Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

How Minority Becomes Majority: Exploring Discursive and Racialized Shifts in the Adult Literacy Conversation

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

How Minority Becomes Majority: Exploring Discursive and Racialized Shifts in the Adult Literacy Conversation

Article excerpt

A problematic: Examining dilemmas of literacy and access

Adult literacy is a double-edge sword. It can serve as a mechanism to enhance individual well-being and can mobilize human resources for political and economic development in a rapidly changing world. Additionally, it can serve as an instrument for the reproduction of social inequality (Breen & Jonsson, 2005; Papen, 2005). Literacy leads to better access to opportunities, as well as give a marked advantage over those who remain illiterate. The American literacy crisis is explained by the limitations imposed on one group by another and this is demonstrated by the stark difference between the rates of adult literacy in the black and white communities (Reder, 2010; Kutner, Greenberg, Jin, Boyle, Hsu, & Dunleavy, 2006; Kirsch, Braun, Yamamoto, & Sum, 2007). To begin to explore this topic, consider the following cases of two urban adults with literacy problems.

   Latonia is a 36-year-old African American woman
   from Detroit, Michigan. She joined a local
   community-based adult literacy program with a
   seventh grade reading level. She wants to learn
   to read recipes and grocery store ads. Latonia is
   learning to sew as well so she can learn to read
   instructions of the patterns she buys at Joann
   Fabrics. She was never married but she has
   managed by herself with some family support to
   raise a son who is now nineteen in the Brewster
   tenements in Detroit, Michigan. He was recently
   arrested for smuggling drugs into Canada and
   will spend the next 10 years in prison. Though he
   dropped out at the 10th grade from high school, he
   has like his mother only a 7th grade reading level
   according to his prison record.

   Fifty-two-year-old Alphonse is also African
   American from Detroit with low literacy skills. His
   reason for participating in an adult literacy program
   is to learn to read the Bible. Alphonse is a Seventh-day
   Adventist, and unlike most African American
   males of his age cohort, he married and started a
   family at age 20. He was a high school dropout
   with less than a ninth grade education. However, he
   always dreamed of becoming a journeyman. After
   the birth of his fourth son, however, his dream was
   shattered. His wife, Tina died and left him with the
   care of four young sons. He was overwhelmed by
   the increasing responsibilities in the household and
   had to manage with a minimum wage job with some
   welfare support to meet the family needs. Several
   jobs later and with a family tragedy that resulted
   in the death of two sons by neighborhood violence,
   Alphonse mustered the courage to return to his GED
   classes in his late 40s in order to improve his reading
   skills to better understand the word of God and
   for spiritual, emotional and psychological growth.

Latonia and Alphonse's experiences illustrate the interaction between family dynamics, community pressures and literacy challenges in American society. They represent a significant number of American adults who have low basic skill proficiencies, yet are able to raise a family and earn a living. While Latonia and Alphonse's literacy goals are personally meaningful, accomplishing these goals will not prepare them adequately to participate actively in the rapid technological reforms that are overtaking the society today in computer literacy, health literacy, civic literacy, workplace literacy, financial literacy and media literacy (Ntiri, 200%). Whether it is taking the GED online starting in 2014, or completing applications for entry-level positions or making choices for program selections on the TV with a variety of controls, the challenge is formidable. In short, even after gaining the "basic" literacy skills offered in community literacy programs, Latonia and Alphonse will require more skills to be fully equipped to compete in a global economy (Ntiri, 2009a). They will need more skills to positively influence their families' lives and to become fully engaged stakeholders in their communities. …

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