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The Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, Volume 2

reviewed by Garrett Murphy - 2002

coverTitle: The Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, Volume 2
Author(s): John Comings, Barbara Garner & Cristine Smith (Editors)
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787950629, Pages: 320, Year: 2001
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Israel Mendoza, the director of adult education for the State of Washington, introduces The Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, Volume 2, by quoting Allan Quigley's admonition that we “Become literate about literacy." (p. xi) Indeed, this is what this series of reports is all about.  Its target audience is policymakers, scholars and practitioners of adult basic and secondary education, and English to speakers of other languages.


Volume 2 actually sets some precedents by continuing a pattern begun in Volume 1 to, as the editors state in their introduction, "produce a journal of record for the field of adult learning and literacy..." (p. xv)  This pattern begins, according to editors John Comings, Barbara Garner and Cristine Smith, with a chapter that reviews "significant developments in the field during the year (in this case 1999),  includes a chapter describing the adult literacy system of another country (here Canada), and provides an annotated bibliography on a broad topic of current interest to the field (here, organizational development).” (p. xv) It also continues the practice of having a topical strand. The chapter on research in reading in Volume1 is followed in this volume with a chapter on research in writing. Other articles are devoted to critical pedagogy and correctional education.


It seems quite appropriate to have invited David Speights, the editor and chief writer of Report on Literacy Programs - a prominent newsletter in the field of adult literacy - to write the chapter on significant developments in the field..  While I may disagree somewhat with his assertion that the new WIA reporting requirements are focused primarily on employment measures (12 of 15 measures deal with learning gains), I must admit that if I had been given the responsibility to write this chapter, the first thing that I would have done was take out my file of Report on Literacy Programs and read through it.


Speights characterizes 1999 as a year of application and preparation - application of the new requirements of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and preparation for the 2000 literacy summit.  He also sees 1999 as one more year in which adult education existed in the backwaters of public policy. 


One section of the Speights chapter foreshadows much of the content of the following chapter - that on critical pedagogy in adult education.  He reports on research findings by Tom Sticht that revealed that when asked, practitioners from both the United States and Canada chose "psychotherapy" (p. 18) as the dominant metaphor for what they did - not the revolutionary metaphor that characterizes the critical literacy movement advanced by Freire and others.  Yet the entire next chapter written by Sophie Degener, pleads the case for greater use of critical pedagogy. 


Degener faults much of current programming because it appears to be based on a belief that "literacy and other academic skills alone will help to rectify the marginalized positions of the students who are enrolled...” (p. 26) She maintains throughout the chapter that "Critical adult education programs do not simply teach literacy and other basic skills; rather, they show students how they can use those skills to transform their lives and the society in which they live.” (p. 27) Many adult educators will uphold what she asserts.  Others may be put off by her insistence on Shor's doctrine that nonstandard speech be recognized as the "legitimate and rule-governed dialect that it is and should be used and studied in tandem with standard English, which students need to learn,"  (Shor, 1992, p. 40) or that  “such decisions as [to] where the program would be housed, what kinds of classes would be offered, when those classes would meet, who would teach them, and who would oversee the day to day running of the program would be made jointly" with the community (Shor, 1992, p. 43).


But Degener is wise enough to know that what she offers as an ideal is not easily accomplished in the current adult education world.  Instead, she advocates "defining a middle ground” (p. 48) by offering a slate of program and practice descriptors grouped under “highly critical”, “somewhat critical”, “somewhat noncritical” and “highly noncritical” (pp. 50-53) labels and urges incremental movement toward her ideal program.


There are echoes of Degener's philosophy in Marilyn Gillespie's Chapter entitled "Research in Writing."  She states that writing is  “the forgotten of the three R’s.” (p. 63) She examines analyses of the writing process and draws a strong distinction between dealing with other people’s words and one's own words.   She comes very close to Degener's theories when she cites the work of Fingeret, Drennon, Mezirow and Taylor, all of whom support using writing to develop a critical analysis of their own worlds – in order to “make words their own.” (p. 78) Preplanning, prewriting, and journal keeping are all mentioned as techniques to help adult education students express their own feelings.  Discouraged by the tendency in modern practice to adopt a mechanical approach to writing, she gains encouragement from the increased interest in project-based writing and from “Equipped For the Future” (p. 94), the National Institute for Literacy standards based system reform project that has identified writing as a “generative skill” (p. 95), i.e., a skill or knowledge needed across the three life roles of worker, parent and family member, and citizen.


Gillespie calls for better writing assessment instruments, because, “Testing programs exercise a profound influence over the nature of instruction and what ‘counts’ as literacy.” (p.100) She sees as one of the most exciting developments that of disseminating the writings of students to their peers.


Stefan LoBuglio’s chapter on politics and practices in correctional education begins with a valuable “primer” (p.113) on corrections and its population.  He expresses concern over the conservative trend of the mid-nineties in corrections that led to the elimination of Pell aid for correctional college courses, effectively eliminating the courses themselves for lack of fiscal support.  LoBuglio also cites the fluidity of the inmate population as an obstacle to education.  Scarcity of living space has led to the “shuffling” (p.123) of inmates from prison to prison, drastically interrupting education programs.  The tendency of prison systems to hold inmates in county facilities for long periods while finding a bed in a state facility often reduces the time for rehabilitative activity.  LoBuglio advocates looking at education and training as “accountability” (p.126) rather than privilege. He believes that legislators overestimate the public’s desire for punishment, and that education and training can be sold politically as inmate obligations.


Entering the fray about whether or not correctional education reduces recidivism, LoBuglio criticizes poorly conducted studies that purport to show dramatic reductions in recidivism but which do not stand up to close examination.  He tells us that more rigorous studies show a less dramatic drop in recidivism but still of a size sufficient to offset the cost of education through reduced incarceration expense.  He foresees even greater savings if corrections programs engage in greater discharge planning and post-release services for offenders.


Aliza Belzer, Cassandra Drennon, and Cristine Smith collaborated on a section devoted to professional development systems.  They provide a brief history of professional development in basic education (making a slight error in showing the date of the first Adult Basic Education program of the federal government as 1965; the correct date is1964 – as Title IIB of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964), tracing its course from the higher education-run institutes of the 60’and the regional staff development projects of the early 70’s up to the transfer of development dollars from the Federal government to the individual states in 1975.  Renewed interest nationally in adult education in 1991 led to the enactment of the National Literacy Act which increased by 50% the amount of each state’s federal grant that had to be set aside for developmental purposes and mandating that 2/3 of that be devoted to professional development.  This percentage was reduced to 12.5% in the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act of 1998 with no requirement that any minimum be expended for professional development.


Given this fluctuation in funding and responsibility for professional development, the authors list a number of challenges, i.e., inadequate funding, a concern that dollars spent on professional development reduce the dollars spent on direct instructional services, lack of release time policies for instructors, lack of models for Statewide systems, little knowledge of how to scale up auspicious models and projects, and a lack of agreement by State offices and practitioners on what issues and topics professional development should address


The authors did an intensive examination of the professional development systems of five states: Idaho, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  They note wide variations in student to staff ratio, dollars expended per student, and student population (primarily the percentage of students registering for English language services).  They also express concern about how to deliver professional development services to a staff that is overwhelmingly part-time.  Thumbnail sketches of the systems in each of the five states are provided. 


The authors maintain that little information is available to translate sound professional development principles into a statewide system.  Recent efforts of the National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium (the policy and professional development arm of the State Directors of Adult Education) may help in this regard, but the Directors’ initiative began after the release of this volume.  The authors call for increased attention to balancing state and local practitioner needs, meaningful opportunities to share needs and findings, research into how a number of factors (learner to practitioner ratios, employment status of practitioners, state and federal requirements, etc.) influence the make-up of professional development practices and systems.


Linda Shohet’s chapter on Adult Learning and Literacy in Canada begins by emphasizing the differences between the United States’ approach – heavily influenced by federal investments and requirements – and that of Canada in which each of the ten provinces has its own constitutionally guaranteed system. She also points out that while many provinces provide instruction in English as a second language, in Quebec that becomes French as a second language. The United States may have a large Spanish-speaking population, but there is no State in which the official language is Spanish and new immigrants are required to learn it. Despite these differences, she makes the point that in Canada, as in the United States, adult education is a very marginal program.


Shohet reports that Canada’s interest in adult education has grown, spurred by international literacy assessments and high unemployment rates, and a national focus has developed via a National Literacy Secretariat.  Housed in different federal departments throughout its brief history, the Secretariat is now located in Human Resources Development Canada.  It provides an infrastructure heretofore lacking in adult education through its resource centers, formation of literacy coalitions, and bringing literacy to the attention of other segments of Canadian government.  Shohet maintains that for universal access to quality literacy instruction to be available, the federal government must institute literacy programming as a permanent part of the federal education structure.


The last chapter in the volume, written by Marcia Drew Hohn, entitled  “Organizational Development and Its Implications for Adult Basic Education Programs” (p. 242) is very concise and is followed by a comprehensive list of resources on the same topic.  Beginning with a description of the evolution of management and organizational theories, Hohn goes on to describe an organizational experiment conducted in Knox County, Tennessee.  The adult education program there inaugurated a “systems approach” (p. 248) using Malcom Baldrige educational criteria.  They found that valuable information that could lead to significant improvement was not being shared among the various cohorts of teacher, students, administrators, and other staff.  Linking and aligning systems differently led to an increased exchange of ideas and a willingness to try new practices.


Hohn relates the difficulties and the rewards of implementing TQM (Total Quality Management) in the Massachusetts ABE program.  It took a leap of faith to engage in the process before tangible benefits materialized, but, “for some programs the experience led to a new world of thinking, growing and doing – although not without some difficulties – that transformed their program management and operations.” (p. 252)


The Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, Volume 2, constitutes a very worthwhile second step in what promises to be a significant contribution to policy and practice in adult education.




Shor, Ira. 1992. Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 104 Number 5, 2002, p. 883-887
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10875, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 7:46:58 PM

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