"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Sunday, January 27, 2013


As I read the two chapters in Belfiore, I had to smile over the descriptions of the way employees resisted the efforts to get them to document processes and conform to best practices as dictated by a "form" drawn up by an "expert" who had probably never spent an hour in their shoes - on the floor of a busy, loud, and hectic production facility. While I am a novice in the field/discipline of education - and therefore largely illiterate of various education theories -  I do have a frame of reference from managerial literature. I was just exiting with my MBA when "Six Sigma" managerial practices were hitting their stride. One of the things that continues to amaze me is that in the overheated frenzy to produce control over every aspect of production, thereby ensuring the greatest possible margin of profit, we forget we are working with human beings. 

In case you are not familiar with Six Sigma, a few of its key premises are:

  • Continuous efforts to achieve stable and predictable process results (i.e., reduce process variation) of vital importance to business success 
  • Manufacturing and business processes have characteristics that can be measured, analyzed, improved and controlled.
  • Achieving sustained quality improvement requires commitment from the entire organization, particularly from top-level management.
I particularly like the second bullet - it communicates clearly that total automation would be the ideal production scenario, in lieu of that, human beings must be made to conform to machines as much as is possible. 

As a counterpoint to the managerial approaches seen in the private sector, theories on the management of public bureaucracies have acknowledged the power of the "street-level" bureaucrat. Street level bureaucrat, coined by Michael Lipsky, refers to the power of persons who actually implement policy and procedures to thwart the effectiveness of the policy. (I think of the person behind the counter at the DMV, or the one on the phone who transfers you continually while you are trying to find an answer for a utility charge.)

The point being that these individuals are able to "resist" the red-tape and loss of control in their day-to-day jobs by simply not moving, or not moving very fast. Private sector employees may have more to fear if they resist this loss of autonomy, so their resistance may be more subtle. Nevertheless, it is there. It seems to me that the problems of resistance in each environment have to do with need for persons to feel, well like humans, valued, I guess.    

So, what does this have to do with literacy? As we swing from one end of the pendulum to the other in the struggle over power relationships within work environments (public and private) and theories about how and why they occur, can't we just sit down and listen to one another, and maybe even ourselves? I really puzzled over the closing paragraphs of chapter two (pg 100) in Belfiore. Even for a workplace educator, fear overrides efficacy.  


  1. Susan, I've not heard of Lipsky's street level bureaucrat theories, but I have sure met that person at the DMV! Six Sigmna is an exquisite lens for thinking about what Foucault calls "corporeal control" or deep "capillary" control of the body through policy.To the extent the State can control its citizens at that level, it can avoid the use of raw force. OK, so this is giving Six Sigma a rather harsh connotation: the method of TYRANTS!! I don't go that far, but, on the other hand, I think I can "feel" on my body the capillary pressures to "line up" at Triple Z. After all, that's why they call it a production "line" yes? :)
    I'm wondering why you were puzzled by Sue Folinsbee's last paragraph on p. 100--for me, this is the ethical caution for us so-called change agents: when we do this cultural work, we stir things up. Do we have a right to do this? But who ends up owning the risks?

    1. I suppose it would be more fair to say it is an internal puzzle for me - the activist in me simply wants to "blow the lid off" systemic injustice. I have lived long enough to understand the ethical problems with that, as you point out. But part of me still holds onto the hope that some hero might save the day and right all wrongs. Maybe I just wanted to see the educational expert save the day... wrong genre!
      : )


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.