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Race, Class, Gender, and Sexual Orientation in Adult Literacy: Power, Pedagogy, and Programs

Volume 4: Chapter Two
Deborah D'Amico

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In this chapter, Deborah D'Amico takes a critical look at issues of class, race and gender as they pertain to ABE learners. She first looks at demographic data on adult learners in the latter half of the 1990's, pointing out the link between low literacy and low economic status, the disproportionate representation of people of color among those needing and being served by literacy programs, and the predominance of women in ABE. In addition, she notes how race, gender, and class can affect access to, and the impact of education. Furthermore, she points out that sexual orientation is a growing concern in the field, as it may be related to adults' prior and current learning experiences. 

D'Amico next looks at the history of ABE in light of these issues, showing how, over time, literacy has been embroiled in issues of slavery and racism against Blacks in the US, as well as in immigration issues and Americanization efforts. She points out how, more recently, literacy has been included by social justice movements as part of the liberating power of education for subordinate groups. As she notes, this philosophy of liberation is one of several philosophies underlying literacy education, and tensions and contradictions exist among them. D'Amico next considers programmatic aspects of ABE as they affect barriers to literacy among adults, pointing out, as an example, how differences in class and culture between students and teachers can impact student willingness to participate in ABE. 

D'Amico draws from a range of research conducted around the country that offers examples and practical recommendations for using participatory approaches as essential to literacy development. She closes the chapter with conclusions and recommendations. Among these, she recommends that administrators and policymakers make greater efforts to ensure that ABE staff more closely reflect the community of learners. In addition, she calls for practitioners to seek out approaches and resources that will encourage questioning of ideologies, institutions and behaviors that reinforce oppression based on class, race, gender and sexual orientation and points to the need for more research into the ways that these factors play out in ABE classrooms. Finally she urges practitioners to join forces with other organizations that serve those disadvantaged by race, gender, class and sexual orientation. 

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Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL