Adult Literacy Education and Community Development

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Linkping University Library]On: 03 October 2014, At: 05:52Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

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    Adult Literacy Education andCommunity DevelopmentJennifer E. Subban PhD a ba Urban Affairs and Public Administration , WrightState Universityb New Directions community development project,and Community Development Work Study ProgramPublished online: 22 Sep 2008.

    To cite this article: Jennifer E. Subban PhD (2007) Adult Literacy Education andCommunity Development, Journal of Community Practice, 15:1-2, 67-90, DOI:10.1300/J125v15n01_04

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  • Adult Literacy Educationand Community Development

    Jennifer E. Subban, PhD

    SUMMARY. This article responds to the concern that low-literatecommunity residents often are marginalized in community developmentprocesses. They are unable to give voice to their concerns, interests andtheir vision for their community. Perspectives and approaches in the fieldsof adult literacy education and community development are explored todetermine how adult literacy education might be used to further the goalsof community development. While there are parallels between thesetwo disciplines, there are also barriers to overcome if an integratedapproach to dealing with community issues is realized. This article re-flects an interest in advancing a comprehensive approach to communitydevelopment in communities with limited economic resources, low-levelliteracy and limited access. It seeks to address the issue of whether adultliteracy education programs have a meaningful role to play in commu-nity development. The strengths of participatory approaches such as

    Jennifer E. Subban is an Assistant Professor of Urban Affairs and Public Adminis-tration, Wright State University. She serves as principal investigator on New Directionscommunity development project, and Community Development Work Study Program.

    Address correspondence to: Professor Jennifer E. Subban, Urban Affairs and PublicAdministration, Wright State University, 3640 Colonel Glenn Highway, Dayton, OH,45435 (E-mail: jennifer.subban@wright.edu).

    The author acknowledges Alma H. Young for her support on this and other relatedprojects.

    [Haworth co-indexing entry note]: Adult Literacy Education and Community Development. Subban,Jennifer E. Co-published simultaneously in the Journal of Community Practice (The Haworth Press, Inc.) Vol.15, No. 1/2, 2007, pp. 67-90; and: Interdisciplinary Community Development: International Perspectives(ed: Alice K. Johnson Butterfield and Yossi Korazim-Krsy) The Haworth Press, 2007, pp. 67-90. Single ormultiple copies of this article are available for a fee from The Haworth Document Delivery Service[1-800-HAWORTH, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (EST). E-mail address: docdelivery@haworthpress.com].

    Available online at http://com.haworthpress.com 2007 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.

    doi:10.1300/J125v15n01_04 67

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    mailto:subban@wright.edumailto:docdelivery@haworthpress.comhttp://com.haworthpress.com

  • community-based literacy, and community development principles suchas collective action, shared values, participation, social justice, politicalawareness and action, comprehensiveness, empowerment, and learningand reflection, facilitate an interdisciplinary approach. doi:10.1300/J125v15n01_04 [Article copies available for a fee from The Haworth Docu-ment Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail address: Website: 2007 by TheHaworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]

    KEYWORDS. Community development, adult literacy, interdisciplinary,education, community transformation

    INTRODUCTION

    Individuals in the more developed countries pay little attention to theproblem of illiteracy because their countries have literacy rates that ex-ceed 99% (United Nations Development Programme [UNDP], 2003).The UNDP defines adult literacy rate as The percentage of people aged15 and above who can, with understanding, both read and write a short,simple statement related to their everyday life (pp. 354-355). In con-trast, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (2003) states that 14%of the adult population of the U.S. falls within the Below Basic category,with no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills. Besidesbeing incongruent, these measures conceal the distribution of individualswith low-level literacy skills across neighborhoods.

    Low-level literacy negatively affects a persons level of income, abilityto access to employment and institutions, and sense of self-worth. It alsorepresents a barrier to participation in community affairs in general, andcommunity development in particular. On one hand, limited literacy is astigma that can curtail resident input in community discussions anddecisions. On the other, economic status is a primary barrier to partici-pation in community development (Murphy & Cunningham, 2003). Moreaffluent community members tend to take over community organiza-tions and shape the development agenda. In addition, people of all in-come levels participate in community development up to the pointwhere the gains from doing so are greater than or equal to the costs(p. 114). If participation reduces the time available to earn an income,less affluent individuals are likely to relinquish their commitment.

    Articulating the link between literacy levels and community developmentbegs an important question for community development practitioners.

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  • How might practitioners meaningfully engage community memberswith low-level literacy skills in community development efforts? Thisquestion is particularly important because it examines the potential tolink adult literacy education and community development in interdisci-plinary practice. To answer this question, this article examines the liter-ature on adult literacy education, determines the primary perspectives inthe field, and highlights programmatic approaches that lend themselvesto interdisciplinary practice with community development. Second, itexamines literature on the field of community development, and extractsthe key principles/values that distinguish effective community develop-ment practice. Next, the article presents a critical analysis of the fields ofadult literacy education and community development to determine areas ofcompatibility and the barriers to linking the fields in interdisciplinarypractice. Scenarios and guidelines for interdisciplinary practice are pre-sented. This inquiry focuses on some of the theoretical and practicalapproaches to literacy that have potential to transform communities intomore viable, equitable and just living spaces.

    DEFINING ADULT LITERACY EDUCATION:THREE PERSPECTIVES

    The recent debate over whether to include Intelligent Design in sciencecurricula in U.S. schools is an example of how literacy education is con-structed. Intelligent Design rejects the theory that the origin of plant andanimal species is a result of natural selection, and advocates that a formof life vastly superior to that of humans designed them. This exampleshows that literacy, like other social phenomena, is imbued with mean-ings that differ from person to person, and from community to commu-nity (Graf, 1995). Decisions about how literacy is defined and practicedare subject to personal, cultural, historical, and political positions. Thisincreases the complexity of deconstructing literacy, which is, however anecessary endeavor in order to realize its interdisciplinary potential forcommunity development.

    In discussing the role of education, Fasheh (1990) outlines this po-tential. Accordingly, the role of education in community transformationrequires that education be informed by the needs of a community. Thisprocess must nurture feelings of self-worth, empowerment, and self-acceptance through engagement in concrete projects and programs thathave the potential to enhance life; the primary goal should be the devel-opment of human resources so the beneficiaries can, competently and

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  • creatively, perform necessary community functions. Networking, com-munication, and the exchange of ideas and experiences among groupsinvolved in various activities within the community are essential tocommunity transformation. The difficulty lies in the fact that these prin-ciples challenge existing social, economic and political structures. Whatemerges from this discussion of literacy and the quest to define it is thatliteracy is a process governed by a sense of purpose beyond being an endin itself (Wikeland & Reder, 1992). Supporting the discussion of therole that adult literacy education can play in community development isa brief review of Girouxs (1987) classification of three different per-spectives of literacy. These include: (1) functional literacy, (2) culturalliteracy, and (3) critical literacy. A fourth classification, participatoryliteracy, positions adult learners to shape the content and direction oftheir literacy experiences and presents an opportunity for interdisciplin-ary practice with community development.

    Four Different Perspectives on Literacy

    Within the U.S., functional literacy has been the traditional approach,focusing on the skills required to read, write and do calculations (Samant,1996). Teaching these skills is assumed to be a neutral processacultural,non-racial, non-gendered and apolitical (Street, 1984; 1995). In functionalliteracy programs, the relations of power mimic that of oppressive society:teachers know everything while students are empty vessels that come toteachers to be filled with knowledge. Teachers choose the methods andmaterials for instruction while students comply and adapt; teachers arethe subjects of the learning process while students are regarded asobjects (Freire, 2004). The texts used for instruction are imbued withmeanings that largely represent the perspectives of those who createthem (Marshall & Rossman, 1994). Students interpretation of thesetexts may differ from that of their instructors based on variables suchas gender, age, cultural and political context (Smith, 1987). However, inthis perspective, teachers are not likely to entertain alternative interpreta-tions or the deconstruction of texts.

    Generally, in the functional literacy perspective, the underlying struc-tural issues that result in low-level literacy are ignored. As a result,functional literacy is thought to provide a band-aid approach to issues oflow-level literacy. Without attention to what contributes to, or causessituations of low-level literacy, functional literacy programs inadver-tently blame those most in need of the skills being taught (Bhattacharyya,1991), and perpetuate the creation of deficit model programs. Considering

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  • individuals with limited skills to be unmotivated makes it easier to referto them as unworthy, an act, which exacerbates their feelings of isola-tion (Samant, 1996), and contributes to their alienation from the learningprocess. The critiques of functional literacy notwithstanding, the skillstaught in this approach benefit individuals in important ways, includingreduced social isolation, increased productivity and access, and theelimination of the stigma of illiteracy (Mace, 1994).

    The functional literacy approach urges consideration of perspectivesthat appreciate the context of the learners reality. Cultural literacybegins this process by recognizing the importance of culture in thelearning process (Freire & Macedo, 1987) and situating literacy prac-tices within the broader set of social relations that govern teachers andlearners. In doing so, cultural literacy attempts to bridge the gap betweensocially neutered definitions of functional literacy, and the cultural realitywithin which literacy experiences are grounded. In this scenario, func-tional literacy skills are taught within a cultural context that enables thelearner to read the words and interpret them using a cultural context(Heath, 1985). Giroux (1987) highlights the social dimensions of literacy,and shows that cultural and functional literacy are intricately linked. Assuch, the cultural perspective embraces the complexity of literacy andchallenges providers to ponder the question of whose culture should benurtured within literacy programs.

    On the continuum of literacy approaches, prescriptive cultural literacyproponents believe that mainstream culture must be nurtured in students;mainstream culture is akin to the requisite set of skills advocated for infunctional literacy. Labeling individuals knowledge of mainstreamculture as culturally deficient reproduces the hegemonic conception ofmainstream culture as primary. This view maintains relationships ofpower that marginalize communities on the fringes (Asante, 1991). Incontrast, pluralist cultural literacy proponents value the cultural infor-mation that learners bring to the classroom as important constituents oflearning, and consider culture essential to the construction of knowl-edge (Heath, 1985). Culture is also essential to how a community identi-fies and defines itself and its values (Bhattacharyya, 1995). Based on thepluralist position, privileging mainstream culture over the learners cul-ture can result in dissonance relative to the cultural norms of their livingenvironment. Some pluralists see the prescriptivists practice of literacyeducation as cultural hegemony with its processes of omission, distor-tion, and misrepresentation, particularly of the knowledge and cultureof people of non-western European origin (Shujaa, 1994). Overall, cul-tural literacy is important because it embraces a social component of

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  • the practice of literacy, and broadens the way literacy is defined andpracticed.

    Critical literacy addresses the relationship between the literacy expe-riences of individuals and communities and the power relations thatgovern them (Freire & Macedo, 1987). This approach embraces thegoals of empowerment and emancipation by helping learners develop acritical consciousness that allows them to analyze and challenge theoppressive nature of society and facilitate its transformation to a morejust, equitable and democratic one (McClaren, 1991). Critical literacyparticipants learn to decode texts, their ideological dimensions, as wellas the institutions, social practices, and cultural forms of their society.These learners engage in the process of reflecting, learning, and acting(Vella, 1994). Furthering the goals of cultural literacy, critical literacymakes visible the multiple literacies that exist at the nexus of language,culture, power and history in a pedagogical paradigm that demands alearner-centered approach (Kelder, 1996). The traditional role of theteacher is challenged within this learning environment so that the teacherbecomes a facilitator of learning and a co-learner within the process andlearners are considered integral to the learning process (McCaleb, 1994).Engaging students in this way increases the relevance and meaning ofinformation exchanged within the classroom, so that learners developreading skills along with decision making, problem solving and leader-ship skills.

    The participatory literacy approach links the skills of functional lit-eracy to the frameworks of cultural and critical literacy to position learn-ers to have considerable control over decision-making and programoperations (Fingeret & Jurmo, 1989). In this context, learners identifytheir needs and interests and shape the content and direction of theirliteracy experiences by participating in the design, implementation, andevaluation of the program (Ballara, 1992). This approach allows for thedevelopment of agency-peoples capabilities and capacity to make choicesabout their world (Bhattacharyya, 1995). It facilitates the process wherebylearners take control of their lives and begin the process of transform-ing, or as Freire (1987, p. 55) states recreate(ing) or reinvent(ing) power.The foci of participatory literacy program vary greatly. As an example,the participatory literacy approach has been used in family literacy(Auerbach, 1989), community-based literacy (Fasheh, 1990) and healthbased literacy programs (Wang, 2000).

    Community-based literacy falls within the framework of the partici-patory approach. In community-based literacy, learners focus theirattention on their community and there is a general concern that literacy

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  • not only builds individual capacities, but also enhances the community.Through the critical literacy component of community-based programs,learners ask important questions about their community. Why are wepoor despite our engagement in the workforce? Why do so many ofour children have asthma? Why isnt our trash picked up regularly?As learners seek answers to these questions, they explicate how theircommunities became distressed and marginalized, what they value abouttheir communities, and how they can work to transform them. The roleof education in community transformation requires that such transfor-mation is informed by the needs of a community, and that the processitself empowers residents to engage in acts that build and enhance thecommunity.

    COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT TRENDS

    This brief review highlights broad trends in the field of communitydevelopment and extracts key values and principles associated witheffective practice in the field. The literature shows that communitydevelopment in the U.S. is government-initiated or undertaken by com-munity-based organizations (CBOs). Government initiated communitydevelopment has focused largely on physical and economic aspects ofdevelopment with limited attention to social development. Initial effortsresulting from the New Deal and the Urban Renewal programs negativelyimpacted poor communities and their effects are still being felt today.These programs racialized public support for the poor, supported sub-urbanization, and intensified racial segregation of residence (Halpern,1995; Katz, 1999). The War on Poverty sought ways to help the poorescape poverty through expanded social services. Programs like theCommunity Action Program, Model Cities, and the Special Impact Programwere born. Success was mixed, but these programs laid the groundworkfor later community development initiatives. During the 1970s, theReagan Administration scaled back federal government support for poorcommunities. Community Development Block Grants were initiatedwith funds distributed directly to local authorities. During the Clintonyears, the Empowerment Zone/Enterprise community developmentinitiatives focused on stimulating economic opportunities in distressedcommunities through public and private partnerships to attract theinvestment necessary for sustainable economic and community devel-opment (U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development [HUD],

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  • 2005). This initiative paralleled comprehensive community-based initia-tives adopted by CBOs.

    Community-Based Initiatives

    In contrast to government initiated community development, community-based organizations (CBOs), which typically operate as nonprofit com-munity development corporations (CDCs), expanded the focus fromhousing and economic development to address the political and socialaspects of their communities. These CBOs worked in tandem with thefederal government programssometimes in parallel and sometimes inopposition to themto effect positive change in neighborhoods. The broadrange of community-based models of community development indicatethat they continue to evolve, reinventing themselves in response tonational policies and the needs and interests of communities confrontedby changing social, economic and political contexts (Halpern, 1995).Weil and Gambles (1995) classification of community practice modelsdistinguishes between models based on their desired outcomes, theirscope of concern, the systems they target for change, their primary con-stituency and the role of practitioners. Whatever the classification crite-ria, community development approaches are not mutually exclusive, andthe complexity of classification rivals the complexity of defining com-munity development. Bhattacharrya (1995) defined community devel-opment as the pursuit of solidarity and agency. This definition makes itpossible to embrace the broad range of approaches discussed here. Themodels discussed below represent the field and provide a sense of theirevolution.

    Community/Neighborhood Organizing (CO). Community/neighborhoodorganizing emerged from the work of Saul Alinsky in the 1930s andremains relevant because it arms residents with an analysis of their reality,provides them with a sense of their power and links this to political andsocial action. Winning immediate and concrete improvements in peo-ples lives and altering relations of power are key principles of this directaction approach (Bobo, Max & Kendall, 1996) with its dual focus oncapacity building and task accomplishment. Inclusiveness and repre-sentative engagement of residents in decision-making is highly valued.Additionally, this approach addresses all three sectors affecting com-munities, the social, the economic and the political (Fisher, 1994).

    Community Economic Development (CED). Early economic devel-opment initiatives were expert driven, had little or no input from localcommunities, focused on the deficits of impoverished communities, and

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  • increased the marginalization and dependency of poor communities. Inthe 1970s, the National Congress for Community Economic Developmentreported that social development and economic development must worktogether for either strategy to be effective (Weil & Gamble, 1995). Thesocial and economic development model embraces capacity building tosupport residents participation in planning, implementation, and theacquisition of resources to facilitate development. Community economicdevelopment expands the social and economic development model byrecognizing the role political power (Simon, 2001). Linked to politicalpower is the issue of community control over development (Blakely &Bradshaw, 2002). CED defines its success by community benefits, min-imized negative externalities, sustainable development, and stable com-munity structures that prevent community control from being underminedusing organizational forms such as community development corpora-tions, community cooperatives, local enterprise agencies, and employee/worker ownerships support the goals of CED.

    Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). Asset based communitydevelopment is a strength based approach that values community partici-pation, and community action and control (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993).In ABCD, residents inventory their community strengths and resourcesand build on them to address community interests. Green and Haines(2002, p. 8) define community development as a planned effort to buildassets that increase the capacity of residents to improve their quality oflife. Community assets are comprised of physical, human, social, fi-nancial and environmental assets.

    Comprehensive Community Initiatives and Community Building Ini-tiatives. As indicated by their names, the ideals of comprehensivenessand community building are integral to these approaches. Given thatdistressed communities are the result of a multitude of factors, these ap-proaches plot a course of action in which solutions are tied together insuch a way that they reinforce each other (Naparstek & Dooley, 1997,p. 510). The commitment to comprehensiveness is a commitment tostrengthening all sectors of the community while addressing the inter-relationships among them. Aspects of neighborhood well-being includethe social, educational, economic and physical components of a com-munity (Community Building Resource Exchange, 1999). Other themesassociated with these approaches include employing community strengthsand assets; building human and social capital development within com-munities; forging partnerships through collaboration to expand residentopportunities; and embracing a conscious effort to change institutional

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  • barriers and eliminate racism (Kingsley, McNeely & Gibson, 1997;Silver, 2006).

    While these approaches offer much promise, a significant critique isthat it is difficult to operationalize and achieve comprehensiveness (Chaskin,Joseph, & Chipenda-Dansokho, 1997). However, the field of social worksattempt to address this issue through community-based practice seemspromising. Community-based practice in distressed communities repre-sents an example of overcoming the dichotomous thinking that surroundscommunity development. This approach advocates that social workersalign their work of providing services with practices in community or-ganizing and community development by integrating their respectivemicro and macro level orientations. This means developing communitycapacity to ensure service delivery that is: (1) neighborhood-based andfamily focused; (2) strengths and empowerment oriented; (3) mindfulof cultural sensitivity and multi-cultural competency; (4) supportive ofthe idea of comprehensive services; (5) in favor of access to integratedservices and supports; and (6) supportive of teamwork and leadershipskills (Johnson, 1998).

    Key Principles and Values of Community Development

    The brief summary review above extracts lessons principles andvalues that permeate the most effective community developmentefforts from the field. These values represent the ideal, a grand goal inthe pursuit of solidarity and agency. These key principles and valuesinclude collective action, shared values, participation, social justice,political awareness and action, comprehensiveness, empowerment,and learning and reflection. Community development engages theprinciple of collective action through communitymembers and prac-titioners working together to achieve common goals that enhance thewelfare of the community. Collective action is most successful whenthose involved share common values, develop a common vision forchange, and act to accomplish their goals. Collective action assumesparticipation. Without authentic participation, the solutions posedare devoid of the insights and assets of the community, and solidarityis in jeopardy. The vision of community change becomes a vision ofthe few, and the capacity to sustain change is limited. The work ofcommunity development is the quest to enhance communities andthe quality of life of its members. Social and political structures,their relationship to the economy, and the relations of power have aprofoundly negative impact on poor communities. Consequently,

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  • community development practitioners recognize that social justice isan important value to uphold to ensure effectiveness.

    Social justice goes hand in hand with the need for political awarenessand action. This means understanding the political system and its re-lationship to distressed communities, and holding it accountable to itsdemocratic tenets rather than economic arrangements. The complexityof the problem of distressed communities requires a comprehensive ap-proach rather than a singular focus. None of this is possible without theempowerment of community members, practitioners and the organiza-tional forms and networks that serve them. The changing landscape forneighborhoods and community development requires constant learningand reflection to increase community capacity, develop assets, and en-gage in innovative thinking and critical action. Building communitycapacity is an integral part of community development efforts related tomany of the values identified heretofore. Its particular importance forinterdisciplinary practices is that it links literacy and community devel-opment. As Chaskin, Brown, Venkatesh and Vidal (2001) note, main-taining community capacity in poor communities requires continuouseffort, and can only be sustained through community members.

    JOINING ADULT LITERACY EDUCATIONAND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

    Three Barriers: Disciplines, Paradigms, and Programs

    This section critically analyzes the literature on adult literacy educa-tion and community development to determine the barriers and the areasof compatibility in linking them in interdisciplinary practice. First, ifpractitioners are to transcend them, it is important to understand the fac-tors limiting interdisciplinary practice in adult literacy and communitydevelopment programs. Padamsee, Ewert and Deshler (1996) identifythree barriers limiting this goal: discipline, paradigm, and program bar-riers. Discipline barriers refer to the ways in which the theoretical andpractical frameworks of the disciplines of adult literacy education andcommunity development limit the perspectives of scholars, practitio-ners, and participants. Training, experience and expectations inhibittheir ability to work effectively across disciplines even when they havechosen to do so. Sometimes the best they can do is work alongside each,as in the case of a community development corporation that implementsa literacy program. However, programs built on the insights of social

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  • science and critical pedagogy are more likely to deal effectively withboth the underlying problems and symptoms that educators and com-munity developers are trying to resolve.

    Paradigm barriers refer to conflicts over the nature of the task and itsimplementation within the fields of adult literacy education and com-munity development. As an example, adult literacy programs in the U.S.have focused on teaching adult learners basic literacy skills so that theycan function more effectively in society, and make greater economiccontributions to their communities (Mace, 1994). This paradigm repli-cates the learners as passive participants in society and contrasts thecritical literacy paradigm, which advocates that learners understand thenature of their oppression and work to overcome it. On a practical level,literacy is viewed as an immediate crisis requiring short-term invest-ments of time and other resources. In this framework, adult literacyeducation focuses on individual needs rather than community problems,and consequently, this limits the nature of empowerment among partici-pants. At the micro level, empowerment is the development of a personalfeeling of increased power or control without an actual change in struc-tural arrangements (Gutirrez, 1990). Micro level empowerment rendersparticipants less likely to offer resistance to processes that may ultimatelyaffect the collective identity and functioning of their community. More-over, understanding a collective problem in individual terms means thatfailure to resolve the problem translates into laying fault on the individ-ual that sometimes is accompanied by internalized feelings of failureand incompetence. Internalizing failure also shapes the action one takesto resolve the problem. In contrast, when adult literacy programs engagethe critical literacy paradigm, learners begin to understand and change thesocial structures and systems that limit them. The learning activities areincreasingly collective and the nature of empowerment shifts from afocus on the individual to a macro level. Macro level empowerment isthe process of increasing collective political power necessary for struc-tural change. This does not negate individual empowerment, but ratherrecognizes it as a contributing factor to the way the collective respondsto issues (Keiffer, 1984).

    Within the field of community development, the structure of supportfrom funding agencies has had important consequences. Short-termfunding contributes to the sense that development is a short-term invest-ment even as problems persist. Second, the products of initiatives arevalued more highly than the processes of learning associated with them.Korten (1990) has called on development programs and agencies tocultivate the role of social activists and educators in the development

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  • process, furthering the view that community development should in-volve a transformation of the nature of social relations (Fasheh, 1995).With the initiation of comprehensive community initiatives, there isprecedent for a shift in the relationship between private philanthropies,but at present, they remain unequal partners. Another example of this shiftis that community-based organizations (CBOs) become more selectiveabout the funding agencies from which they seek support.

    Programmatic barriers refer to the implementation and practice ofprograms within the framework of community development and adultliteracy education. A key difference between the two disciplines is thatthey focus on different levels. The majority of adult literacy programsoperate as functional literacy programs and focus on helping individuallearners build their basic skills. Community development programs em-phasize local and regional issues of interest to social groups and organi-zations (Padamsee, Ewert & Deshler, 1996). In contrast, the traditionalliteracy approach offers little possibility for focus on the family andcommunity and consequently, has no need to engage in multi-level col-laborations between community agencies (Weinstein-Shr, 1993). Com-munity development programs, however, while they have the potentialto engage members of the community as a community, often fail to doso in authentic ways. Sustaining community participation is difficult andtime consuming, and can affect outcomes scheduled for the end of thefunding cycle. Some community development programs continue tooperate in a top-down manner and seek only token participation fromcommunity members. Murphy and Cunningham (2003) warn that com-munity members may also maintain a tight grip on decision-making asthey rise to positions of leadership within community-based organizations.

    Another program barrier is that community development theory andpractice lacks interdisciplinary communication regarding the link betweenlearning and social change. Thus, such programs frequently see literacyprograms as programmatic appendages (Kehrberg, 1996). Even in com-munity development initiatives that value comprehensiveness, such ef-forts are difficult to sustain (Chaskin, Joseph, & Chipenda-Dansokho,1997). A final barrier to linking literacy and community developmentprogrammatically stems from the way in which these programs assesstheir efforts. In literacy programs, evaluation focuses on individualcapacity, typically the academic skills that participants acquire. In com-munity development programs, the scope of projects demands that eval-uation focus on the projects contribution to the target community. Thisbarrier is significant because community development and adult literacyprograms must satisfy their funding sources.

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  • Compatibility Between Literacy and Community Development

    A critique of the perspectives and approaches to community develop-ment and adult literacy education reveals that despite barriers they arepotentially compatible (Padamsee, Ewert & Deshler, 1996). Attemptsto match the functional, cultural and critical approaches of adult literacyeducation to community development approaches has proved less in-structive than matching them to principles associated with effectivecommunity development practice. Matching the functional, cultural andcritical perspectives of literacy education to the key principles of com-munity development identified above produces a continuum that buildscommunity capacity for community development through adult literacyeducation while creating opportunities for learners to build human andsocial capital.

    The following eight principles of community development are extractedfrom the literature on community development: learning & reflection,empowerment, shared values, collective action, participation, social jus-tice, political awareness and action, and comprehensiveness. Figure 1 showsthree clusters of community development values. Cluster 1, Learning &Reflection, and Empowerment is likely to occur in all three approaches

    80 INTERDISCIPLINARY COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

    FIGURE 1. Linking Literacy Approaches to Community Development Values

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  • to adult literacy education, albeit in different ways and to different degrees.Cluster 2, Shared Values, Collective Action, Participation, and SocialJustice is likely in both cultural and critical literacy. Cluster 3, PoliticalAwareness & Action, and Comprehensiveness is most likely to occur incritical literacy. Thus, the clusters move from lower levels of integrationbetween literacy and community development to higher levels of inte-gration. The levels of integration are ranked by cluster rather than theprinciples listed. A larger number of links between a literacy approachand the community development principles represents a higher degreeof integration between the two fields. Thus, critical literacy with eightlinks is more likely to yield greater integration than functional literacywith only two links. The level of learning and reflection that takes placemay vary from one type of literacy program to another. This potentiallydistorts the model. However, as an ideal type, it is more likely that thelearning that occurs in a cultural literacy program is more complex thanthe learning that takes place in a functional literacy program, and lesscomplex than the learning that takes place in a critical literacy program.The same applies to the nature of empowerment. Overall, Figure 1shows that the critical literacy perspective provides the greatest oppor-tunity to link with comprehensive community development approachesthat embrace social change and political action.

    ADULT LITERACY EDUCATION AND COMMUNITYDEVELOPMENT IN INTERDISCIPLINARY PRACTICE

    According to Padamsee, Ewert and Deshler (1996), critical literacystask is to design programs that promote voluntary participation, respectfor self-worth, collaborative learning, praxis, and a spirit of critical re-flection. In addition, such programs should include the nurturing ofself-directed empowered adults[who] see themselves as proactive,initiating individuals engaged in a continuous re-creation of their per-sonal relationships, work worlds, and social circumstances (as cited inBrookfield, 1985, p. 48). Linking critical literacy to the cultural literacyperspective, and the skills taught in the functional literacy perspective,yields the best opportunity for interdisciplinary practice with commu-nity development. A number of factors contribute to the effectivenessof adult literacy programs that teach the principles and practice ofcommunity development. They include: (1) the manner in which thecontent of literacy programs is defined; (2) the extent to which learnersare involved in creating the curriculum; (3) whether non-reading adults

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  • are engaged in community development processes; and (4) the natureof the relationship between teachers/literacy tutors and learners in theliteracy education enterprise.

    The role of teachers/literacy tutors is perhaps the most critical of all thefactors listed above. Teachers/literacy tutors create a learning environ-ment that supports the goals of community-based literacy. Moreover,by positioning learners differently in the teacher-learner relationship,they create opportunities for learners to function differently within thelearning environment. A teacher/literacy tutor within this frameworkserves as a facilitator who engages participants in ways that allow themto recognize their knowledge, discuss their culture, engages in an analy-sis of events that shape their lives, acts in accordance with their commu-nity interests and ultimately realizes their power to transform it. Literacytutors/teachers are simultaneously learners, facilitators, advocates andcatalysts (Vella, 1994). As learners, they move beyond the role of pro-moting basic skills training and begin to learn more about the problemsand issues facing people in their communities. As facilitators, they helplearners articulate their experiences, turn them into text and contributeto the development of curriculum based on community analysis. Asadvocates, they give voice to the experiences and reality of persons inthe communities they serve. Finally, if teachers/literacy tutors are serv-ing in communities other than their own, they can serve as catalysts,becoming agents of transformation within their own communities, astheir own awareness of the problems facing marginalized communitiesincreases.

    Community developmentas embodied in the principles of communitybuilding, the pursuit of solidarity and agency, and the critical analysis ofsocial structures and living environmentscan be supported within adultliteracy programs that transcend discipline, paradigm and program bar-riers. Thus, literacy programs can serve as a training ground for engage-ment in community development. For example, in community-basedliteracy programs, participants get to exercise their right to determinetheir learning goals, provide input into curriculum development, set anagenda for achieving their learning goals, and evaluate their progress.This is accomplished on both the individual level and the collectivelevel, and it is necessary at both levels since individual skills amongparticipants likely vary. On a collective level, every student can partici-pate in activities such as articulating community problems and invento-rying assets, creating community stories or cultural representations oftheir communities, as well as action they plan to undertake (e.g., making

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  • a quilt to share information on HIV/AIDs with other community members).Engaging in these activities builds community assets.

    Community-based literacy programs help students recognize the im-portance of local and cultural knowledge, which contributes to the learn-ing process. Such learning environments are public venues in whichparticipants get to practice communicating with others about importantissues that are often hard to articulate, much less resolve. Community-basedliteracy programs also have the potential to link academic skills to realworld issues, as participants take on projects like organizing a fun dayfor local children, or a seminar on toxic waste in their community. Par-ticipants learn how to organize such events, secure volunteers and re-sources, and the importance of networking and working as a team. In suchinstances, the process of engagement also provides learning opportuni-ties. As participants engage in such events, they are likely to develop a vi-sion for their participation in their communities, and in time, a vision fortheir community that will guide their actions as participants and gradu-ates of such programs.

    Two Examples of Interdisciplinary Practice

    In the U.S. relatively little attention has been given to interdisciplin-ary practice between adult literacy education and community develop-ment, although many grassroots groups engage these practices to builddemocratic organizations as they initiate change within their communi-ties (Bingman, 1996). Bingman describes the evolution of interdisci-plinary practice undertaken by women in two Appalachian grassrootsorganizations, the Lee City Community Center and the Two SistersCommunity Center. Both communities are poor, and women came toboth Centers to address a personal issue. Their issues range from need-ing food, clothing and emergency assistance, to seeking an education.None of the women interviewed came to the center with a concern fortheir community or a desire to work for change. Despite this, many ofthese women extended their involvement to new activities at the Center.These activities included joining an adult education class, engaging insupport work for striking miners, volunteering in the used clothing store,serving as a tutor, engaging in fundraising to support the communitycenter, and simply being there for people with problems. The work atthese centers helped the women to voice for their concerns, and empow-ered them to address these concerns on a personal level. It allowed themto transfer the important personal and organizational skills they learnedthrough acts of helping others in their communities, and changed the

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  • womens behavior within social settings that marginalized them. Thewomen learned to address their stereotypes, access resources to supportcommunities concerns, and work collaboratively to accomplish theirgoals. Leadership at the Centers was developed and sustained throughmentoring relationships that encouraged the women to take initiative.Although outside networks were encouraged, the culture and needs ofthe communities were always central to work undertaken. Moreover, aprocess for dealing with conflict was established and engaged. Withoutnaming their work, these women engaged in interdisciplinary practicethat addressed their practical needs, and to some extent resulted in so-cial change surrounding their position as women.

    In what turned out to be a very deliberate approach to interdisciplin-ary community development, the town of Ivanhoe, Virginia embracedparticipatory research, community education, and participatory devel-opment to address their problems in the face of deindustrialization andimmense poverty. This story of community development as told in ItComes from the People by Hinsdale, Lewis and Waller (1995) is acompelling case for interdisciplinary practice. Despite the challengesand conflicts that ensued, adult literacy education is the cornerstone ofIvanhoes community development efforts, but just one among otheragendas that the Ivanhoe community embraced.

    The continuum of educational opportunities sought, and created bycommunity members reflect the multiple aspects of community develop-ment within Ivanhoe. Community education included GED (high schoolequivalency) classes, leadership training and training to develop leaders,public speaking, economics and economic planning, accountancy andhistory classes, as well as organizational development training. Engage-ment in the education programs were centered on acquiring information,deconstructing it for relevance to the community, learning to apply it forchange within the community, and ensuring sustainability of communityefforts. The forums for educational engagement included teaching col-lege courses within the Ivanhoe community. Rather than positioning edu-cation as an alienating experience, community members embraced it ascentral to their organizing. The Ivanhoe Civic League integrated this ap-proach to education into a strong commitment to community organizingand mobilizing, a genuine concern for participatory development, and awillingness to understand and confront the social, political and economicconstraints on development. The leadership of Ivanhoe Civic Leaguevalued the culture of the community and worked to develop solidarityamong community members through participatory research.

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  • The work of revitalization in Ivanhoe was highly influenced by theteachings of, and training received from the Highlander Research andEducation Center. The Highlander Center, which has a long and sustainedhistory of engagement in social and political change in the United Statesthat dates back to 1932, is an important resource for understandinginterdisciplinary community development and adult literacy. Educationis critical in social and political change within the Highlander framework.Founder, Myles Horton, saw education as a way to understand onesworld rather than as a way to advance within the existing socioeconomicsystem (Jacobs, 2003, p. 15). The Highlander Center is best known forits work with labor movement in the 1930s and the Citizenship Schoolsof the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Despite the structural and cul-tural differences of these two movements, Horton appreciated that needto address each case within its specific context. Thus, the Highlander FolkSchools always centered on the learning needs and interests of thosethey servedthat is, the needs and interests articulated by the people.

    Guidelines and Planning for Interdisciplinary Practice

    As indicated by the examples above, interdisciplinary practice linkingliteracy and community development can take different forms. Nonethe-less, Table 1 shows some guidelines for interdisciplinary practice linkingadult literacy and community development as informed by the literature.Interdisciplinary practice through linking literacy and communitydevelopment requires a clear vision of the hope for that which is to beachieved. Moreover, this is an important step in conceptualizing theproject as an interdisciplinary project rather than an appendage toexisting efforts. Local residents should participate in articulating theireducational needs and interests. Participatory action research is aneffective tool for engaging residents in conversations to prioritize com-munity and the assets they would like to build. Honoring resident inputreflects a commitment to democratic practices within the developmentprocess and encourages residents commitment to it. This means creat-ing the space and time to engage in interdisciplinary practice. An exam-ple of this is creating an environment that is conducive to learning, andinviting to potential users.

    Implementing and Assessing Interdisciplinary Practice

    There are several key issues related to implementing interdisciplinarypractice that links adult literacy education and community development.

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  • First among these is the need to engage trained facilitators who are ableto create learning environments that promote participatory learningprinciples. Moreover, learning should be relevant to participants andtheir culture, and link learning to action. Facilitators are important be-cause they must model learning behaviors and social interaction associ-ated with community development and social change. The facilitatormust also create a learner-centered environment that positions the learneras a subject rather than an object in the learning process. Skilled facilita-tors are able to link learners interest to community issues, providing anopportunity to address community issues in ways that benefit bothlearners and their community. As an example, an individuals interest inart can create murals that depict the communitys history. Developingthe history can be a collective project in which learners engage. Creat-ing opportunities for collective work and developing a collective con-sciousness is an important goal of community development that helpslearners to see their connection to their community and to each other.This increases their interest in enhancing the community. Facilitatorsshould engage local residents in functions that build their leadershipskills. This can be accomplished by encouraging learners to initiate ac-tivities and by developing their skills as facilitators who can carry on thatwork in various capacities within the community. While not everyone is

    86 INTERDISCIPLINARY COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

    TABLE 1. Guidelines for Interdisciplinary Practice

    Plan Implement Assess

    Conceptualize the programas an interdisciplinaryprogram

    Engage trained literacyfacilitators

    Reflect on program activitiesand learning exercises

    Assess the educationalneeds within the community

    Start with, and maintain afocus on learners' goals andinterests

    Model assessment throughreflection on classroomactivities and action taken

    Build organizational capacityto sustain the effort

    Create learner centeredprograms that engagelearners' strengths andencourage collective work

    Revise program based onreflection

    Create the space and timeto engage interdisciplinarypractice

    Link learners' interests andexperiences to communityissuesEngage learners in actionoriented learningDevelop leadership skillsamong learnersCelebrate learning and action

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  • interested in being a literacy facilitator, individuals might choose to servementors in various aspects of the development process. Finally, facilita-tors must celebrate the success of learners. They must also celebratetheir own learning through the process of facilitation.

    Assessment should focus on the goals of individual learners as well asthe relationship of learners, as a collective, to the community developmentefforts. Within the learning environment, residents and facilitator shouldreflect on program activities and processes and make suggestions for im-provement. The facilitator should model the process of using reflection andlearning through the course of the program. Assessing learners collectiveaccomplishments helps learners recognize the contributions they havemade to change within their communities. Such conversations can alsohelp learners explore the constraints on their efforts to bring about change.This in turn can lead to important discussion about the social, political andeconomic realities surrounding communities and community change.

    CONCLUSION

    The goal of this article was to explore the conceptual underpinningsof adult literacy education to explicate how adult literacy education andcommunity development can find common ground in interdisciplinarypractice. An analysis of the literature reveals that while there are parallelsbetween adult literacy and community development, there are also bar-riers to overcome between these two disciplines. Brief examples fromthe literature show, however, that these barriers are not insurmountable.Successful efforts seem most likely when participatory literacy approachessuch as community-based literacy that engages the critical and culturalliteracy perspectives with the skills of functional literacyare linked tocommunity development. Shared principles between the two disciplinesare also a ground for interdisciplinary work. These include collectiveaction, shared values, participation, social justice, political awareness andaction, comprehensiveness, empowerment, and learning and reflection.

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    http://www.literacy.orghttp://www.literacy.org/products/ili/ilprocus.pdfhttp://www.hud.gov/offices/cpd

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