Literacy poses a continuous challenge to educators and scholars. Dozens of theories and propositions were developed, to support learners in their way to developing effective literacy skills. In this context, Paulo Freire’s philosophy of education is one of the popular topics of discussion. Freire was able to conceptualize the idea of learning through dialogue and experience.
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He suggested that traditional education could not be effective, as long as it imposed dry rules and empty conventions on the learners. This paper will examine different propositions about the ways to teach adult literacy. This paper seeks to prove the thesis that literacy education is about creating a dialogue between educators and adult learners and maintaining a reasonable balance between rules of language and learners’ knowledge and experiences about the world.
How to teach adult literacy has long been debated by scholars. Paulo Freire’s philosophy of education remains one of the most frequently discussed topics in adult learning. Freire (1988) wrote that educational practice, including adult literacy solutions, required the development of some theoretical stance. Simultaneously, theory alone would never guarantee successful learning.
Objectively, it is through the interpretation of the world and people in it that theories can help to enhance adult learning outcomes. The process of human development and orientation is not limited to the association of senses and images but necessarily involves thought-language (Freire, 1988). Therefore, teaching adult literacy is impossible without engaging adults in a continuous dialogue and discussion of their learning and life experiences.
Darville (2009) is correct in that teaching literacy is essentially about aligning learners’ experiences and perceptions with their needs for better literacy. Learners must (a) understand what literacy holds for them and (b) have a clear vision of what it takes to be literate (Darville, 2009). In this sense, Kate Boudin’s teaching example is very demonstrative. Literacy needs to be embedded into a meaningful context of ideas and experiences, married to the learners’ intellectual capacities and lives (Boudin, 1993).
However, not everyone agrees with this point of view. The validity of “teaching as experience” ideas is constantly debated (Torres, 1997). Even if Freire’s ideas about literacy and learning “leave us a legacy that is much greater […] than any educational theory or any literacy method” (Torres, 1997, p.7), is it enough to assert that Freire’s ideology is the most reliable criterion of effective teaching?
Probably, it is not, as far as the study of literacy must involve some aspects of rule-learning. At the very basic level, literacy requires understanding the principal rules of spelling and grammar that apply to daily conversations and explain the standards of written communication.
Simultaneously, the ways in which these rules are taught must be situated into and fit in the context of meanings and beliefs, with which learners are familiar. So, where is the golden middle? The golden middle in adult literacy education is in being able to transform the theories and rules of language into the forms and meanings that are understandable to learners. Such approach to teaching adult literacy is equally effective and affectionate (Boudin, 1993). The only question is in how much of rules and experience is a norm.
Given the growing diversity of adult learners, the concept of “norm” is hardly applicable to adult literacy. On the contrary, it is through individualization and personalization of literacy courses that adults can improve their language-thought abilities and learning outcomes.
Freire (1988) wrote that an effective learning process necessarily involved rational planning, teaching methods and learning objectives. Therefore, the principal obligation of an educator is to shape approaches to adult literacy that align experiences and meanings with the rules and standards of language learning and turn these experiences and meanings into an instrument of achieving the key learning outcomes.
Boudin, K. (1993). Participatory literacy education behind bars: AIDS opens the door. Harvard Educational Review, 63(2), 207-233.
Darville, R. (2009). Literacy as practices, teaching as alignment: A message in a bottle. Literacies, 10, 14-18.
Freire, P. (1988). The adult literacy process as cultural action for freedom and education and Conscientizacao. In E.R. Kintgen, B.M. Kroll & M. Rose (eds), Perspectives on literacy, SIU Press, 398-410.
Torres, R.M. (1997). The million Paulo Freires. Adult Basic Education and Training Journal, 3, 1-9.