This book provides a broad overview of some of the major trends and issues shaping the theories, practices, research traditions, and politics of adult literacy in the United States since the mid-1980s. If anything, these have been diverse, conflicting, and often irreconcilable. Impinging factors—from the global economy to urban poverty, from "functional literacy" to the "pedagogy of the oppressed," from demands for aggregate data analysis to alternative assessment design, from scientific-based educational research to practitioner-based inquiry—have been key prisms through which sharply jarring discourses have played out in this field during these years. The first eight chapters examine these issues through three distinctive interpretive frames: the participatory literacy movement, the New Literacy Studies, and the functional and workforce orientation of federal policy. Chapter 9, Research Traditions, closely parallels these schools of literacy. In these chapters, I adopt a strategy of critical description and historical analysis.
The final chapters explore tentative lines of potential reconcilability. A middle ground pedagogy is used to connect John Dewey's educational philosophy of growth to the New Literacy Studies and to a mode of research that links practitioner-based and scientific approaches through the example of Dewey's experimental logic. This exploratory space is mediated through the prospect of a reconstruction, or more technically put, a hermeneutical retrieval of the nation's founding ideals, flowing from the American Revolution as a basis to situate a contemporary U.S. politics of adult literacy. Problems with this construct are also highlighted.