Making Space: Merging Theory and Practice in Adult Education

By Vanessa Sheared; Peggy A. Sissel et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 11

Communities in the Classroom: Critical Reflections on Adult Education in an Appalachian Community

Mary Beth Bingman and Connie White with Amelia R. B. Kirby

The Community in the Classroom project worked to build community literacy programs with ten Appalachian community organizations. The authors served as facilitators of this project. In this chapter we describe the project, the processes that supported building community literacy, and the factors that made it difficult, including issues surrounding race, gender, and sexual orientation. Throughout this chapter we will move in and out of our voice of personal reflection and the voice as authors. We have chosen to italicize our voice as a way to highlight our thoughts and understandings about what occurred throughout this community engagement project.


Adult education and adult literacy are often seen as ways to build individual skills or to empower individuals. We use the term “community literacy” to mean the literacy practices that members of a community use to build, maintain, and change the community. We see literacy not as a have-it-or-not skill, but as a collection of practices used in a wide variety of social settings. Street calls this an ideological perspective on literacy, seeing literacy as implicated in power relations and embedded in specific cultural meanings and practices (Street 1995).

We are also interested in adult education as a way to build communities. Therefore, community literacy practices might include: taking notes at meetings, reading the newspaper with a critical eye, writing about issues that affect people in their everyday lives, or reading about the experiences of other communities on the Internet. More importantly, after obtaining the knowledge/information, they then take what they have learned and make it more accessible in order to strengthen their organizations. It more than often includes looking critically at


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Making Space: Merging Theory and Practice in Adult Education
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