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Title:Capitalizing on literacy: federal adult education policy in the 20th century
Author(s):Bannon, Jessica
Director of Research:Mortensen, Peter L.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Mortensen, Peter L.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Prendergast, Catherine J.; Prior, Paul A.; Vieira, Kate
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literacy Studies
Adult Literacy
Human Capital
Abstract:This dissertation argues that federal adult education policy adheres to a human capital discourse that reinforces the flawed perception that literacy acquisition alone begets individual and, by extension, national economic progress. To illuminate the lasting influence of this discourse and the skills-based definition of literacy it encourages, I examine the history of federal adult education policy from its inception in the 1960s War on Poverty programs through its recent developments in workforce education. Analyzing public laws, the Congressional Record, and Congressional committee reports I demonstrate that policy narratives about literacy and literacy learners are intimately tied not only to the belief that investments in literacy education will foster upward mobility and national progress, but also to political interests in maintaining a social order in which citizenship depends upon one’s contribution to the nation’s economic productivity. My project contends that writing studies scholars need to pay greater attention to how this human capital discourse reifies characterizations of literacy as set of neutral, context free, fixed, and stable skills. Despite writing studies scholarship refuting this characterization, such notions of literacy persist and are quite plausible to both government officials and the public. The discursive context of public policy making and the rhetorical strategies employed therein affect the infrastructure and public perception of adult literacy education, as well as the broader issues of what literacy is and whom literacy serves. Because human capital discourse has a significant impact on our work as literacy researchers and educators, writing studies scholars should engage in the policy making process to broaden the scope of federally funded adult literacy programs and to extend public notions of literacy education beyond workforce training and the expansion of human capital.
Issue Date:2012-06-27
Rights Information:Copyright 2012 Jessica Bannon
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-06-28
Date Deposited:2012-05

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