Poverty, Racism, and Literacy

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Poverty, Racism, and Literacy A significant correlation between race and poverty exists, with Black and Hispanic Americans three times more likely to be impoverished than White Americans (Proctor and Dalaker 2002). The cycle of poverty and low-literacy functioning is well documented, as is the achievement gap between White students and students of color. Race is a persistent factor in employment statistics, educational attainment, and the acquisition of literacy skills, with significantly higher unemployment rates and lower educational attainment rates among Black and Hispanic Americans than among White Americans. The literature on learner attrition and on resistance to participation in adult literacy programs suggests that the current delivery system may not be meeting the needs or expectations of many adults. A small but growing body of literature questions whether cultural dissonance between instructors and learners is a factor in learner attrition, and it advocates increasing cultural relevance in literacy practices. Some of the writings also advocate helping learners move toward critical reflection and social action. This Digest explores the poverty-racism-literacy connection, specifically as it relates to adult literacy, the imperative for culturally relevant practices, and the development of critical literacy. Alternative Definitions of Literacy In the prevailing and traditional definition, literacy is regarded as central to helping people obtain and retain employment, which is the key to moving them from dependency toward greater self-sufficiency. This functionalist definition, espoused by many policymakers, funders, and employers, is based on the assumption that there are jobs for the poor who are able to i... ... middle of paper ... ... Curricula in Literacy Education." Adult Education Quarterly 44, no. 1 (Fall 1993): 17-33. Sandlin, J. A. "The Politics of Consumer Education Materials Used in the Adult Literacy Classroom." Adult Education Quarterly 50, no. 4 (August 2000): 289-307. Shannon, P. Reading Poverty. Westport, CT: Heinemann, 1998. Sheared, V. "Giving Voice: An Inclusive Model of Instruction." New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education no. 61 (Spring 1994): 27-37. Shore, S. "What's Whiteness Got to Do with It?" In Literacy on the Line, edited by S. Shore. Underdale, Australia: University of South Australia, 1998. (ED 430 143) Tisdell, E. J. "Interlocking Systems of Power, Privilege, and Oppression in Adult Higher Education Classes." Adult Education Quarterly 43, no. 4 (Summer 1993): 203-226. Wilson, W. J. When Work Disappears. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.
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