"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.).

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Big "A"

The "a-ha" moment I had in the last class was about the assumptions in those conversations. It is very interesting and eye-opening to see what the deep assumptions imbedded in those communications and how they affect the content and forms of literacy.

To my understanding, the assumption of a conversation is slight different from the assumption we usually talk about. For example, in my TA class, we talks about the assumptions of different ethical reasoning lenses. The assumption of utilitarianism is that it is ethical to promote the greatest benefit for the majority while the assumption of libertinism is that it is ethical to ensure of freedom of each individual. The different assumptions of “ethical” lead to different criteria of the right behaviors in those theories. However, according to our discussion in last class, when we are discussing ethical principles, we share the assumption that there are ethical principles. The reorganization of the topic is the deepest assumption that allows people participate in the conversation. If someone has no idea what ethics is what ethical lenses are, it is impossible for him to understand the conversation and offer his opinion.

I find this point genius because it points out that what tranquilizes a person is not holding an opposite opinion as a minority, but having no knowledge about the topic. It might be difficult to be the minority in a debate, where your idea is rejected or challenged by others. You may feel stressful in those situations and struggle to defend your stand. However, it is much more frustrating when you have no clue about the topic at all and are not able to form your own opinion on it. When you are the minority, you can, at lease, get involved, understand others’ word and think consciously. But when you are ignorant about the assumption of the topic, you may feel stupid because you cannot understand what others’ are saying and cannot reason for yourself, which is extremely disempowering. In this situation, you are automatically expelled from the conversation.  

Realizing how much power is associated with the assumption of the topic, I believe it is of primary importance to inform each participant with the topic in advance when facilitating and encouraging a conversation. It is significant to make sure that each person is listening and speaking during the conversation, but the foundation of that is the each one’s acknowledgement of the basic assumption, the topic. If the person does not know the topic, there is no way for him to take or offer anything no matter how intelligent he is.  One example is the class I taught last Thursday. In the beginning of the class, I planned a discussion about the readings of ethical reasoning under my assumption that all of them should have done the reading and known the topic. However, the classroom was awkwardly quiet. I thought it was because they did not understand my question or that they were afraid what they thought were not correct. So I rephrased the question, and ensured them that there was no single correct answer and I just wanted to get them to talk about the reading. However, when one student admitted that she did not do the reading, I realized that I was not going to get the conversation going if most of them were ignorant about the topic. To fulfill the goal of the class, I changed my instructional plan and allowed sometime for them to read the articles and discuss them in small groups. After familiarizing themselves with the topic, they became much more involved in the conversation and had much to offer to the topic.

Based on what have been discussed, one significant issue deserves our attention as adult literacy educators is that, instead of just teaching people how to think, we are responsible to show people what to think. Exposing learners to problems may be the most empowering thing we can do for them. Once they recognize the topic and share the assumption, they will be able to conduct the conversation and develop their thinking. This also ties with our class project beautifully, which is to disclose, but not to fix. Once we reveal the issue and provide people a chance to talk, they will be able to figure things out based on their experience and knowledge.


  1. Anne, you've gone deep into the idea of "basic assumption" and your example - that "we share the assumption that there are ethical principles" is dead on target. I like how you struggle to find language to get at these deep hidden things, like "the assumption of the topic." I've been thinking about using the term "double dualism", because there is a "surface" dualism (e.g., utilitarianism versus libertinism", and then the double loop dualism: that all invited to this discourse understand and care about ethincs. That assumption is embedded deep down in "our" subcounsciousness somewhere (and perhaps, for "others" it isn't!)

  2. Annie, thank you for sharing this. You are very perceptive and I always feel like you like give me a "fresh" view of things. You are a wonderful communicator! susangale


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