Wednesday, October 31, 2007

have we shot ourselves in the foot?

Sometimes, when we have advocated for better funding for programs and for coherent and consistent literacy policy, practitioners have been told that we are self-interested. Discussions of working conditions create the same danger: Policy-makers can say that we are only interested in improving our own station in life, while we should concentrate on proving that we are truly 'helping' the students in our programs. In the past decade, funders have become increasingly adamant that they will not support anything that even remotely approaches advocacy for literacy.

In the 1980s, learner networks were active and vibrant. While some still do exist, it seems to me that I hear fewer learners speaking as advocates for adult literacy programming, and more speaking about personal transformation.

Have we practitioners shot ourselves in the foot?

Has our focus on accreditation as a route to strengthen the field allowed funders to accuse us of self-interest?

Might things look different today if learners' voices had been at the forefront?

Monday, October 29, 2007

literacy for what?

Well, since you guys started the critique of capitalism... here goes...

Harold Alden, in Illiteracy and Poverty in Canada: Towards a Critical Perspective, says

The main objectives are increasing the productivity of the poor and unemployed, i.e. enhancing their value to employers, while extending "social control" over them, i.e. obtaining their acquiesence to their subordinate positions. (Chapter 4)

Juliet Merrifield, in Contested Ground: Performance Accountability, says

As concerns about the skills of the workforce grew, preparation for employment became ever more explicitly the primary purpose of education. Voices advocating the broad view of education for citizenship lost ground to a sharper vocational focus in both adult and K-12 education. ... The customers of adult education began to be defined as employers, interested in the “product” of skilled employees. (p. 5-6)

Deborah D'amico, in Politics, Policy, Practice And Personal Responsibility: Adult Education In An Era Of Welfare Reform, says

Union educators have pointed out that the assumption underlying much of workplace literacy is that workers and management have the same interests in education. Certainly, some interests are shared, but others aren't. (p. 13)

What do you think?
What is the contested ground?
How do the interests of the private sector, policy-makers, practitioners and learners intersect? Who has shared interests and what are they?
Where are the creative tensions and where are the battlegrounds?

How has this landscape changed since you have been connected to literacy education?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

why this state of things?

Thanks to everyone who shared their stories about how they got into literacy work, and what keeps them in the field. Several people wrote about how literacy work allows them to make a real difference in people's lives.

They also mentioned the other side of the coin. As Linda Wentzel writes, "It's hard to accept that what you do is so undervalued that you are dispensable on a regular basis."

For many years now, people have been lobbying for better program funding and for policy that recognizes that literacy programs can help make society more equitable and inclusive. But perhaps the reason that literacy work is not supported has nothing to do with the value placed on this work.

Here is what Maria Moriarty discovered when she tried to find information about adult literacy as a job category:

A search of Canada's National Occupational Classification (NOC) site failed to turn up a description of the job duties or requirements for adult literacy instructor or adult basic education instructor. However, I did find interesting “official” descriptions of literacy work and job prospects for literacy workers in the United States and the United Kingdom. For example, in the US, the Occupational Outlook Handbook provides this telling description of job prospects in adult literacy:

"The demand for literacy and basic education often fluctuates with the economy. When the economy is good and workers are hard to find, employers relax their standards and hire workers without a degree or GED. As the economy softens, more students find they need additional education to get a job. However, adult education classes are often subject to funding level changes, which can cause the number of teaching jobs to fluctuate from year to year. When this happens, volunteers may take the place of paid teachers."

According to this view, literacy policy is driven by economic demands rather than what people, and communities, need.

If this is so, will adult literacy ever be entrenched in solid programs run by stable staff?

Does it explain why volunteerism is such a large part of our legacy?

To share your thoughts, click on the comment link below this post.

To read past posts and comments, click on the links listed on the right-hand side of this page.

Friday, October 19, 2007

what brought you to literacy work?

I imagine many of you are eager to talk about about working conditions. We'll get to that in a few days.

First, though, I want to share something that Sally Crawford, a recently-retired family literacy worker from New Brunswick, wrote in a wildcard for Focused on Practice:

We do it for the money
and the status—NOT

Ever examine who works in the field and why? It seems to me that it’s mostly women. Is it that the work somehow demands the “nurturing female thing”? Is the job not valued by society so the attitude is "let the women do it"? Are women more willing to put up with the working conditions because they know if they don’t, the programs will fold? Should we be more militant? I’m of the age and stage where I can do this because I love the work. Because I’m not putting bread on the table I don't need a secure salary and benefits to continue doing this work.

I enjoy the fact that everyone I talk to has come to the field by a different route. I’ve not met one person yet who woke up one morning as a youngster and said “I think I’ll be a literacy facilitator when I grow up.” And they are all passionate in some way about their work and about social justice. They all seem to be comfortable choosing “curiosity over certainty”. Such richness!

Let's start this discussion by sharing some of that richness.
* What drew you to adult literacy work?
* Once you got into literacy work, what surprised you?

Please share your stories!
And please do our where-do-you work survey - look right -->

Monday, October 8, 2007

welcome to the forum

working in adult literacy

In this issue of Literacies we open up discussion about what it means to work in adult literacy. We think this collection of articles raises interesting questions about what is expected of literacy workers.

What does it mean to work under the conditions of isolation, mounting accountability and lack of supports?
Why do we keep doing this work?
What do these poor working conditions reflect? How did we get here?

We want to continue to explore these questions and others, such as:
Who can afford to do this work?
Is there a next generation of literacy workers?
What needs to happen to improve working conditions?

What do you think about the issues raised in these pages? What did the articles make you think about?

To get us started please comment to this post. Tell us who you are, where you work, how you participate in adult literacy ... and why. Be as specific or as general as you wish. When you have posted your comment, try out our where-do-you-work poll questions in the right hand sidebar.