Not Research - Learning and Sharing


I changed my side-bar introduction piece. I used to call this "part of an action-research project". But I'm uneasy with that word "research". Look at the next sentence: "I am learning about using and facilitating online learning and networking within the context of basic adult education." Is that research? Maybe its "reflective practice." Maybe its just "learning" - full stop.

I also changed my mind about going to Professor Quigley's workshop on Action Research in PEI. I know some people who went to the Nova Scotia workshop: they were impressed and engaged. They didn't do any research as a result, but they felt it was a worthwhile experience. I believe them. Sounds great.

But...

In the advance paperwork that came for the PEI workshop we're told that "federal, state and provincial governments have been encouraging the growth of research-in-practice networks." Well, maybe so.

We're also told "this is a piecemeal and disconnected 'grassroots research revolution'."

Hmmm... says I. A "research revolution"? Really?

That sounds a little... wonky.

Maybe that's unfair. But mark this: "Practitioner-researchers are seeking to resolve applied, immediate, local issues that the academic community simply hasn't the capacity to address - I know, I'm part of that academic community and we simply need more research capacity to move literacy forward."

I'll leave it to you to decide who the "we" is in that sentence. I'll forego being insulted by the claim that "literacy" (whatever that is) needs "moving forward" (whatever that means). I'll even stop listing all the other vaguely insulting things Mr. Quigley wrote about how literacy worker's reflections needed to be(come) "trustworthy" or "systematic" or "a baseline for... comparative analysis". I know these words are linked to ideas important to professional researchers and university people. Live and let live, says I. Mr. Quigley is probably very good at his job.

But its not my job - and everything he wrote told me we had very different goals. I work in community literacy. I try to do good. I try to keep learning. Sometimes I share what I've learned.

So, I decided to stay home and do my work.


But let's get back to that "moving literacy forward" business. Here's another perspective. It comes from March 2000's Audits and Evaluations by Parliamentary Committee, Adult Literacy Policies, Programs and Practices: Lessons Learned Final Report (html link, pdf available). This report sums up seven lessons learned. Here are the first two lessons:

Lesson 1
Adult literacy programs benefit both individuals and society, but these benefits have not been fully realized due to insufficient levels of public interest and political support.

Lesson 2
Experience suggests how to design and deliver quality adult literacy programs, but conditions do not always exist to allow that to happen consistently or systematically.

Did you catch that? It's even clearer if you change the order. Lesson 2: we know what we need to do to help people build their literacy skills. Lesson 1: we aren't doing it, for political reasons.

It's not lack of research or knowledge or talent that gives Canada its embarrassing adult literacy rates. Its choice.

Sure, Lesson 7 says more research is needed. But by the time you get there you realise there's nothing else the authors could say. It was that or something biblical like "the low literate will always be with us".


Or maybe we should have more research after all - but not Action Research. Maybe a sociologist or political economist with a background in critical thinking and dependency theory could research where the money goes, such as it is. How much gets spent on delivery, and how much on promotion or curriculum or... research? And how is literacy work organized at an institutional and societal level? And why has 30 or more years worth of writing and reflection - of "research capacity" - on quality adult literacy work yielded so small a dividend.

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