linda Dawn Pettigrew, sent me this YouTube link today that I just have to share.

    It's called:
    What have the Unions Ever Done for Us?

    Check it out for a laugh!


  4. Hi again,

    There's an online course taking place in AlphaRoute that started this week. Developed and facilitated by Tracey Mollins. It is called Your Rights in the Workplace.

    This is a second version of a course on this topic delivered three years ago in AlphaRoute.

    It is really heartening to read in the Week 1 introductions and forums about how learners value unions and to hear the questions they have about workplace rights, questions that would be brought to a union's attention in a workplace and that would definitely be the subject in labour-focused literacy delivery.

    If you aren't registered in AlphaRoute and want to be in order to participate in this 4-week course send me an email reqiesting access.

    There is also a new issue of The Learning Edge newspaper that recently was launched by the Wellington County Learning Centre all about Rights in the Workplace. It is Issue #7.

    Check it out:


  5. Okay, now to the questions of the day more directly...

    If we don't find a way to build an infrastructure, is there a future for literacy work?

    Who are the next generation of literacy workers? Where are they?

    What can we do to teach future generations of literacy workers about the human side of literacy work?

    I believe that there are people in the world who are gifted as teachers. I think that people with that gift will teach wherever they are. I think there are people in the world who are passionate about social justice and social rights. I think when you get a strong mix of those two gifts, you get literacy workers - either practising or not practising.

    I think there is value in formal education, but I don't think everyone needs to follow that path. I think there are qualities that passionate, committed literacy workers share that informs their work and their style and their credibility with the audience that matters most, the learners.

    I feel that I am in really good company in this blog space with the kind of people described above.

    Adult learners talk with their feet - because unlike children, they can. When learners identify someone as a good teacher for them, they stick around, they stick with it, they don't want to leave. They know a good thing when they see it!

    So do adult literacy workers. Why do underpaid, over-worked, under-valued, people stay in adult literacy (if they can)? Because we also know a good thing when we see it!

    Is there a next generation? Who are they and how will we transition to them - pass the torch so to speak?

    Adult literacy students will identify them. They will be the people that adult literacy students trust with their secret.

    Bottom up - grassroots developing - - what won't be squashed by the top down infrastructure. Top down never reaches right to the bottom - it usually only gets half way.

    Look at what's happening in Ontario for example? As a worker in literacy outside of the direct delivery system I can see the forces from the top pressing down. Pressing down on who? Literacy workers.

    As a volunteer tutor in a literacy program, I feel untouched by the pressures from above. Why? The literacy program staff bear weight. The funders continue to add work related to performance measures and tracking of progress through the levels, etc. while always saying - don't worry, this will make things easier for you in the end. Ha!

    I favour unionization of that weight-bearing layer of the literacy infrastructure. I'd like to see that layer rebel - finally as a group say enough is enough. That's the statement of consciousness and action. The stopping point.

    Are we there yet?


  6. Hello, and sorry to be coming into the discussion at this late time. I have been reading along and enjoying the discussion, but could not find the mental energy to jump in.

    Just quickly, I work at a college in BC in the community development department of a college in BC, with partners in community centres, schools and drop-ins in the downtown eastside of Vancouver. (Still a non-regular faculty member, which means I am unionized by not paid as well as colleagues who have been here longer).

    Wendell, I agree with your comment that credentialism "flies in the face of the self-directed, learner-centered, functional philosophy that underscores - or ought to underscore - adult learning principles", and think a lot of literacy workers would agree too. But I think it is getting more and more difficult to practice without the credentials. For example, I recently heard of a group of adult educators in our province who had been working in a school board literacy program for many years. They were recently fired, and told if they wanted to come back they would have to get teachers credentials -- and the program offered to them was based entirely on highschool content and included practicums in highschools (i.e. no adult ed content). I remember when I started out in literacy in the early 80's I considered doing a similar course, but opted instead to work in community literacy. I think it was much easier to make that choice -- and survive -- in those days.

    On the other hand, at a recent provincial literacy gathering, it was exciting to see a lot of young community literacy workers. I really hope they will be able to stay in the field.

    (p.s. I see this blog is on eastern time. I'm not really writing this at 2:00 a.m!)

  7. How interesting that what has been happening to learners for many years is happening to literacy workers.

    One of the first learners I met when I started volunteering in literacy was a man who had been on sick leave from his job as a janitor and, once he had recovered, was told that he needed his Grade 12 to return to his job. He did not, in fact, need to read or write very much to be an excellent janitor.The job had not, in fact, changed a great deal. What had changed were the rates of (un)employment...and education was the measure used to decide who to exclude from the job market.

    Yesterday I read an article from the Australian journal Literacy and Numeracy Studies. In "Whose Economic Wellbeing? A challenge to dominant discourses on the relationship between literacy/numeracy skills and (un)employment", Stephen Black argues that "most new jobs in...developed nations are predicted to be in the low paid retail, trade and service sectors" and in "this poor economic climate...responsibility for the problem of unemployment shifts to those who can be identified as having a literacy problem" (p. 14).

    We have a literacy problem in the literacy field! Practitioners are being told their literacies are inadequate -- that we are not compliant enough with the literacies required to navigate complicated and illogical reporting mechanisms.

    We need to be louder when we ask, "Literacy for what?"

    By the way, the article is available online at:

  8. Hi - It's Evelyn Battell from BC - I've finally made the effort to figure out how to talk to you guys. Maire says how could we a) map what's going on across the country b) find out who in the literacy field is unionized. A project report was just published - Focused on Practice - A Frmaework for Adult Literacy Research in Canada - Jenny Horsman and Helen Woodrow Editors - a national project sponsored by the "good ,old" NLS - who ever thought I'd say that! - One representative of the literacy community for every province and territory did some research in their area and wrote a state of the art report - they are gathered in that book - but then the changes happened - the NLS intended to use that report as a basis for at least some of their funding - hopes were briefly high.
    Anyway - there's a lot of info in there.
    Electronic version available at

    Not surprisingly, the project calls for sustainable, on-going funding for programs across the country and more Research in Practice

    I certainly agree with others that accreditation is a silly route - but I have wondered if we could pile up credits in the great score card in the sky if we took part in research in practice. - Aside from daily teaching it is one of the best ways to think and learn more about your practice.

  9. Before people think I'm a complete wing-nut, I should say I do believe in training and some kinds of evaluation (co-verification, etc.).

    I have the good fortune to winter with an organization that pays for a full professional development day each month. In my summer work, we always start with 5 days of training, and we evaluate and make performance-improvement recommendations for ourselves at Summer's end.

    If I do good work - better each year, I hope - it is because I work amidst people committed to critical self-reflection and life-long learning.

    If there was a way to translate these incidences of training and evaluation - maybe via "research in practice" documentation (though I'm doubtful) - into "credits" of some kind, I wouldn't be opposed to that.

    But who would do the "crediting"? Provincial bureaucracies would want to control what went on in their own provinces. Gov't ministers, anxious to avoid extra staffing, would farm it own to universities or community colleges, who would in turn negotiate to impose their own values and assumptions. In these economies, it would be a user-pay system....

    Ah, the janitor's story.

    "The job had not, in fact, changed a great deal. What had changed were the rates of (un)employment...and education was the measure used to decide who to exclude from the job market."

    I would have said education was the excuse used to justify excluding people (with low social capital) from the job market. But that's just my ordinary post-marxist raving.

    I read someplace that when the Quebec gov't adopted adult literacy it came to pass that job competitions favoured B.Eds and public school teaching experience, even when the (successful) candidates had only trained for or taught primary grades. In a matter of years, most experienced literacy facilitators had been stranded for lack of seniority. Wish I could find that article again...

    Anyway, under my province's new scheme, I'm stuck at the lowest end of the pay-scale because I don't have a B.Ed. I'm not unemployed yet. But that's because inertia has orgs hiring the same people each September. If there ever is a (gov't moderated) job competition...

    Well, I can always go back to planting trees and cutting pulp.


    P.s., I don't think a union would help much. It hasn't saved public schooling - yes, salaries go up, but look at the outcomes and low morale. Gov't and Joe Public don't think much of us when we do work. What on earth would they think/say if we struck?

  10. Is there a next generation?

    Yes, I've met them.

    We (my equally aged co-worker and I) are working with three 20-something kids who are eager to work in community literacy - apparently they're completely okay with personal poverty. LOL

    What's more, they're already talking with teens (from the commuity we serve) about how they (the teens) might get involved in supporting the literacy of younger kids.

    Yes, there is a next generation - in community literacy, at least.

  11. Hi Nancy!

    i'm thinking that "unionization of that weight-bearing layer" is a really interesting idea. I don't see how it would work in a smaller province - not without involving the civil service (and all that would mean in terms of loss of independence - see below).

    Hi Betsy!

    Thks for the good news(LOL!):

    " ... a group of adult educators... recently fired, and told if they wanted to come back they would have to get teachers credentials [via a program] based entirely on highschool content and... practicums in highschools (i.e. no adult ed content)."

    How could that happen? What's the process whereby that's politically acceptable?

    I've been thinking about it all day. best guess - it was acceptable because the larger community accepted two assumptions. One is that adult literacy work is the same as high school for adults. The other is that people in possession of licenses or credentials are thereby somehow more qualified ("better able").

    It's the latter cultural assumption I've been raving on about. I feel I'm always fighting a rear-guard action against that belief. That's why I get up on my hind legs when I hear workers from within the field talk about accredidation.

    So what's a B.C. worker to do? I guess, round up some money from private charitable sources and set up class in a library, or church basement, or livingroom.

    If that sounds like a pat answer... I'm sorry. I'm not being flippant. That's what I had to do when my government decided all my basic adult literacy learners needed a 14 week summer break. The learners were upset. Me too. So I had some quiet conversations and pulled something together; a little bit of money, a little "in-kind" support, a different "day job" so I could afford to volunteer.

    But even that "alternative" or "independent" strategy is getting harder because my gov't has found ways to access the same paltry charitable money I do. (Basically, they created a phony "non-profit" and then put political support behind that "non-profit's" funding applications.) It's hard to work without gov't support: it's harder to work with the gov't competing for support.

    "Stable government funding" sounds great, but what does it do to our independence? Who will be our "customers" - the learners or the funders? What, actually, are our goals? How do we get there?

    K. If I write any more in this thread I'll be writing an unsolicited Literacies article.

  12. Writing an unsolicited article. Hmmm. That's not such a bad idea.... In fact, it's a great one!