Monday, December 8, 2014

Barriers to Access

Again, our professor asked us to pose ourselves a question, and then to write an annotation of an article that might begin to help us answer the question. This time, I chose to focus on barriers to access. There is an entire body of work, it turns out, related to barriers to access and I can't get through enough of the literature fast enough. It's fascinating, this whirlpool of psychology and sociology and anthropology, of organizational systems, education theory, and policy.

Question: Should Adult Education practitioners concern themselves with participants’ barriers to access to educational activities, especially when those barriers may lie within the scope of social services?

Tilleczek, K., & Campbell, V. (2013). Barriers to youth literacy: Sociological and Canadian insights. Language and Literacy, 15(2), 77–100.

Tilleczek and Campbell, of University of Prince Edward Island, write concerning literacy deficits among young adults in Canada and the barriers to access and long-term success low-literacy individuals face as they transition into adult responsibility.  Although there is a body of work describing the level of literacy (or illiteracy, as it were) among Canadian youth, the authors assert that there is little studies of the barriers to literacy.  This paper attempts to address this gap in the literature and “examine how public education and youth literacy service systems must redress youth literacy and how these failures are socially organized” (Tilleczek & Campbell, 2013, p.94).   The authors conducted a review of sociological literature, domestically and internationally, on the topic of youth literacy, educational attainment, and workforce participation.  This review is further informed by interviews conducted with both youth and service providers, with sampling methods designed to account for diversity of experience, which “provided experiences and perspectives on the meanings of literacy and described the way in which they encountered barriers to literacy” (ibid, p. 82).  The final analysis provided by this paper included socio-demographics describing the sample, the common definition of literacy that rose among the interviewees, and the barriers to literacy described.  Indeed, the barriers could be classified into five major categories: culture/social, individual or self, family, work, and school.  From both the literature and the interviews, socioeconomic status, family circumstances, and limited supportive services from the K-12 system seem to be the most prevalent barriers to access and long-term success.  The authors conclude that “youth literacy holds complex and shifting meanings and skill groupings”(ibid., p. 95) and that youth and practitioners alike express value for attainment of literacy skills for long-term success.  The authors continue, “Youth literacy research could move past pathological individual foci on singular measurement which only reports trends… The literature and interviews here demonstrate the need for continued study” (ibid.)  Implied in this conclusion is a call to action to practitioners, that understanding the barriers is not enough, but that a redress of systemic deficiencies must occur within the existing systems.  This article, and this question, is of particular interest to me because my current work in youth and adult literacy is situated within the workforce development context, in the not-for-profit, social services sector.  Its implied call-to-action affirms our unique approach while emphasizing the need for continued scholarly research as the foundation of best practices.

Jack Mezirow

Again, we were asked to profile a figure in adult education history, and this time I chose Jack Mezirow. Like with Freire, I felt he was someone I was supposed to already know about, but that I'd missed him somehow. They probably talked about him in one of the psych lectures I missed, covered him on the pop quiz I missed, the one I had to negotiate with my professor for. I felt that I probably knew something of him then, because I so desperately needed to do well in that class, but promptly forgot him when I realized my professor would drop the lowest quiz grade. (I was still navigating towards andragogy, folks.)

Like with Friere, I was also sad to realize that Mezirow was so recently passed away. I felt I'd truly missed Freire and Mezirow, like I wasted time. I saw Chomsky talk once at Iowa State. He didn't talk about linguistics at all, talked about the war, but I felt connected to the body of knowledge not just by abstraction but by physical proximity. I've come to realize that this feeling, or rather the view this feeling stems from, is a bit dehumanizing. In writing these profiles, I was reminded that Freire and Mezirow were real men who loved their wives and whose wives loved them. This truth tempers my tendency to pedestal these men for their ideas, but instead be thankful for their contributions and be hopeful of what each person can do in their own lifetime.

Jack Mezirow is best known for his work developing the theory of transformational learning.  Mezirow studied Social Sciences and Education at the University of Minnesota, and completed his Ed.D. Degree in Adult Education at the University of California at Los Angeles.  He held a number of positions at a variety of institutions before coming to the Teachers College at Columbia University in 1968.  There, he established and directed the Adult Education Guided Independent Study (AEGIS), which has since been replicated internationally. (“Class of 2003: Jack Mezirow,” 2003)
Mezirow began developing the theory of transformational learning upon his wife’s return to undergraduate studies as an older student.  Prior to this, Mezirow is said to have been heavily influenced by John Dewey and progressive education, Thomas Kuhn and “paradigms”, and Paolo Freire’s conscientization.  Perhaps Mezirow was influenced most notably by the work of Jurgen Habermas, who advocated for the unification of the social sciences, and Roger Gould, who wrote about adult psychological development through analysis of childhood experiences.  After observing his wife’s transformative experience and upon reflecting on his previous influences, Mezirow conducted a study of the barriers and facilitating factors for success for women returning to undergraduate programs.  He identified ten stages of change and presented this work in an article published in 1978 in Adult Education Quarterly, titled, “Perspective Transformation”.  (Levine, 2014)
Mezirow further developed his theory and presented an updated version is his 1991 book, Transformative Dimensions in Adult Learning, adding an eleventh stage, and described the process as perspective transformation rather than personal transformation. (Kitchenham, 2012)  He also included a “more precise constructivist view of transformative learning and argued that ‘meaning exists within ourselves rather than in external forms such as books and that personal meanings that we attribute to our experience are acquired and validated through human interaction and communication’” (Mezirow as cited in ibid, p. 1659).
At Teachers College, he might be most warmly remembered for AEGIS, as the comments in Levine’s in memoriam piece suggest.  AEGIS created space for practitioners across fields to engage the process of transformational learning for themselves and for specific application within their fields.  Levine quotes one of Mezirow’s doctoral students,
“Jack was a romantic, in the sense that he truly believed that if you put people with all those differences in a room, they’d negotiate the powerful differentials of their mindsets and backgrounds and engage in a meaningful dialogue,” says Jeanne Bitterman, Senior Lecturer in the AEGIS program and Mezirow’s former doctoral student. “Our program is still constructed around that outlook, though we’ve learned over the years that it takes expertise to assist those conversations.” (Levine, 2014, para. 17)
Mezirow’s contribution to the field has been immeasurable, not only in that he has served to train leaders and practitioners within the field, but that he has successfully integrated theoretical frameworks across psychology, education, social action, and even human resource development.  His books include Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning (1991), Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood (with Associates, 1990), and Last Gamble on Education (with Darkenwald and Knox, Adult Education Association, 1975). He received the Frandson Award for Outstanding Publication in Continuing Education for Fostering Critical Reflection and the Okes Award for Outstanding Research in Adult Education for Last Gamble on Education. He has authored a number of other works and has worked and consulted for a variety of other organizations as premier scholar and educator in the field of Adult Education.  He passed away in September 2014.


Class of 2003: Jack Mezirow. (2003). Retrieved from

Kitchenham, P. A. (2012). Jack Mezirow on Transformative Learning. In P. D. N. M. Seel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning (pp. 1659–1661). Springer US. Retrieved from

Levine, J. (2014, October 11). Jack Mezirow, who transformed the field of adult learning, dies at 91. Retrieved from

Friday, October 10, 2014

The individual or the society?

Our professor asked us to pose ourselves a question, and then to write an annotation of an article that might begin to help us answer the question. I used a question that I read in our textbook:

“Should we be responding to the individual learner or to the issues and concerns of society?  Or do we somehow try to do both?  Furthermore, if we consolidate our efforts to address the needs of society, is our task to support the status quo or to challenge it?” (Merriam & Brockett, 2007, p.89-90)

Merriam, S. B., & Brockett, R. G. (2007). The Profession and practice of adult education: An introduction. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

It's an impossible question to answer of course, and I am prone to existential crises:
what is good and what is right and what is ethical? And by what measure do we decide?

Although I am unable to answer the original question, I am intrigued by Holst's redefining of training to include both "mastery of action" and "mastery of principle" and I wonder of myself as a teacher, especially as I teach ESL. My students are desperate for the practical, for the quick-fix English they need in their everyday lives and I think I am caving in to their demands. Am I cheating them by requiring less and less mastery of principle?

Holst, J. D. (2009). Conceptualizing training in the radical adult education tradition. Adult Education Quarterly, 59(4), 318–334. doi:10.1177/0741713609334140

John D. Holst, Associate Professor in the Department of Leadership, Policy and Administration at University of St. Thomas, challenges the field of adult education to consider the pedagogical strategies of radical social movement organizations (SMO) through a historical and philosophical review of primary and secondary sources from the Citizenship Schools, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Landless Movement in Brazil, and the Recovered Factory Movement in Argentina. Holst argues that the concept of training has been narrowed through neoliberal economic influence to include only “mastery of action”, where a worker becomes skilled in order to perform a job and produce profits.  The democratic and participatory pedagogical practice of SMOs employed a broader definition that integrates “mastery of principles and mastery of action in a way that sees these two in dialectal relationship” (Holst, 2009, p. 323) by empowering disenfranchised individuals to become full agents of their circumstances.  However, while Holst criticizes neoliberalism for glorifying profits and minimizing the worker, he also asserts a position that seemingly promotes social movement as first and foremost.  He writes that pedagogical activities were conducted “in the service of the movements’ progressive, radical, or revolutionary goals” (p. 324) and  are “explicitly oriented toward serving the needs of specific sectors of society” (p. 353).   The irony in Holst’s writing is that while he seeks to advocate for the underprivileged, he assumes that the desires of the individual are and should be, not for the individual, but for the collaborative.  Although I would agree that prevailing neoliberal perspectives create a disjointed, competitive culture at the expense of self-fulfillment, I am not sure that movement-centered education adequately addresses the needs of the individual either.  Nonetheless, Holst’s view is useful in presenting an alternate to neoliberalism that is firstly participatory in nature and secondly has already proven itself in helping individuals achieve a better quality of life. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Paulo Freire

For a long time now, I've seen folks quote Freire though I never knew exactly who he was or why he was so famous. I'm not sure why, by in my mind I think I had melded him with Pablo Neruda: South American, wise, quotable, from a time before I was born? Anyway, I eventually realized he had a lot to do with community organizing and education, and I figured I should read more about him. I never quite got to it until this semester, when we were assigned to write a brief profile on a figure in Adult Education history.

Here's what I wrote:

Paulo Freire is best known for his work in literacy education for poverty-stricken Brazil and for the development of critical philosophy in the field of education.  Freire was born in 1921 in the city of Recife in Northeast Brazil and grew up in the global economic crisis of the 1930s.  Freire began teaching in an elementary school while still in high school, but left teaching and went on to pursue a career in law.  While in law school, he met his wife, Elza Maia Costa de Oliveira, who was herself an elementary school teacher.  Freire left law and returned to education.  When he told his wife that he was leaving law, she replied, “I was hoping for that.  You’re an educator” (Freire, as cited in Lownd, n.d.)
Freire career advanced quickly.  In 1946, he was appointed director at Pernambuco Department of Education and Culture of SESI, a government-operated education agency, funded by a consortium of local industries and charged with assisting workers and their families (Lownd, n.d.).  In 1957, he became the Director of the Division of Research and Planning.  In 1959 he submitted his PhD thesis, “Present-day Education in Brazil,” and was appointed as Professor of History and Philospohy of Education at the School of Fine Arts.  In 1961, Freire became the Director of Culture and Recreation of the City of Recife’s Department of Archives and Culture, and in 1963 he was appointed by the governor to the “Pioneer Council Members” Department of Archives and Culture. (Lownd, n.d.)
During this time, Freire also began developing the concept of conscientisation, “a discourse of transformative hope; a hope against the evidence that recognises the obstacles before it and yet grows in strength in spite of these” (Webb, 2010, p 335).  This process came through the literacy and the study of language in a practical and socially relevant context (“A Brief Biography of Paulo Freire,” n.d.).  This process was enacted in “cultural circles”, and in 1962, Freire was commissioned by the Brazilian government to pilot the program; in 45 days 300 farmworkers had learned to read and write.  Because of the success of the program, the program was expanded, but the 1964 coup d’etat ended the educational activities and Freire was first sentenced to prison and later exiled as a traitor to Brazil. (“A Brief Biography of Paulo Freire,” n.d.)
From 1964 to 1969, Freire lived in Chile where we worked in Adult Education with organizations focused on agricultural and land reform.  From there, he came to Cambridge, Massachusetts as a visiting professor at Harvard.  In 1970, he published his first book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  Then he began working with the World Council of Churches Geneva, Switzerland.  Finally, he was able to return to Brazil in 1980 where he joined the Worker’s Party and supervised their adult literacy projects.  In 1988, Freire became the Minister of Education for the city of Sao Paolo. He continued to work for the good of Brazil and received a number of awards preceding his death in 1997.
Freire’s contribution to education has been monumental, both in terms of scholarly work as well as in the number of individuals who directly benefitted from his work.  The 1960s and 70s were a tumultuous time in Latin America, fraught with severe economic disparity, political unrest, and seemingly contagious coup d’etats.  Freire’s work was born out of the tensions that existed at the time and continues to be relevant to literacy and education, for both students as well as educators.  Worldwide, literacy and access to education continues to be a privilege of the wealthy, though some countries have made better provisions for public education than others.  Not only did Freire advocate for access to education, but he offered a theoretical framework for how education should be approached in a socio-political context focused on justice and inclusion.  As English and Stengel write, “How did Freire help students break the cycle of fear?  He did so by emphasizing the social value of learning and the discipline of cultural reflection” (2010, p. 537).  This work is of particular interest to me for a variety of reasons, primary of which is my work with disadvantaged and displaced workers and other vulnerable populations. 


A brief biography of Paulo Freire. (n.d.). Retrieved from

English, A., & Stengel, B. (2010). Exploring Fear: Rousseau, Dewey, and Freire on Fear and Learning. Educational Theory, 60(5), 521–542. doi:10.1111/j.1741-5446.2010.00375.x

Lownd, P. (n.d.). A brief biography of Paulo Freire. Retrieved from

Webb, D. (2010). Paulo Freire and “the need for a kind of education in hope.” Cambridge Journal of Education, 40(4), 327–339. doi:10.1080/0305764X.2010.526591

Friday, September 19, 2014

"Navigating toward Andragogy"

Below is the first annotation I ever wrote.  I didn't know what an annotation was, and I had to look through quite a few examples before I could figure out what I was supposed to do.  For this assignment, I was to choose an article from a scholarly journal that dealt with an issue in the wider field of adult education. I choose D. S. Murray's "Navigating Toward Andragogy," cited below.

This proved an interesting choice for me, not only in a professional context (i.e., "Am I really being helpful in how I speak to my students?") but for personal reflection.  I have all the markings of a poor student: I don't sit still very well, very impatient, and not at all punctual.  When I was in fifth grade, I spent at least two days a week in detention for not bringing in my homework on time (or at all).  As I read the samples from Murray's interviews, I flashed back to my own undergraduate experience, all the times I asked for an extension, attempted to excuse myself for missed pop quizzes.  I wondered if this time around would be any different, if I'd approached "andragogy" at all.  I wanted to believe I had, I hoped I had.

Murray, D. S. (2014). Navigating toward andragogy: Coordination and management of student–professor conversations. Western Journal of Communication, 78(3), 310–336. doi:10.1080/10570314.2013.866687

Dr. Darrin Murray, graduate of Fielding Graduate University and adjunct professor at Layola Marymount University and California State University, presents qualitative research concerning definition and classification of student-professor conversations that drives andragogical learning among students. Citing limited research in the area of dyadic communication, especially regarding learning strategies, within the student-professor relationship, Murray explains that research related to the transition between pedagogy and andragogy is undervalued in the field of Communication Studies because it is often perceived as irrelevant.  However, he asserts the research is relevant because pedagogy and andragogy exist on a continuum and transitions are enacted through communicative acts between students and instructors.  Through interviews, related documentation, and ethnographic observations, Murray assembles recalled conversations, as well as collaborative analysis of the conversations, from students and professors.  He finds that student-professor conversations are often filled with friction due to professors’ expectation that students will demonstrate adult-like learning behaviors and students’ dual desire to utilize both pedagogical (i.e. teacher-directed, authoritarian) and andragogical (i.e., self-directed, intrinsically motivated) learning strategies.  Murray categorizes professors’ responses into explicit and implicit interventions that push the student towards the desired behavior.  He offers his findings as a launching point for others in the field to continue considering the intersection of andragogy and communication.  This work is of interest to me as an adult educator and program administrator because it explores relationships beyond the classroom, and provides a framework for analyzing instructors’ responses to student behaviors.  Although the pedagogy-andragogy continuum suggests exclusivity of andragogical over pedagogical strategies, instead of suggesting a balance of the two, Murray’s findings are useful to explain differing expectations within student-instructor relationships, and begins to develop a case study on the resulting communicative acts.  This research also affirms a holistic approach to programming that not only provides content instruction, but coaching and mentoring as well.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Longwood Gardens

Michael's mother came to visit and we went to Longwood Gardens for the afternoon, after that the doctor visit that inspired the last post.  Because I was apparently feeling poetic that day, I also wrote a poem about Longwood Gardens, though it took me a few more days to put together.  I'm still not entirely pleased with it, but I wanted to share it here.

There is a place in Southeastern Pennsylvania
where a man with more money than he knew what to do with
decided to plant all the plants he could find
And hire as many men and women add he could to tend the plants
and be stewards of truth and beauty in his new Eden.
And several decades later, maybe a hundred years--
I don't really know the history--
I paid $18 at a counter at the front gate
for a chance, to see the man's enduring collection.
I am thankful for this man who did not drink his fortune,
who did not take Gatsby as his model,
but instead dedicated himself to planting peaches,
training bonsais,
and collecting palms,
if only for his own pleasure.
I am thankful because I am losing my battle against cynicism,
and I am beginning to suspect that what men say about God might be true:
He is old, useless, and irrelevant.
But here, my tired spirit rises and sings,
joining the chorus of creation.
God loves me, God loves us.
In fact, he is lavish and exaggerated and over the top,
what with these ridiculous colors, fuzzy plants, and oversized lily pads.
The problem isn't that God is dead, but that we aren't paying attention.
It shouldn't take billionaires and patience through east coast rage-traffic,
but, unfortunately,
it does take that.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Marriage and Doctor Visits

Whoever came up with those vows about
"in sickness and in health"
must have known a thing or two about life and living.
We took those vows because, being intoxicated with love,
we actually believed keeping them would be easy.
It's easy to make promises when you're in love.
And at first, when love is hot and vows are new,
you find a way,
even amongst grocery lists and loads of laundry and unpaid electric bills,
You find time for kisses.
But sometimes the mundane and routine turns overwhelming,
kisses turn stale, even bitter
and in our case, the long parade of doctors and lab techs began.
Surely it's just hormones they told us,
or anemia,
And they started treatments and recommendations and more labwork to confirm.
And as the overwhelming bits turned to definite chaos,
kisses became another unfinished to-do at the bottom of the list,
Deprioritized after doctor visits and phone calls to the insurance company.
And then they found the tumor
--benign, non-cancerous, yet completely disruptive--
and they agreed on the depression and the anxiety,
and we entered a phase of guess-test-revise prescriptions, until

When I took those vows, I thought we'd get a good two or maybe three decades of "in health."
We'd get to practice,
bringing soup to bedside over the flu,
and when the time came for whatever the end looks like,
whatever "in sickness" looks like,
we'd be well-rehearsed.
But whoever came up with those vows must have known about people like us,
People who need vows because making promises is easy but keeping them is hard.

That's what I was thinking about today,
watching you rebutton your shirt as the doctor put away his stethoscope,
telling you that everything looked great, telling me it was my turn up on the table.
Whoever came up with those vows must have known that sometimes young people get sick,
and sometimes husband and wife get sick together,
and sometimes love and marriage means being faithful to doctor visits.
I was thankful for the grace in those vows,
because the errands and the bills almost drove us apart,
but these doctor visits put us back together,
Slowly, with each new prescription and therapy,
the doctors taught us how to care, how to be selfless despite great personal suffering, and how to persevere.