School metaphor

  • Uses school language and measures (grade levels, tests), uses same standards for adults as for children, assumes participants are naive and do not know what they want.
  • When the school language that failed them in the past appears to be, once again, unrealistic or rigid, adult nonreaders will avoid them.

Medical (and industrial) metaphor

  • Considers illiteracy to be a “disease” and literacy centers to be “clinics.”
  • Promotes the image that there is scientific precision in teaching adult literacy.
  • Implies that people are diseased and that illiterates are contagious and are to be shunned or feared.
  • “There is a difference between curing a disease and promoting health. A premise behind the idea of eradicating illiteracy, as if it is a disease, is that a deficit model is appropriate,” (Ilsley and Stahl, 1993).

Military metaphor

  • Declares “war on illiteracy” to mobilize legions of volunteers in a campaign to hit the target populations.
  • Promotes short­term action instead of long­term solutions.
  • Based on deficit model – illiterates are the enemy.
  • “When a person decides to become involved in the ‘war on illiteracy,’ he or she must be concerned with the possibility of becoming another of the casualties who fall by the tutorial wayside,” (Ilsley and Stahl, 1993).

Banking metaphor

  • Assumes knowledge is stored in vaults from which withdrawals and deposits can be made.
  • Positions teachers as “keepers of the official knowledge, as opposed to facilitators of the critical thinking skills that will empower others,” (Ilsley and Stahl, 1993).

Messages to Include in Literacy Outreach

All people are valuable

  • Adult learners come with talents and experience.
  • All adults are capable of becoming more literate.

Literacy involvement brings opportunities

  • For learners: job advancement, education, independence, strengthened self esteem.
  • For volunteers and staff: community involvement, enhanced skills, strengthened self esteem.
  • For businesses: community involvement, more skilled workforce.

Our community can increase literacy

  • By working together the community can accomplish more.
  • Literacy brings economic stability and is a worthwhile investment.
  • We know what needs to be done

Ilsley, Paul and Norman Stahl. “Reconceptualizing the Language of Adult Literacy,” Journal of Reading (Newark, Del.: International Reading Association, September 1993).

Source: Adult Literacy Outreach Innovations: Outreach Guide. (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1996).