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A Pragmatic Look at Hard-to-Serve and Ill-Served
Posted by Laura McLoughlin on March 31, 2021 in categoryFacts & Research

In the Forum section of the current issue of ProLiteracy’s research journal Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and NumeracyJeff Zacharakis takes a pragmatic look at Erik Jacobson’s article “There Are No Hard-to-Serve Learners, Only Ill-Served Ones.” 


In his analysis, Zacharakis relies on firsthand knowledge of the adult literacy field to examine Jacobson’s use of “ill-served,” because, from his experience, adult education facilities and the resources available to each are not “one size fits all.” 


Read an excerpt from Zacharakis’ analysis here: 


Dr. Jacobson’s analysis of hard to serve is well founded, especially from an academic and theoretical perspective, yet I am left wanting. Is the solution to merely change the language, the terminology of the legislation, or the terminology used by policy makers as well as practitioners? Are these adults hard to serve or ill served? When I first read his essay, I was struck by the quality of the foundational literature used in Jacobson’s analysis, and quite frankly, I not only understood his argument but was also in agreement that the phrase hard to serve was pejorative, reflecting a deficit model. But as I read it again and again, I started to place myself in the shoes of the adult education center directors, coordinators, and teachers I’ve worked with in Kansas and the Midwest over the last 15 years, and started to question Jacobson’s use of ill served. At first I considered writing an academic response, fully supported by scholarly references, but as I gathered articles and reports I determined that this type of response was hollow, missing the essence of what I have seen and experienced. So, I read Jacobson’s essay again, then decided to write this pragmatic response relying upon what I have seen, heard, and experienced. In other words, this response is more anecdotal than scholarly, primarily based on my personal experience and conversations with a few directors I’ve known for years. 


The adult learning centers I have visited cannot be looked upon as one size fits all. Some centers are in modern, well-appointed buildings; some are in repurposed storefronts in older strip malls. One I visited was in the old city hall, others in the basements of libraries, and a few in correctional facilities. Some have easy access by bus and public transportation while others require a car. Most all reflect the community they serve, the resources available, the proximity to the students they serve, and the leadership acumen of the center directors. 


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