For the problem at hand, an examination of the relation of learning to read to that of learning to learn in an adult literacy context, the credibility of a study would be enhanced through comparative analyses among diverse students and programs of some to be determined significant quantity. All things being equal that would be so even if much of the needed work consists of delineating variables through in-depth case-study analysis that then become sifted through comparative research even without the prospect of a randomized sample. The utilization of whatever methodologies and approaches that brings further clarity to the matter throughout all the stages of the investigation (fidelity to the scientific method) within the historical evolution of the problem itself is the critical factor.
Whether learning to read or learning to learn is, or should be the central focus of adult literacy education, is a matter of some dispute, which has not been resolved within the literature of the field. There is substantial middle ground within these perspectives via the medium of balanced reading theory and a context-derived educational program that focuses on employment, family education, civic literacy, and lifelong learning (Stein, 2000). Nonetheless, tensions between the operative assumptions of the New Literacy Studies and advocates of phonemic-driven approaches to reading are particularly sharp in their articulation of competing definitions of literacy. In moving toward a dialectical resolution that incorporates balanced reading theory within a context-based adult literacy framework, my working hypothesis, much clarification is required.
A Duly Hedged Synthesis: The Role of Philosophical Reasoning
What stimulated these provisional statements about adult literacy education emerged in my reflection upon philopher Nicholas Rescher’s concept of a “duly-hedged synthesis” in working through problems leading to polarized thinking that seemingly conflict. The following statements emerged as a result of me working through that image in light of a particular problem in adult literacy education; that of coming to terms with the dynamic relationship between the need to learn how read in order to read for the purpose of enhanced learning.
In passing, let me stres the point that the following "synthesis" emerged in grappling with Rescher's philosophical concept. Clearly the insight was grounded in my own understanding of reading theory and content-based learning. However, it took the philosophial probing to bring my thinking to the formaton of the following rendition, which very well may not have emerged if I was focusing my attention directly problems relaed to adult literacy education. Thus, without the philosophical probing the very concept of a "duly-hedged sythesis" would have remained outside of my conscious awareness and operational thinking.
As I grappled with Rescher's philophical explanation my effort to gain clarity was expanded when I was able to make a concrete application to a specific problem I was deling with; that of incorporating balanced reading theory into a content-based instructional design within the context of adult literacy education; thus, the the conceptual tool of the duly-hedged synthesis in working through seemingly contradictory perspectives in the emegence of a greater unity in some plausible resolution. As Rescher briefly lays out the philosophical challenge:
"It is neither just answers we want (regardless of their substantiation) nor just safe claims (regardless of their lack of informativeness) but a reasonable mix of the two – a judicious balance that systematizes our commitments in a functionally effective way" (p.96).
A Duly Hedged Synthesis for Adult Literacy Education: Four Supportive Hypotheses and 19 Corresponding Statements
1. Literacy facilitates knowledge acquisition in the grappling with and mastery of print-based texts.
2. Literacy is enhanced to the extent to which individuals gain the capacity to read and write print-based texts.
3. Growth in literacy is experienced to the extent to which readers progressively comprehend and draw meaning from texts and appropriate them into their lives.
4. Literacy has a technological component in the mastery of reading, writing and the comprehension of texts and a metaphorical dimension that resides in transactions between the reader and the text in which meaning making and significance lies beyond the text into that of appropriation, however variously that may be defined.
Each of these statements, as working hypotheses of the “duly hedged synthesis” requires additional clarification, including the grappling with new contradictions that may arise as the investigative proceeds. Let us take these statements one at a time.
Literacy facilitates knowledge acquisition in the grappling with and mastery of print-based texts.
· Knowledge acquisition may refer to understanding and progressively attaining the skills and knowledge needed for the technical mastery of reading and writing.
· Literacy may refer to the enhanced ability to read to the extent of providing an independent resource that students can apply to texts that they encounter either in the instructional program or outside of it without assistance from others.
· Knowledge acquisition may refer to the mastery of the content of print-based texts at varying levels of literal and inferential comprehension.
· Literacy may refer to the knowledge needed for such acquisition regardless as to how much or how little a student learns to read.
· While both learning to read and learning to learn are valid indicators of literacy, educators need to determine where priorities should be placed in terms of various student need and ability and what focal points of concentration stimulate what aspects of learning for any given student or groups of students.
Literacy is enhanced to the extent to which individuals gain the capacity to read and write print-based texts.
· If not by definition, it is at least a strong inference among most adult literacy educators and students that literacy includes the ability to read and write print-based texts and may even be its main purpose.
· All things being equal, increased capacity to read and write texts enhances literacy, whether a literal or metaphorical definition of literacy is adopted.
· The extent to which adult literacy students increase their ability to read print-based texts varies widely. Such variability needs to be factored into the reading and writing aspects of a given program and corresponding modes of assessment and accountability regardless of reading methodologies and the instructional content selected.
Growth in literacy is experienced to the extent to which readers progressively comprehend and draw meaning from texts and appropriate them into their lives.
· The capacity to comprehend and draw meaning from print-based texts in a supportive instructional environment does not depend on the ability to read the text independently.
· Students who have enhanced their ability to read and write have gained additional skills in comprehending and drawing meaning from texts in their ability to study independently. As a general rule, this capacity enhances a student’s mastery of the content embedded in printed texts.
· There may or may not be any intrinsic correlations between comprehending the authorial meaning(s) of a text and a student drawing meaning from it. While literacy may be enhanced through either, as a general rule, it is strengthened most so when reasonable inferences between the two can be made.
Literacy has a technological component in the mastery of reading, writing and the comprehension of texts, and a metaphorical dimension that resides in transactions between the reader and the text in which meaning making and significance lies beyond the text into that of appropriation, however variously that may be defined.
· Literacy, in the most comprehensive of definitions includes both the technological mastery of reading and writing, along with that of comprehension and deriving meaning from print-based texts.
· Taking the capacities of students into account, literacy progresses most when all of these dimensions are factored in, in which none of them serves as the privileged foundation of the definition.
· Even adults who remain at beginning levels of reading and writing ability who do not even come to approximating independent fluency can benefit as a result of the progress they achieve in the areas of comprehension and meaning making, although how durable such learning is and its significance requires much research.
· The extent to which even advanced students who progress in their reading and writing benefit in doing so also requires discriminating analysis. The salience to which gains in reading ability short of the GED certification open up opportunity structures for life improvement requires careful analysis in which the separation of variables may prove difficult.
· Even if little in the realm of opportunity structures is attained, being able to read, write, and comprehend print-based texts and appropriating such knowledge for one’s own purposes has a certain value in itself (although how much so remains in question) as a form of self development that may or may not have broader societal impact.
· What is determined as efficacious in relation to adult literacy education may have as much to do with values of individual students and programs that seek to support them as with specific impacts subject to objective forms of direct measurability.
· Literacy is a cultural metaphor of considerable pluralistic range and scope of knowledge acquisition that includes the technical capacity of reading and writing as an important, but undetermined variable of the broader definition encapsulated in the term, “multiliteracies.”
· Definitions of literacy that programs appropriate will be shaped by the sum total of cultural, social, political, economic, and intellectual influences interacting on them. In short, the cultural matrix as a variant in adult literacy education is unavoidable.