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ERIC Number: ED317735
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 1989-Oct
Pages: 12
Abstractor: N/A
Reference Count: N/A
On Defining Literacy.
Sherritt, Caroline A.
Defining literacy is a compelling challenge to educators. They generally use three models: instrumental, functional, and empowerment. The latter two approaches, which were increasingly evident in the 1980s, identify literacy by the social functions required in a given context or by the qualities needed for illiterate people to take control of their lives. A functional definition of literacy is particularly suited to adult education in the United States for the following reasons: (1) a functional approach is capable of encompassing all of the various roles adult education encompasses; (2) self-improvement as an end in itself pervades adult education; (3) development of the individual is integral to a democratic society; and (4) adult education is a creation of the middle classes, which are most likely to embrace a vision of education as a means to upward mobility. The argument for literacy as a means of social and political empowerment reflects the tendency of adult educators to embrace educational objectives from the humanist, radical, and socialist continuum. However, although adult educators espouse literacy for empowerment, they have not been able to translate this mission into an operational definition. A functional approach leads inevitably to programs that teach students to fill out employment applications, read road signs, plan menus, and avoid poisonous substances provided they are so labeled. This approach channels resources into the lowest strata of illiterate subcultures because that is all it can do. The concept of empowerment is subjective: one person's empowerment is another person's impediment. The most educators can hope for is consensus on principle because a unified operational approach is not possible in a pluralistic society. Even if everyone agreed immediately on a definition of literacy, it would not begin to make a significant impact upon the problem of illiteracy in the world today. (The document includes 13 references.) (CML)
Publication Type: Information Analyses
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A