"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.).

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Legitimate Language

The more I read of America’s Perfect Storm, the more unconvinced I felt.  I understand the report is framed from the urging of a historical, economical, and political context, but who really understands what needs to be accomplished to “reclaim the American dream” as Kirsch/ETS proposes? Isn’t this as complex an answer as our rapidly evolving population and world? As educators are we always confident we’re giving our students exactly what they need? It seemed to relate back to the belief that knowledge can be imparted despite continuous change or, the formula, if we all do x [e.g. NCLB], then it will increase y [not, ha!]. Why would we expect to see scores go up when the same standardizations are being used to assess the changing landscape? It seems simple to compare world rankings and point to our deficits but have our evaluative methods culturally evolved to get an accurate picture of how we’re really doing?  Time and time again it feels like we’re stuck in a paradigm of one-size-fits-all despite the diversity of our population.
One paragraph of the report was particularly alarming:
Interestingly, college graduates with weak literacy and numeracy proficiencies were much more likely than their more highly skilled peers to be underemployed…less than half of employed four-year college graduates whose prose proficiency placed them in a Level 1, and only a slight majority of those in Level 2, were working in college-labor market occupations (p.17)
I sense it’s a major red flag that four-year college graduates could also be categorized at a level 1 and 2 prose proficiency?

I found solace in Jank’s chapter, Turning to Literacy.  I appreciated her honest account of how deep the English language is tied to power and how cultural identity can be conceded by the influence of the “legitimate language”. But who decides legitimacy?  I couldn’t help but wonder about the identity struggles of those who were tested, categorized, and reported on in America’s Perfect Storm. Jank points out that all educators in diverse communities face the same issues as the English teachers in South Africa. So, is our task to lead learners through critical examinations of legitimate language? I imagine Freire would say so!


  1. I agree - I am unconvinced by "America's Perfect Storm." Also, I want to point out that ETS is the company behind the SAT, Virginia's SOL tests, and a bunch of other standardized testing - so it is in that company's interest to promote a "one-size-fits-all" approach, which you rightly note doesn't work!

    Furthermore, the report was published in 2007, before the 'Great Recession,' so the economic landscape has changed considerably since then.

  2. Lindsey, you (and Seth) raise good concerns for sure. But let's remember that, like it or not, the market place does decide which literacies are legitimate (or privileged). Since we are all part of this truth regime, we have to strive for ways to get enough distance (like through genealogy and critical discourse analysis) to see the deeper and distal forces at work, or get close enough (through open ended interviews and observation) to understand the "other's" perspectives and discourses. Both the critical; and the socio-cultural are methods for "unlearning in order to learn." B.


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