Susan (all names are pseudonyms), the adult education instructor, introduces her as "our resident writer and unofficial cut-up." Lana is short in stature and slight in build, but as her writing demonstrates, her physical appearance belies the size and strength of her voice. In her short narratives and poems, she relates deeply personal issues of family and identity; she writes about marital turmoil, about her daughter's coming out, about her own struggles with alcoholism, and about the dehumanizing experience of applying for welfare benefits, which Cushman (1998) called a "gate keeping interaction," where individuals encounter the reductive, intrusive, "toxic" literacies of bureaucratic texts (Taylor, 1996). These are important themes of her life, issues she says she "had to get out," and her determination to pursue them gives rise to a fundamental question for adult education programming and instruction: To what degree Breitling Replica can the pursuit of programmatic goals accommodate and build on students' lives, personal goals, and interests, particularly as these interests relate to writing and the desire to make meaning of important experiences
The ideology underlying most adult literacy education in the United States today, despite many instructors' perceptions of their practice, continues to hold productivity as its primary imperative. The ideological disconnection between perception and practice, however, speaks to the staying power of an earlier "moral imperative" for literacy education. Brandt (2004) argued that, early in the 20th century, literacy was "supposed to turn people into something" (p. 500), that literacy held out the promise of social and moral transformation, but global events—namely World War I—presented the American educational system with daunting new challenges. The scale of technological inventions that accompanied modern warfare demanded new job skills and literate abilities and transformed educational policy regarding literacy. The underlying imperative for literacy policy shifted from moral transformation to economic and strategic competitiveness—productivity.
Perceptions and attitudes toward literacy, though, adhered to the moral imperative, and the understanding that greater literacy holds the potential to positively transform individuals continues to reverberate in the public consciousness, embellished by the social and educational upheavals of the 1960s and the cultural sanctioning of personal expression and choice as hallmarks of Breitling Bentley Replica democratic life. Literacy as a religious moral gave way to literacy as a democratic moral. All the while, official definitions and policies concerning literacy continue to favor economic productivity. As Brandt (2004) concluded, today's students are expected to "turn [literacy] into something" (p. 500)—to produce. In the regional, state-funded adult education program that Lana attends, most students practice what Taylor and Dorsey-Gaines (1988) called "instrumental" literacy—reading and writing tasks related to a generalized notion of the workplace—learning to make resumes, filling out job applications, composing cover letters, to name a few. Programs and curriculum such as this, emphasizing workplace skills exclusively, can impede efforts of teachers and tutors to cater to students' own interests in and goals for their literacy and learning because "the workplace" for which these students are being prepared has little or no interest in literacy as a means for examining one's life and experience.
Adult education in the United States is not without fine examples of providers that strike a balance between student-articulated goals and program-prescribed goals, such as the provision of workplace skills. The Center for Literacy (CFL) in Philadelphia, PA, a nonprofit, community-based provider, is one such example, deriving curriculum in concert with individual learners' personal interests and educational needs. Students are encouraged to write their personal lives and experiences into their emergent educational experience and have the opportunity to share their creative work with a larger audience via the Center's publication Student SpeakOut, an annual book that includes short stories, poems and social commentaries, among other writings. The Center's website proudly proclaimed that starting in 2006 Student SpeakOut was "published with an ISBN number, meaning all student writers are now considered published authors." But for many state and federally funded programs—programs that often function under tight budgetary constraints and the constant demand to demonstrate success— catering the content and delivery of instruction to specific interests of individual learners is neither standard practice nor uniform concern. Perhaps the most inhibiting factors, though, are the conditions that preface and shape instructors and instruction in adult education itself.