“Naming the Elephant”: Literacy Classism, Human Rights and the Need for a New Conversation.
Posted by Laura McLoughlin on November 10, 2021 in categoryFacts & Research

In the current issue of the research journal, B. Allan Quigley from S. Francis Xavier University questions why, as other marginalized groups have gained a voice in society, it is still acceptable to ignore adults with low literacy as a problem that remains among the lowest priorities to fix.  

The long history of prejudice toward low literate adults has created a class system that has rendered this demographic "invisible and voiceless,” Quigley states. 

Read an excerpt from Quigley’s article about how the conversation needs to shift to change how low literate adults are viewed in society, which would lead to more funding and resources from the policy makers: 

After almost 50 years as an ALE practitioner, administrator, government worker and academic, I ask a larger question: "Why is our learner population still assumed to be a ‘societal problem’ needing to be ‘solved’?" What other adult education program is seen as a "problem to be solved?" My research leads me to the conclusion the answers lie not in budget meetings, but in the class structure we have inherited from history. Our "elephant in the room" is the hegemony of literacy classism.  

The Ladder of Resources and Prestige 

We have a "ladder of resource allocations and prestige" in governmental and postsecondary institutions that consciously or unconsciously mirrors our class structure. Accordingly, adult ALE programs are typically placed on the "lowest rung" of funding and prestige. Meanwhile, in the world of North America’s thousands of literacy volunteer tutors and administrators, the ongoing search for funding ranges from government to charities, to bake sales. How can this be understood? 

As colleagues and I have discussed elsewhere:    

An invisible caste system exists in North American society, one that is burdened by wage inequalities, educational discrepancies, government policies and is forgotten in most university and college adult education degree programs...Another term for this ‘caste system;’ is social class, whereby lower ‘castes’ are typically the under-educated, under-employed or unemployed low-wage earners (Zacharakis et. al., 2021, p. 420).   

There is a growing viewpoint that resource allocations for ALE are merely the tip of a societal stigma, a viewpoint I believe should be seen as "literacy classism. If we are to see any real change in our field, we need a new discussion—a discussion that advocates for human rights for adults living with low literacy in our programs and in our society. 

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