Important Books in Adult Literacy

Too Scared To Learn is an important book in my adult literacy work.

Its subtitle is Women, Violence and Education, and it is about the way violence and abuse hinder learning. It also offers some practical suggestions and encouragement. But the book is valuable because it's realistic about the limits of literacy programs and workers.

The book was written almost 10 years ago by Jenny Horsman, who still speaks, writes and hosts a website about this very important subject.

A few weeks back, Ballet Girl and I were musing about the books we read for professional reasons. In writing and thinking about that, I realized I have three different book lists in my head.

The Officially "Important" Books

One list is made up of the books I think I ought to read - books I've learned second-hand to call "important". Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) is a good example of one. I haven't read it, and probably never will. Making Sense of Adult Learning (1997) by a local Professor of Adult Education, Dorothy MacKeracher, is another example. Everybody around here says its a good book, an important book. So, I own a copy. But, truth is, I find it largely irrelevant and unreadable.

The same is true of most of Malcolm Knowles' writing. I put away that ridiculous, jargon ridden university style of writing many years ago. I see no reason to go back to it. If professionals can't write about something using plain language, they should probably stop and think about it until they can.

The Books that are Important to Me

Another list is made up of the books I read because they help me think about my field. Most of Denny Taylor's books fall into this category. I don't re-read, say, Learning Denied (1990) or Toxic Literacies (1996) or Beginning to Read and the Spin Doctors of Science (1998) to change or improve my practice. I read them for general encouragement, information and perspective. I read them because they help me make sense of my efforts by setting them in a larger, often conflictual framework.

James Herndon's The Way It Spozed To Be (1968) and How To Survive In Your Native Land (1971) fit under this heading. So do Ivan Illich's admittedly dense Deschooling Society (1970), and Jonathan Kozol's The Night is Dark and I am Far From Home (1975). By the way, any one of these has far more to say to North Americans about education, teaching methods and justice than Paulo Freire. (I wonder sometimes if Freire isn't popular exactly because he writes about somebody else's school system.)

I notice these are mostly about schooling or the literacy development and education of children and youth. Where are the books on adult literacy? Is basic adult education still too fragile a field to produce comprehensive, practice-based critical reflection?

Some books that do come to mind are Something to Think About - Please Think About This (1997) by Susan Hoddinott, Literacy and Labels: A Look at Literacy Policy and People with a Mental Handicap (1990) compiled by G. Allan Roeher Institute, and Elsa Auerbach's Making Meaning, Making Change (1990). Yet, none of these books reaches me the way I'm reached by the stories and simply worded reflections in John Holt's How Children Fail.

The Books I Don't Stop Reading

Then there are the books I return to every few months because they help me deal with specific challenges. There are may be a dozen of these, I suppose. Too Scared To Learn is one. Another is Tracy Carpenter's The Right To Read (1986). Another is Readability: It's Past, Present, & Future edited by Zakaluk and Samuels (1988). Another is Pat Campbell's Teaching Reading to Adults (2003). Another is Anabel Newman's Adult Basic Education: Reading (1980).

There are other books. I won't make a complete list here. I'm not sure how well these books translate: they are valuable to me precisely because they match the way I scaffold reading and basic education. At one time, last year, 100% of the female learners in my learning group were being actively harassed or abused by current or former male partners. Not surprisingly, I re-read Horsman a lot that year. I spent a lot of time re-reading William Glasser's books as well. Does that mean everyone should read these books? No.

But these are some of the books that have come to matter to me.


adagiago said...

wow wendell - i'm impressed!

who has TIME to read this much? - YOU do!

I HAVE read some of these, a long time ago. Not many.

I feel that I have well & truly forgotten them, but no doubt some of them they have formed my attitudes, and just simply become part of the structure of my brain.

I will pay a bit more attention, another day, to this post, and investigate a few of the books you mention which I haven't read.

thanks for going to this trouble.

adagiago said...

me again, Wendell (Ballet Girl) - got some books from a book list to share with you, but too tired to do it, right now... this weekend, i (sort of) promise!...thanks for your shared interest in what we do.