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A Question to My Colleagues in the Field

October 31, 2013

One thing that I have noticed through working with adult literacy instructors over the years is that their definition of literacy education seems to be limited to the specific content and procedures outlined in GED review books, and their practice of GED instruction seems to be limited to photo copying lessons for students to complete, tracking attendance and facilitating the rote memorization of mathematics procedures to students.  I believe that this is partially because our students want to “pass the math” and have a very narrow focus themselves, and because adult literacy is often housed in programs that do not have education as their primary mission, and because adult literacy educators often report to supervisors who are not educators themselves. 


Adult literacy instructors are often people with servant hearts, but limited resources, who are trying to turn water into wine.  I have seen this, and heard teachers discuss this in workshops in Ohio and other states.  My question to my colleagues in the field (who have come in through many paths, and stayed because of their commitment to education) is this:  Will we continue to allow our students and circumstances to define literacy education for us, or will we expand our definitions to include all of the knowledge and skills our students need to be successful?  
If our definition of education is limited to a brief, and somewhat shallow overview of content, how will we ever really develop our students into lifelong learners who are able to obtain family sustaining employment, to support and advocate for their children’s education, and to actively participate in our democracy?  How do we develop critical thinkers if our instructional strategies do not require our students to use critical thinking skills?  How do we encourage our students to practice literacy outside of the classroom if we never set the expectation that they should?  How can we transform our students into lifelong learners if we ourselves don’t see them as being capable of higher-level learning? 
If you do just one thing this week, think about all of the things that you would like your students to be able to do, and ask yourself, “Is my current definition of education broad enough to help my students prepare for all of those things?”  


Dr. Carmine Stewart


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