Adult Literacy in African-American Communities Thesis

This model views literacy as woven into the person’s identity, based in turn from his acculturation and participation in his socio-cultural community. Spoken or written communication is understood and appreciated according to who is reading or writing and the context and purpose of the communication. Learners come to the educational setting with individual experiences, perspectives, values and beliefs. They perform tasks subjectively. Their cultural background is, therefore, an essential requirement to teaching functional literacy.

The U.S. Department of Education through the Department of Adult Education and Literacy implements the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act. This legislation provides support money for adult literacy and basic education programs. It perceives adult education as that falling below post-secondary level for persons 16 years old and older. Statistics say there are about 51 million American adults in this category. Eligibility was adjusted from 18 to 16 in 1970; approved funding to non-profit organizations in 1984; and induced local educational agencies, labor unions and businesses to offer literacy programs to the workplace. The National Literacy Act replaced the Adult Education Act of 1966 in 1991. In 1998, Congress passed Adult Education and Family Literacy Act. Section 202 of the Act creates a partnership among the federal government, the States, and local communities. They will offer adult education and literacy services on a voluntary basis. The goals will be to help adults to become literate, gain knowledge and learn skills for employment and self-sufficiency; help adults who are parents to obtain educational skills needed to become full partners in the education development of their children; and in the completion of secondary education for themselves.

The market model, the liberal-welfare state model and the social redistribution model were the basic approaches to formulating social policy. The market model views educational issues at a macro level. The liberal-welfare state model sees social institutions’ role in increasing access and expanding opportunity, especially to the least educated and most economically dependent. And the social redistribution model adopts a more progressive or radical stance on social change. The market model is predominant of the three. Nonetheless, the ability of adult education to “mold a world” has been questioned, especially in the light of current and critical social and economic issues. These include the steep decline in jobs in the major urban centers, poor schools and the low educational levels among African-Americans and Hispanics. These people of color reside in those urban centers where urban poverty and the attending conditions of crime, drug addiction and homeless co-occur.

African-Americans and Hispanics together account for more than half of all participants in federally funded adult literacy education programs. The national population is 75% whites, 12.5% Hispanic, 12.3% African-American and 14% for a sprinkling of Asians, Native Americans or Alaskan natives, native Hawaiians and Pacfic Islanders. These figures show that people of color are disproportionately represented (as qtd in D “Amico, 2004). Between 1998 and 2003, more than half of all enrollees in adult literacy programs were Blacks and Hispanics. In the next six years, overall enrollments went down although federal funding was increased. Adult literacy programs from 1995 to 1998 served the economically disadvantaged on account of income, employment, welfare or homelessness. The Department of Education fixed eligibility at age 16 or older and the lack of a high school diploma or equivalent. Official 2000 census reported that approximately 51 million adults or 23% of the adult population had limited literacy skills. Those without a high school diploma had between 9 and 12 years of schooling. More than 15 million adults had 8 years of schooling or less. They were 66% white, 15% African-American, 3% Asian and 3% minor ethnic race groups. According to the U.S. Department of Education, African-American enrollments in Adult Basic Education were 662,109 in 1998; 621,914 in 1999; 614,475 in 2000; 548,562 in 2001; 559,247 in 2002; and 540,200 in 2003.

Ruiz, Yolanda Sealey. Spoken Soul: the Language of Black Imagination and Reality.

Educational Forum: International Honor Society in Education, 2005. Retrieved on February 24, 2009 at;col1

Ruiz writes that African-Americans are penalized for their language. She resounds Richardson’s (2002, 8) assertion that among the major roots of African-American literacy underachievement are the ideology of white supremacy and the capitalist-based literacy beliefs behind curricula. These, in turn, produce “stratified education” and a “stratified society,” which account for African-American literacy underachievement. The author emphasizes that African-American Vernacular English or AAVE should not be considered incorrect or deficient. There are verbal geniuses in the inner cities where these people of color live but who are considered deficient in language. The result is a denial or eradication of part of their identity. Teaching them the rules of language appropriateness and demonstrating the similarities between AAVE and Standard English, they can be encouraged to learn the latter without disrespecting them and their identity. Africanized English certainly has consistent rules, structure and a dictionary. It is not a street slang. Like other languages, it has colloquial phrases, a vocabulary, and grammatical rules. It allows the speaker to move negative helping verbs, such as ain’t and can’t, to the beginning of sentences for stronger emphasis. For example, “nobody ain’t going” can be changed to “ain’t nobody going.” Negro spiritual readings, jazz, rap, movies and African-American literature offer copious evidence of the inherent structure and vocabulary of AAVE. One such comprehensive dictionary was Major’s 1970 Dictionary of Afro-American Slang, later updated in the early 1990s as a 548-page dictionary. Smitherman also compiled an AAVE dictionary called Black Talk in 1994. AAVE vocabulary continues to change and fit the times and the imagination and reality of the African-American people.

Ruiz has taught composition to African-American adult learners. She does not correct their English but discusses their speaking and writing. They acknowledge their incorrect speech and writing and improper English. She only listens and says she sees it differently. By the third week of class, she is able to discuss the 1996 Oakland court case and the Ann Arbor case with them. She lets them read works by Baldwin and Rickford and extracts from English Journal, the publication of the National Council of Teachers of English. Together, they discuss that both languages are equally valid but that one is the language of power. Then they discuss who has the power and who does not and how this happened. Ruiz resounds Moll (2000, 257) that human beings interact with their world through mediational means. These mediational means use cultural artifacts, tools, and symbols, including language. These means, in turn, help form human intellectual capacities. She suggested to experts who teach African-American learners to provide them readings representing the Black experience and language. She stressed that AAVE possesses a distinct syntactical pattern and should not be considered incorrect. Smitherman (1994) also suggested that instructors should underplay their students’ bad grammar as this could suppress their natural and rich expressive discourse style.

After their course, most of the author’s students get employed and assume positions as transit clerks, administrative assistants, waiters and waitresses, nursing home attendants, and school aides. The research articles they were made to read in class and their class discussions validated AAVE. Soon, they turned in assignments completely written in AAVE. The use of AAVE enhanced their creative writing assignments, consisting of poetry, short stories and informal essays.

The refusal of American school administrators to accept AAVE and their over-zealousness in using language and literacy skills in defining an achievement gap, AAVE will continue to be the language spoken by African-Americans. It is the language of their imagination and reality. It may not be popular but still has a place in American society. It remains essential in developing the writing skills of their native users, the African-American people.

Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J, et al. (2004). Reading Comprehension among African-American Graduate Students. The Journal of Negro Education: Howard University, 2004. Retrieved on February 24, 2009 at;col1

Studies showed that African-American undergraduate students scored highly in high levels of reading comprehension tests. But African-American graduate students scored at lower levels in reading comprehension and reading vocabulary.

The author describes reading comprehension as the reader’s ability to effectively and meaningfully assimilate previously acquired knowledge contained in a text. It consists of skills, including understanding the meanings of words and the ability to connect between what the reader already knows and what he is now learning from the text. The reader uses a wide range of language skills, which interact at different levels of reading ability. Those who find difficulty in performing literacy and comprehension task will find it difficult to cope with the digital age in the 21st century. Statistics say that 21 to 23% – or 40 to 44 million – of 191 million American adults, 16 years old and older, stand at the lowest literacy levels. They are either illiterate or functionally illiterate. Hard realities, such as poverty, welfare and income, are the deterrents. Statistics say that 43% of adults at this…

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