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The limits of the possible : the theory and practice of worker-centred literacy in the context of global… Evans, Sarah 2006

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T H E LIMITS OF T H E POSSIBLE: T H E T H E O R Y A N D PRACTICE OF W O R K E R C E N T R E D L I T E R A C Y IN T H E C O N T E X T OF G L O B A L C A P I T A L I S M by Sarah Evans  B A (Hon), The University o f Alberta, 1992  A THESIS S U B M I T T E D I N P A R T I A L F U L F I L M E N T OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF M A S T E R OF ARTS in T H E F A C U L T Y OF G R A D U A T E STUDIES (Adult Education)  f  T H E UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH C O L U M B I A December 2005  © Sarah Evans, 2005  A  B  S  T  R  A  C  T  The goal o f this study is to outline the limits and possibilities for change that workercentred literacy offers in the context o f global capitalism. To this end, this study examines contemporary Canadian discourses o f 'workplace literacy' in the new knowledge-based economy and, i n particular, explores how the emerging discourse o f 'worker-centred literacy' replicates and resists the current emphasis on learning for work. Generally, 'workplace literacy' refers to adult literacy or basic skills programs that take place in work sites, sometimes on work time and usually with skill-based curricula. 'Worker-centred literacy' refers to certain approaches developed or championed by trade unions for their members in unionized worksites. U n i o n organizations do not all endorse a worker-centred approach. There is currently a range o f notions about the goals o f literacy programming at work, from the development o f a more productive, flexible and responsive workforce, to the personal and/or political empowerment o f learners/workers. In this study, the 'talk' about these literacies w i l l be analyzed i n order to explicate the conflicting sets o f interests and political perspectives they represent and the tensions between their competing theories o f knowledge making.  The main focus o f this study w i l l be an exploration o f worker-centred literacy as an oppositional, counter-hegemonic discourse. First, this study w i l l examine why and how labour literacy activists articulate an agenda for literacy that is oppositional to the dominant discourse, with its focus on learning that is geared towards work, and on the skills deficits o f Canadian workers. This study w i l l also examine the tensions inherent within the worker-centred approach itself, and the ways in which this project both reproduces and reforms the dominant discourse. Finally, this study w i l l examine workercentred literacy and the work o f labour literacy activists in relation to the evolving role o f the labour movement in contemporary Canadian society. This study w i l l conclude that labour literacy activists posit worker-centred literacy as a catalyst for changing the relationship between unions and their membership, and, thereby, for expanding and modernizing the role o f unions in response to the pressures o f global capitalism.  iii TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract  ii  Table of Contents List of Figures Acknowledgements 1.  Introduction and Methodology 1.1 Introduction 1.2 Theoretical Framework 1.3 Research Methodology 1.3.1 Policy Analysis 1.3.2 Interviews and Interviewees 1.3.3 Program Selection and Analysis 1.4 Subjectivity, Validity and Reliability 1.5 Map of Thesis  2.  Liberal, Humanist and Critical Traditions in Adult Education 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5  3.  The Policy Context of Workplace Literacy 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4  3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 4.  Introduction Liberal and Humanist Traditions in Adult Education Critiques of Liberal and Humanist Traditions Critical Approaches to Adult Education Chapter Conclusions  Introduction The Economic Imperative for Workplace Literacy Competing Perspectives on Literacy Workplace Literacy in the Knowledge Society 3.4.1 Defining Literacy: The IALS and Functionalist Interpretations 3.4.2 Describing Literacy: Contemporary Canadian Workplace Literacy Policy Critiques of the Knowledge Society: the 'New Work Order' Implications for Workplace Literacy Whose Knowledge Matters? Chapter Conclusions The Philosophy of Worker-Centred Literacy  4.1 Introduction 4.2 In Their Words: Labour Literacy Activists 4.2.1 Labour Adjustment 4.2.2 External Shifts 4.2.3 Internal Shifts 4.2.4 Shifts in Relations  iii v vi 1 1 2 7 8 9 10 12 13 16 16 17 19 22 29 31 31 33 39 41 41 44 53 60 67 74 78 78 85 85 86 88 90  iv 4.2.5 Equity and Inclusion 4.2.6 Control vs. Empathy 4.2.7 Personal and Collective Transformation 4.3 Chapter Conclusions 5.  The Practice of Worker-Centred Literacy 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6  Introduction Learner-Centred vs. Critical Approaches in Participatory Education Situating Worker-Centred Approaches The Ontario Federation of Labour's BEST Program The B C Experience: BEST and L E A P Further Considerations 5.6.1 Shifts in Relations 5.6.2 Coming to Voice 5.7 Constraints to Worker-Centred Literacy 5.7.1 Program Planning Context: Collaborating With and Subverting Capital 5.7.2 The Trade Union Context: Resisting and Reproducing Capital 5.8 Chapter Conclusions - and New Questions  6.  Taking It Home: Growing and Changing the Union 6.1 Introduction 6.2 Union Education in the Knowledge Society 6.3 The Contributions and Challenges of Worker-Centred Literacy 6.3.1 Growing and Changing the Union 6.3.2 Clear Language 6.3.3 Strategic Planning and Cooperation 6.3.4 Shifts in Power 6.3.5 Taking it Home 6.4 Chapter Conclusions  7.  Conclusions  Bibliography Union Literacy References Policy References A l l Other References Appendices A : Initial Letter of Contact B: Letter of Consent C: Interview Questions  91 92 95 98 103 103 105 107 111 113 117 117 123 126 126 131 134 138 138 140 146 146 147 149 150 153 155 157 162 162 164 166 178 177 180 182  LIST OF FIGURES  Diagram 1.0: Where Does Literacy Fit?  vi  ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I am indebted to many people for the completion o f this study, including:  Literacy program participants, along with whom I have learned, unlearned and re-learned.  M y co-workers and friends, who encouraged me to go back to school and gave me time, stories and support.  The labour literacy activists who gave time, insight and trust by consenting to my interviews.  M y thesis committee: Dr. Shauna Butterwick, D r . Pierre Walter and D r . Kjell Rubenson, with special thanks to Shauna, for her unflagging academic advocacy.  Robert Wedel, for paving the way.  Thank you.  1  CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION, THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK AND RESEARCH METHODOLOGY 1.1  Introduction  With reference to Rachel B l a u du Plessis' (1987) essay For the Etruscans this paper w i l l argue that worker-centred literacy is "(ambiguously) non-hegemonic" (in Rylance, p. 269). L i k e workplace literacy as a whole, worker-centred literacy is situated on the front line i n the war o f position between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic forces. To paraphrase Blau du Plessis, worker-centred literacy has residual elements that posit as a tool for building an inclusive and democratic society. It is also oppositional to the reigning dominant paradigm, which describes the l o w literacy and skill levels o f Canadian workers as a chief contributor to economic woes, and prescribes a competencybased, outcomes-oriented approach to workplace learning as a solution. Contrastingly, worker-centred literacy offers many alternative sources o f conditions and consciousness for working people and for the working class. Yet, this approach is joined to the dominant, productivity-oriented system o f meanings and practices by its location within the workplace and the trade union.  Worker-centred literacy provides working people with a dual opportunity for advancement and resistance. In some ways, this ambiguity reflects a pragmatic adjustment on the part o f labour literacy activists, who may acknowledge that in order to create opportunities for change, some degree o f collaboration with the dominant elements is necessary.  However, I w i l l also argue that the ambiguity o f worker-centred literacy is reflective o f the position that trade unionism itself occupies i n relation to capitalism. Unions seek to change the dominant system in favour o f one that is more equitable and just for working people and for the working class, while simultaneously seeking to secure better outcomes for their members within the exiting system. In Freirean terms, unions take a stance o f both "adhesion" and resistance to the "oppressor" (Freire, 1968/1972, p. 30).  2  I w i l l demonstrate that this ambiguous position is reflected i n both the theory and practice of worker-centred literacy. Worker-centred literacy aims to carve out access for working people to the opportunities and credentials o f the dominant system, and, as such, represents an attitude o f adhesion. However, when considered from the perspective o f a dominant system that prescribes for many working people educational opportunities that are, at best, exploitative and simplistic, simply having a space and an occasion to work towards one's own goals may be in and o f itself a radical event. Further, worker-centred literacy programs may be able to offer moments o f personal transformation and shifts i n relations o f power. However, this does not imply that they are necessarily able to produce any empirical change i n the structures o f oppression.  For advocates o f worker-centred literacy, then, existing i n the system o f meanings and values that structure literacy learning at work and within unions may be a divided consciousness, envisioning freedom, yet struggling against the limitations o f their contexts, and, many cases, their own consciousnesses.  1.2  Theoretical Framework  This study w i l l explore the following broad questions:  •  H o w is workplace literacy discussed within the dominant discourse o f the knowledge society? H o w does the dominant discourse frame the 'problem' o f workplace literacy, and what kinds o f programmatic 'solutions' does this discourse propose? What particular economic and political standpoints and interests does this discourse represent and serve?  •  H o w does the union-based discourse resist and/or reproduce the dominant paradigm? H o w is worker-centred literacy discussed within the discourse o f labour literacy activism? H o w do labour literacy activists frame the 'problem' o f workplace literacy, and what kinds o f programmatic 'solutions' does this discourse propose? What economic and political standpoints and interests does this discourse represent and serve?  3  •  What directions for labour education and the labour movement in general do labour literacy activists propose?  In pursuing these questions, this study w i l l engage, in part, in a critical analysis o f the discourses o f workplace literacy. The theoretical approach used w i l l be influenced by the post-structuralist discourse-oriented work o f M i c h e l Foucault (1972, 1973, 1990) as well as Dorothy Smith (1999), Stephen B a l l (1990) and Nancy Fraser (1989). Borrowing from Foucault (1972), this study w i l l posit that the effects o f truth are produced within the discourses o f workplace literacy, although the discourses themselves are neither true nor false (p. 118). Accordingly the need for increased workplace literacy in Canada indeed, what some have called the 'crisis' o f workplace literacy - is a truth historically constituted and politically maintained through sets o f statements that are themselves infused with the power o f truth; e.g. literate workers are more productive workers; l o w levels o f literacy are having a negative impact on the ability o f Canadian corporations to compete in the global marketplace; the new economy requires brains, not brawn; etc. Questioning these taken-for-granted assumptions is important, since "posing for discourse the question o f power means basically to ask whom does the discourse serve?" (p. 115). This study w i l l ask who is served by the dominant discourse on workplace literacy, and whose interests does the emerging, alternative discourse o f worker-centred literacy serve.  In exploring these questions, this study w i l l adopt Foucault's notion o f power as "not an institution and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the same one attributes to a complex strategic situation in a particular society" (1990, p. 93). This study w i l l link Foucault's notion o f power as a complex strategic situation in a particular society to Fraser's (1989) concept o f "the Social," which she describes as a "complex and polyvalent nexus o f compromise formations in which are sedimented the outcomes o f past and future struggles as well as the conditions for present and future ones" (p. 157). A l s o relevant is B a l l ' s (1990) conceptualization o f social policy as "not simply a direct response to dominant interests... but... responding to a complex and  4  heterogeneous configuration o f elements (including ideologies that are residual or emergent, as well as the currently dominant" (p. 3). These views o f the complex, interactive nature o f power encourage researchers to look not for instances o f opposing forces, but for the location o f different interests' interactions.  Building on these premises, this study w i l l posit 'talk' about the needs and goals o f workplace literacy programs as a political discourse functioning as a "medium for the making and contesting o f various political claims" (Fraser, 1989, p. 161). Thus, the discourse o f workplace literacy w i l l be examined as a 'site o f struggle' among competing interests, including ideologies o f workplace literacy and adult education that are residual and emergent, as well as those that are currently dominant. This approach w i l l guide this study's examination o f the current policy terrain o f workplace literacy, and o f how labour organizers position themselves within the complex nexus o f interests, ideologies, compromises and strategies that make up this moment in workplace literacy policy formation, and in the relationship o f unions to their memberships, the labour movement, and capital. In particular, this study w i l l show how the discourse o f workplace literacy posits worker skills shortages as a 'problem' in the current direction o f economic and social development, and w i l l also demonstrate how the 'solutions' proposed flow directly from the way this problem is presented and represented. However, workplace literacy discourse is not a closed system, but the site o f conflict among competing interests, including residual and emergent discourses o f workplace literacy. This study w i l l argue that labour literacy activists seek to position their project at the fissures and openings i n the dominant hegemonic discourse i n order to advance, both materially and ideologically, their notion o f an alternative, worker-centred literacy. Further, this study w i l l examine the discourse o f labour literacy activists i n order to articulate their alternative representations o f both the 'problem' o f workplace literacy and its 'solution'. However, this study w i l l show that the discourse o f labour literacy activists is not a closed system either, but is also the site o f competing claims and interests. Labour discourse is ambiguous - it both resists and reproduces the dominant perspectives.  Fraser (1989) proposes a "framework for inquiry" for understanding the way that power functions within discourses, such as the discourses o f workplace literacy (p. 145). M y discussion thus far has been relevant to what Fraser calls the "ideological" aspect o f this analytical framework, in that it has been concerned with how policy-makers and labour literacy activists 'talk' about workplace literacy. This ideological investigation has been concerned with questioning "the typical way in which issues get framed, given the institutional dynamics o f the political system" (p. 145). I have proposed to look at how workplace literacy is framed in policy 'talk' and the 'talk' o f labour organizers, and how these discourses both define and confine workplace literacy needs and outcomes. In B a l l ' s (1990) words, my investigation o f this ideological space has proposed to examine "the limits o f the possible" for workplace literacy policy and programming, and the role of different sub-discourses i n transmitting or resisting the dominant culture (p. 11).  However, as both Fraser (1989) and B a l l (1990) suggest, an ideological inquiry is just one way to investigate the terrain o f workplace literacy policy and practice. Fraser suggests that there is also a structural aspect to the inquiry framework, and B a l l suggests a similar, political-economic aspect (Fraser, p. 145; B a l l , p. 10). In a related notion, Smith's (1999) discussion o f "the ruling relations," or "the complex o f objectified social relations that organize and regulate our lives i n contemporary society," identifies these relations as having both "abstracted discourses and forms o f organization creating the matrix o f a consciousness outside the local and particular" and also, "the local particularities o f everyday experience" (p. 73). The mutually re-enforcing inter-play o f ideological and structural, political-economic and material discursive elements recalls Althusser's (1971) 'total social system', or the process o f interpellation in concrete social practices and institutions. According to Althusser, ideology belongs to the domain o f consciousness, but it is also a material practice that is manifested and reproduced in concrete practices (p. 168).  Whereas the ideological aspects o f discourses are linked, in the theories o f Fraser (1989) and B a l l (1990), to political-economic and structural elements, Smith's (1999) is a rather more intimate notion, linking ideology, consciousness and "everyday/ everynight  6  activities" (p. 73). The point, though, is that 'the complex o f objectified social relations' represented in and by both hegemonic and counter-hegemonic discourses have tangible, material, experiential elements as well as ideological aspects. This study w i l l engage in a rigorous discourse analysis that explores all o f these elements and the interactions among them.  Using these notions, this study w i l l engage in an investigation o f the ideological, structural, political-economic and material aspects o f workplace literacy discourses. This study w i l l investigate how the dominant and alternative discourses frame, in ideological terms, the problem of, and the solution to, contemporary workplace literacy issues. This analysis w i l l also consider the socio-economic context in which workplace literacy programs are promoted, i.e. the funding, resources and support offered to workplace literacy by government, industry and labour. This study w i l l question the contribution that workplace literacy makes to productivity. This study w i l l also examine the material, , structural reality o f workplace literacy, as seen through program manuals and other related material. These analytical approaches address the position o f workplace literacies in relation to 'capital' (Ball, 1990, p. 10).  In particular, this study w i l l suggest that the current surge o f interest i n workplace literacy is linked discursively to the requirements o f the global economy, even as the discourse glosses over the worst effects o f that economy on marginalized workers. The rhetoric surrounding the new 'knowledge society' implies that training and education w i l l lead to greater individual contributions to capital, and, thus, to greater gains for the individual and society as a whole. However, the actual position o f workers i n the socioeconomic system suggests otherwise, as does the actual funding (or lack thereof) for workplace literacy. This study w i l l argue that labour literacy activists propose a transformational vision o f and for literacy, but relative lack o f support for their project from governments and employers - and even from within their own union organizations poses challenges to their vision. A s a result, labour literacy activists pull back from some of the more radical aspects o f their agenda for literacy, or to work towards them i n more subversive or strategic ways. The barriers that labour literacy activists encounter within  7  the labour camp suggests that labour as a whole may yet be reticent to reposition its relationship with capital, at least as far as its most marginal members are concerned.  In investigating the claims made by the dominant and labour-based discourses on workplace literacies, I w i l l draw on adult education literature in order to 'unpack' the epistemological implications o f various discursive claims. Specifically, this study w i l l draw on theories about liberal, humanist and critical approaches to adult education in order to explicate the ways in which the policies and programs proposed by both the dominant and alternative, labour-based approaches to education are geared towards replicating or towards resisting the status quo. I am interested in whether the approaches to workplace literacy proposed by these two, broad perspectives imply and deliver learning processes that reproduce the position o f learners within existing structured relational and power dynamics, that empower and include learners within these structures, or that fundamentally challenge these structures. In discussing the workercentred approach to literacy, I w i l l carefully 'tease out' the liberal and the critical elements o f this approach. I w i l l take the position, outlined by Stephen Brookfield (2001), that: a critical theory o f adult learning should focus on how adults learn to recognize and challenge ideological domination and manipulation. Such learning is necessary i f adults are to counteract the continuous reproduction o f blatantly unequal structures and create more inclusive democratic arrangements (p. 7). Finally, I w i l l rely on political-economic literature related to the ' N e w Work Order', and the role o f the welfare state i n post-Fordist society, Human Capital Theory, Labour Process Theory and Skilling/Deskilling theories. I w i l l also reference literature from critical social theory, particularly theories o f oppositional and subversive social spaces.  1.3  Research Methodology  To undertake this study, I gathered and examined, using a discourse-oriented approach, a variety o f policy and program documents and texts from the fields o f workplace and worker-centred literacy. Sources include the Government o f Canada, the Government o f British Columbia, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Statistics Canada,  the Ontario Ministry o f Skills Development, the Conference Board o f Canada, the National Literacy Secretariat, the Western Canada Workplace Essential Skills Training Network (WWestNet), the Workplace Education Development Project, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Union o f Public Employees, the Hospital Employees' U n i o n o f British Columbia and Capilano College. I also designed, implemented and analyzed interviews with five key players in the labour literacy movement ("labour literacy activists," o f which more w i l l be said below). Finally, I gathered and examined program manuals and curriculum material from three worker-centred literacy initiatives, Basic Education for Skills Training (two versions o f this program) and Learning and Education Assisted by Peers, o f which more w i l l be said below.  M y analysis o f these documents and texts is divided into three main areas:  1.3.1  P o l i c y Analysis  Chapter Three, the Policy Context o f Workplace Literacy, engages in a policy-oriented analysis o f certain key workplace literacy documents, mostly from the Canadian Government and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (formerly Human Resources Development Canada). Subsequent chapters, especially Chapters Four and Five, introduce labour-based policy documents and texts, especially from the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian U n i o n o f Public Employees, the Hospital Employees' Union o f British Columbia and Capilano College. I felt I could include the college material as part o f the analysis o f labour texts, since the material i n question was written either for or with union partners.  In choosing among the many policy documents to analyze, I decided to target a few key, recent documents. I chose documents specifically focused on workplace literacy as opposed to literacy in general. Rather than aiming for a broad overview o f many texts, I engaged i n detailed textual exegeses o f these select documents. I relied on political, economic, social theory and adult education literature to guide me i n investigating the implications o f the policy themes for literacy and learning at work.  9  1.3.2  Interviews and Interviewees  The primary new contribution o f this study w i l l be the discourse analysis o f interviews with labour literacy activists. These labour literacy activists are individuals involved in promoting a worker-centred approach to literacy within labour unions, including articulating and implementing worker-centred literacy programs for their unions' members.  It should be noted that the worker-centred approach is not adopted by all  union organizations i n Canada, and so my interview data is not representative o f labour perspectives on workplace literacy as a whole.  In 2003-2004,1 designed interviews and carried them out with six labour literacy activists, o f which four are used in this paper. I sent the interviewees copies o f the research questions i n advance, and obtained written consent from all o f the interviewees to use the data in this paper. A l l documentation is appended.  In August 2004,1 conducted an interview with Robert Wedel, workplace literacy instructor at Capilano College in North Vancouver, British Columbia, and my co-worker and friend. W i t h Rob's permission, I have used that interview as data in this study. Parts of this interview have been published in Literacies (2004.)  A l l interviewees agreed to be identified. In fact, it would have been a challenge to keep their identities concealed, given the small number o f people i n Canada who engage in the field of worker-centred literacy. They are a l l local, regional and national leaders in the field o f worker-centred literacy. I have, therefore, taken no particular precautions around confidentiality; although neither have I found it necessary to spell out exactly who these individuals are. Where the identity o f an individual other than an interviewee might be revealed through the interview data, I have taken pains to conceal it.  To position them, two interviewees direct the literacy projects o f national labour organizations. One interviewee works on literacy at a regional level within a national union. One is a local activist who was involved i n implementing a literacy program in his workplace. One is a college-based adult education instructor who has worked  10  extensively in collaboration with labour partners to develop and implement the workercentred approach to literacy. Together, they are representatives from a national labour umbrella organization, a national public sector union, a national private sector union, a provincial public sector union and a provincial public sector educator's union. It should be noted that these activists represent their own views, and not those o f their organizations, although in some cases the policy manuals and program materials that also form part o f my analysis were written by them.  A s mentioned, I decided not to use i n this study the data from two o f the interviews I conducted. The findings were thematically relevant, but the twp individuals were involved in programs other than the ones I describe and analyze in this paper, and I felt that giving them a proper history and contextualization would make this study too long.  In engaging i n a qualitative discourse analysis o f these interviews, I looked for key themes that were repeated by all interviewees, and themes that were particular to individual perspectives. I compared and contrasted these to themes I had identified i n the dominant workplace literacy policy framework, to themes from the literature on liberal, humanist and critical approaches to adult education and to themes from the politicaleconomic and social policy literature.  M y research questions changed from the time I designed and conducted the interviews, to the time I actually engaged in the analysis and wrote up the research. I chose to focus on how the interviewees talked about their beliefs about workplace literacy in order to explicate some o f the underlying principles o f a worker-centred approach. In some ways, I took this direction from the interview data itself, as I found that, in the interviews, we talked about what literacy means to us, rather than specifically about how to evaluate a worker-centred literacy program, which was my original intent.  1.3.3  P r o g r a m Selection a n d Analysis  Another part o f this discourse analysis concerns program material from three workercentred literacy programs: the Ontario Federation o f Labour's B E S T program, and, in  11  British Columbia, the Hospital Employees' U n i o n B E S T program and the L E A P program.  To position them, the Basic Education for Skills Training ( B E S T ) approach to workercentred literacy was developed by the Ontario Federation o f Labour in the 1987-88, and was adopted by other unions throughout Canada. In the original model, B E S T programs were offered in the workplace, on paid time, and with the assistance o f trained "peer coinstructors." The source o f funding for B E S T was the Ontario then-Ministry o f Skills Development, which had originally come up with a pot o f money to try to entice employers to sponsor workplace literacy, i n recognition o f supposed skills deficits i n the workforce. Employers did not apply for the money, but the Ontario Federation o f Labour did, and they took the program in an entirely different direction, defining worker-centred literacy in Canada. A t its height, the program had eight regional coordinators, and three staff i n Toronto. In their training i n August 1988, they trained sixty peer instructors who then worked to implement and deliver worker-centred literacy programs in their workplace. They held about three such trainings a year. The program was run entirely through the Federation o f Labour and local unions, with no employer input. Employers paid for release time for employees to attend the program.  In 1996, the Hospital Employees' U n i o n in British Columbia adapted the B E S T model by adding a role for a college instructor in the classroom while maintaining the use o f "peer tutors." Funding was provided through the Healthcare Labour Adjustment Agency for employees to attend the program on work time, and for the college instructor. The program ran in several lower mainland hospitals, including Vancouver General, Children and Women's and Surrey Memorial. Working for Capilano College, I was a college instructor for two years in the V G H program.  Learning and Education Assisted by Peers ( L E A P ) is an approach to worker-centred literacy developed in 1997 by the Joint U n i o n Management Program ( J U M P ) o f Forestry Renewal B C , and then taken up by the Communication Energy and Paperworkers' U n i o n and some locals o f the Pulp and Paperworkers o f Canada. The original goal o f J U M P  12  was to advance the industry through investing i n the workforce and creating a learning culture. L E A P programs were run by trained peer tutors, with the college instructors as a distant resource. They were offered i n the workplace and were partly on paid time and partly on the learners own time. Both L E A P and H E U - B E S T were guided by joint union-management program committees, which usually did not include learner representatives. Although the overall program goals and outcomes were developed by each committee, the programs observed strict confidentiality, which meant that management representatives were not present in the classrooms.  Neither B E S T nor L E A P programs are currently running, as such funding as was available through Forestry Renewal B C and the Healthcare Labour Adjustment Agency dried up. For a few years, L E A P programs continued to run without government funding, supported by employer contributions at three sites: Prince George Pulp and Paper and Northwood Pulp (both owned by Canfor) and the Husky O i l Refinery in Prince George. Employer contributions dried up, and the programs have since folded, although the C E P local at Prince George Pulp and Paper has since bargained for training money i n their Collective Agreement, and intend to start a L E A P program again at their site.  1.4  Subjectivity, Validity and Reliability  M y selection o f this particular group o f interviewees and programs was subjective. Because I worked in the field o f worker-centred literacy at the time, I had access to these individuals, and it made sense to turn to them, as they are among the national leaders i n worker-centred literacy. Indeed, three o f the interviewees were primarily involved in creating the B E S T and L E A P programs that I analyze, they continue to head up regional or national literacy initiatives for labour organizations, and they are nationally recognized names i n the field o f worker-centred literacy.  The interviewees are both colleagues and friends o f mine. I co-authored two o f the texts that form part o f my analysis and I worked as a college-based literacy instructor i n two o f the programs. A s much as anything, then, this study represents an investigation o f my own philosophy and practice o f worker-centred literacy.  13  I believe that my findings have strong internal validity. Since I has known and worked with the interviewees for some time at the time o f the interviews, it is likely that there is a high degree o f agreement and mutual meanings between my understanding o f what we talked about, and theirs. M y interpretation o f the findings is, o f course, my own. Due to the specificity o f the topic, the philosophy and practice o f worker-centred literacy, I believe that my findings w i l l also have a relatively high degree o f external validity. M y results should be able to assist others in achieving insight into similar situations. A s well, both the internal and external validity o f the findings are likely positively impacted by the use o f other data sources, in particular policy material. However, because I am so close to the material and the interviewees, it has been impossible to eliminate researcher bias in data analysis and interpretation o f meanings. Therefore, the reliability o f my findings may be compromised.  1.5  Map of Thesis  The main contribution o f this paper w i l l be an exploration and elucidation o f dominant perspectives on 'workplace' literacy and labour perspectives on 'worker-centred literacy'. This study w i l l compare and contrast these two broad perspectives i n order to determine ways in which they collude, and ways in which they are opposed. The overall goal o f this study w i l l be to outline the 'limits o f the possible' for worker-centred literacy and its agenda o f change.  Chapter T w o w i l l present an overview o f dominant, liberal perspectives on adult education, as well as critical theories. I w i l l argue that most theories o f adult education endorse an inclusive, democratic agenda, but only critical theories recognize that creating equality and emancipation requires an engagement and struggle with power in all its internal immaterial and external material forms.  The third chapter o f this thesis w i l l investigate the dominant discourse o f workplace literacy, which reflects both capitalist and liberal ideologies. This discourse posits literacy as a tool for creating workers whose skills are tightly aligned with the needs o f corporate competitiveness. It also carries residual notions o f literacy and learning that are  14  about democracy and citizenship. I w i l l question whether and to what extent capital really demands more knowledge and knowledgeable workers.  Chapter Four w i l l analyze the 'talk' o f labour literacy activists and argue that their discourse posits a worker-centred literacy that considers workers' perspectives and emphasizes education as an agent o f individual and collective change. I w i l l explicate both how and why these activists envision literacy as a tool for change aimed at upsetting dominant hierarchies, and how they conceive o f and struggle with all forms o f power. However, I w i l l also argue that, while explicitly oppositional, the discourse o f these advocates also carry traces o f the same structured power hierarchies and relations o f dominance these activists seek to overturn.  In Chapter Five, this study w i l l turn from an exploration o f the ideological elements in worker-centred literacy discourse to an investigation o f its practical applications. Using materials from three worker-centred literacy programs, I w i l l trace the ambiguity o f these projects in relation to their stated aims and contexts. I w i l l argue that the more emancipatory, critical goals o f worker-centred literacy are forced off the agenda or underground i n response to the position these programs occupy in relation to both capital and labour.  Having thus outlined the tensions and contradictions inherent i n worker-centred literacy, in Chapter S i x this study w i l l argue that, i n the end, labour literacy activists respond dialogically, as a form o f praxis, to this situation by turning their gaze back on their own union organizations. Worker-centred literacy becomes a metaphor and a tool for social change that begins right at home, i n a challenge to the structured power relations o f the union.  In promoting the cause o f literacy within labour, literacy activists re-engage  unions i n the broad, emancipatory goals o f their project.  Worker-centred literacy thus  promotes the necessary renewal, diversification and democratization o f the labour movement, made all the more urgent by the pressures o f global capitalism. In this, labour literacy activists take a stance with Milband, who, according to Meiksins W o o d (1994), wrote i n 1990, "The ultimate purpose o f counter-hegemonic struggles... is to make  15  socialism 'the common sense o f the epoch'" (as cited i n Meiksins Wood, 1994). For labour literacy activists, this "involves two things: ' a radical critique o f the prevailing social order', and 'an affirmation that an entirely different social order ... is not only desirable ... but possible'" (ibid.).  I w i l l conclude that unions, taking the lead from labour literacy activists, need to critically self-reflect on their institutions and their role i n supporting, resisting or opposing the culture o f learning and work that creates the conditions for the further exploitation o f working people. For this, worker-centred literacy can be both a catalyst and a means. These, then, are the limits and possibilities offered at and by this moment i n workplace literacy policy formation.  I hope that my analysis w i l l contribute to a fuller, more subtle understanding o f the agenda underlying the productivity orientation o f the dominant approach to workplace literacy, and o f the ways that union-based approaches can counteract that agenda.  16  C H A P T E R TWO: L I B E R A L , HUMANIST AND CRITICAL TRADITIONS IN ADULT EDUCATION  2.1  Introduction  The Canadian Labour Congress proposes a V e n n diagram o f where, i n their view, literacy "fits" within the context o f other educational traditions. The diagram shows a large circle that is "adult education" i n which are contained three smaller circles, with a central area of overlap, representing "literacy," "popular education" and "labour education." "Worker-centred literacy" is situated at the central area o f overlap.  Diagram 1.0: W H E R E D O E S L I T E R A C Y FIT?  Source: Canadian Labour Congress (n.d.), Union based literacy course: notes, Session 3, p. 12.  Participant  17  This chapter w i l l outline adult and popular education perspectives. The following chapter w i l l discuss definitions and concepts o f literacy as put forward in the dominant contemporary policy discourse on workplace literacy. Ensuing chapters w i l l investigate the philosophy, principles and practice o f "worker-centred literacy" in order to explain both why and how literacy is envisioned, in opposition to the dominant framework, as a means o f creating individual and collective change. Ensuing chapters w i l l also examine ways in which even the oppositional agenda o f worker-centred is constrained by tensions and contradictions in its theory and in its practice. The final chapter w i l l discuss workercentred literacy in relation to labour  2.2  education.  Liberal and Humanist Traditions in Adult Education  Norton (2000) points out that other theorists have suggested that "humanism is the prevailing philosophy i n adult literacy education efforts that work from learner-centred approaches, value the development o f self-esteem and advocate personal or individual empowerment" (Quigley, as cited i n Norton, ibid, p. 13). Humanist traditions can probably be traced back to the Enlightenment. A s Halsey, Lauder, B r o w n and Wells (1997) explain: Two great social principles o f the Enlightenment are, firstly, that the determination o f life-chances by the accidents o f birth... should be driven from human society; and secondly, that there should be mass rather than elite participation in democratic societies. Education has been seen as central to this agenda, i n helping to provide the technical skills for modern society and in selecting the talented for upward mobility (p. 632). In this view, the goal is to equalize opportunity to education for all in order to generate broad and democratic participation in society. Social mobility is to be determined by skills and talents, rather than by birth or rank, and skills and talents are viewed as qualities or attributes that an individual is born with and can actualize through education. B y paving the way for the fulfillment o f this promise, education is central to human progress "not only technically and economically, but also in terms o f emancipation" (p. 13). B y promoting social mobility, the vision o f the Enlightenment was to build a rich and progressive democratic sphere, where those who were most capable would have the most decision-making power.  18  The idea that democracy and education "are interdependent and by their nature lead to individual development and social growth," has often been ascribed to John Dewey (Merriam, 1995, p. 27). Dewey argued that education has "a prominent role in bringing about social change" (as cited in Merriam, ibid.). In particular, Dewey believed that: education could lead to social change by educating individuals in democratic values. Thus educated, individuals would i n turn work for a better, democratically-based society (Norton, 2000, p. 12). For Dewey, democracy depends on commonalties and unity, and the role o f education is to promote the democratic mindset by widening the area o f shared concern. According to Dewey (1916), democratic states have great cause to be devoted to "deliberate and systematic education," not only because universal suffrage depends on educated and informed citizens, but also because "democracy is more than a form o f government; it is primarily a mode o f associated living, o f conjoint communicated experience" (p. 87). Within a democratic state, education should create situations for students to share experiences so that "each has to refer his own action to that o f others, and to consider the action o f others to give point and direction to his own" (ibid.). Intellectual stimulation springs from this variety o f shared interests, from free and equitable intercourse between people and ideas, and from a diversity o f stimulation. Through such shared experiences, young people w i l l learn to appreciate a widened area o f shared concern, which central to the democratic life (p. 85). While acknowledging the pluralistic nature o f society, Dewey's goal is to build unity (p. 81, p. 83.) He believed that difference w i l l disappear in light o f commonalty. The "interpenetration" o f diverse ideas and interests that takes place in the "common school" w i l l result in "the breaking down o f those barriers o f class, race, and national territory which kept men from perceiving the full import o f their activity" (p. 87). The result w i l l eventually be the creation o f the best society possible, a society which draws on the finest traits in each o f the member groups and improves on the worst aspects o f each group (p. 83).  Merriam (2000) says that a central principle o f Dewey's "newer school o f education" was that "the beginning o f education shall be made with the experience learners already have,  19  that this experience and the capacities that have been developed during its course provide the starting point for all further learning" (p. 27). B y planting the focus o f adult education squarely on the learner's needs and interests and defining education as the interaction o f these experiences and the educational environment, Dewey established some o f the major tenets o f contemporary adult education theory and practice (ibid.). A s Norton (2000) identifies, this humanist tradition in adult education has been further developed i n the work o f educational psychologists Maslow and Rogers and o f the adult educator Knowles (p. 13). Norton cites Elias and Merriam i n posting the goal o f humanistic education as '"the development o f persons... who are open to change and continued learning... who strive for self-actualization, and... who can live together as fully-functioning individuals," (ibid.). Norton identifies the key principles o f humanistic approaches to education as: • • • • •  2.3  Learner-centeredness Experience-based and cooperative group learning A reciprocal teaching-learning relationship Self-directed learning The development o f individuals' affective and emotional, as well as cognitive, dimensions (ibid.).  Critiques of Liberal and Humanist Traditions in Adult Education  Humanist and progressive perspectives i n adult education have been challenged by a variety o f oppositional critical theories, including critical, feminist, anti-racist and postmodern. O f the postmodern age, Henry Giroux (1997) has argued: It is a time in which the humanist subject seems to no longer be in control o f his or her fate.... The struggle for democracy can be seen i n the context o f a broader struggle against certain features o f modernism that represent the worst legacies o f the Enlightenment tradition. A n d it is against these features that a variety o f oppositional movements have emerged in an attempt to rewrite the relationship between modernism and democracy (p. 113). While they differ in their specific theoretical, ideological and political perspectives, the oppositional discourses that Giroux identifies all agree on the socially constructed nature o f opportunities for personal advancement, and the underlying issue o f power. Citing first Weiler and then Giroux, Razack (1999) explains:  20  In traditional, liberal education the existing arrangement o f society is taken as given and schools 'are seen as the means o f rationally distributing individuals in what is conceived as a basically just society. In contrast... critical education theory recognizes... that... 'men and women are basically unfree in both objective and subjective terms' (p. 42). A s Wilson and Cerevo (1996) argue, power is "the socially constructed capacity to act and not just a personal attribute," and, as such, is mediated by forces that entrench inequality across many lines, including race, gender, class, etc. (p. 7). Our capacity for freedom is mitigated by external (access to resources, opportunities and cultural, institutional and embodied capital) and internal (self-concept, internalized oppression) barriers and obstacles. A s Fraser (1993) argues "informal impediments to participatory parity can persist even after everyone is formally and legally licensed to participate" (p. 119). For the democratic vision o f the Enlightenment to be achieved, then, we need to take into account the role o f education not only i n supporting technical and economic progress, but also i n terms o f emancipation from these external and internal barriers (Halsey et al., 1997).  Another way to examine the difference between liberal and oppositional discourses in education is by comparing their underlying notion o f the state. A s Torres (1998) points out: The definition o f what are the 'real' problems o f education and what are the most appropriate (i.e., cost-effective, ethically acceptable, and legitimate) solutions depends greatly on the theories o f the state that underpin, justify, and guide the educational diagnoses and proposed solutions (p. 9). From this angle, Dewey's dream o f democratic unity depends on the notion o f the state "as the personification and guarantor o f collective wishes" (p. 10). Critical theorists, in contrast, posit a notion o f the state as biased, not neutral, and as influenced by power hierarchies. According to Tamir (1995), i n a situation o f unequal power, "[sjtate neutrality is an ideal that cannot be achieved" (p. 6). The state inevitably promotes the survival and flourishing o f the more powerful. From this perspective, the 'truth' that is promoted and endorsed by the state is the truth o f powerful. Tamir explains that this situation arises inevitably because the common good o f the powerful group "needs no  21  special measures to protect it. It has become a latent common good" (pp. 4-5). This perspective recalls Gramsci's concept o f hegemony, which Jary, D . and Jary, J. (2000) define as the means whereby the more powerful groups in society dominate over other groups by "engineering consensus through controlling the content o f cultural forms and major institutions" such as educational systems (p. 261). A s Halsey et al. (1997) explain, Foucault also suggests that "social practices and the self are constructed in such a way as to render social life an interminable conflict between 'dominated' and 'dominating,' and... truth and power are inseparable" (p. 13). The 'common good' o f the society is therefore a reflection o f that which is good for the most powerful group. In similar vein, Fraser (1993) argues convincingly that our political process is enacted through the discursive space o f public sphere - which she defines this realm as "a theatre i n modern societies i n which political participation i n enacted through the medium o f talk" - as though power inequalities did not exist (p. 110). Ignoring the "powerful informal pressures that marginalize the contributions o f members o f subordinated groups, both i n everyday contexts and i n official public spheres," we "bracket" inequalities, and proceed "as i f they don't exist when they do," which makes "participatory parity" impossible (p. 120, p. 119). In stratified societies, real equality is impossible without acknowledgement and redress o f differentials in the socially constructed capacity to act.  The problem that power differentials pose to the realization o f true participatory democracy has both material and immaterial aspects. B y material aspects, I mean access to the opportunities and resources that make participatory parity a real possibility. In terms o f education, this means access to things like quality education and teachers, educational resources, a supportive home environment, the time and space i n which to study, and, by means o f access to these, the attainment o f the credentials that are socially constructed as necessary for continuing on to higher levels o f education, or for entry into higher-skilled, higher-paid jobs. A s Halsey et al. (1997) point out, sociological studies over the past thirty years have established a clear link between poverty and educational attainment, and their work turns traditional notions o f using skill and talent as a social selection mechanism (p. 13). These are still very live concerns i n Canada, where one o f the recent winners o f the biggest Lotto 649 jackpot i n Canadian history told a reporter  22  that he was happy his winnings would finally enable h i m to send his son to college, a dream that was otherwise not possible ( C B C ' s The National, Thursday October 27). These are all aspects o f what Bourdieu (1997) calls cultural and institutional capital.  B y immaterial aspects, I mean those issues internal to an individual's self-concept, such as our self-confidence, our notions o f what we are capable or worthy of, what we dare to dream of. These concepts are similar to Bourdieu's notions o f embodied capital and to Foucault's notions o f the socially-constructed nature o f subjectivity. The immaterial aspect o f power is also reflected in notions o f "internalized oppression" which Gowen (1992) attributes to Ogbu and Matute-Bianchi and others (p. 52). Groups with less structured power are both less likely to be heard than those with more power, and also less likely to speak up. Thus, the power differential is self-perpetuating. These critiques of the liberal tradition in adult education have left some critical theorists arguing that i f the democratic agenda o f the Enlightenment is to be achieved, then we need to take into account the role o f education not only i n economic, technical and individual progress, but also i n terms o f individual emancipation and social democracy (Halsey et al., 1997, p. 13).  2.4  Critical Approaches to Adult Education  The second circle i n the Canadian Labour Congress' (n.d.) diagram o f where workercentred literacy "fits" in the context o f other influences is "popular education" (p. 12). The theory and practice o f critical pedagogy and transformational education can be seen as oppositional approaches to adult education that address some shortcomings o f the liberal Enlightenment tradition. Popular education is more commonly thought o f as methodology for the application and implementation o f critical perspectives. I w i l l first concern myself with popular education, and then discuss the nuanced differences between this and other critical approaches.  A s defined i n the Union Based Literacy Course: Participant Notes (Canadian Labour Congress, n.d.), popular education goes beyond the adult learning principles consistent with the humanist tradition described above, and "aims at transformation o f a social order  23  which blocks the full and equal development o f a l l " (p. 13). Popular education and critical pedagogy are most commonly associated with the work o f Paulo Freire, a literacy teacher i n Brazil i n the 1950's (Norton, 2000, p. 13). A profound and dedicated humanist, Freire was deeply committed to the vision o f the Enlightenment, and yet fully aware o f the structured power imbalances - external and internal- that made it difficult for oppressed people to participate. A s described by D . Jary and J. Jary (2000), Freire believed that "effective learning and the development o f critical thinking led students to engage with the world around them and the various subjugatory structures that might confront them" (p. 227). In  Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire (1968/1972) outlines his  notion o f a critical pedagogy that rests on an understanding o f oppression. According to Freire, all people are caught in a never-ending struggle for survival against oppression, whether it be securing access to adequate food and safe housing, or having a voice and power in decision-making i n our lives. The oppressed are used to seeing themselves as powerless; they may believe i n the invulnerability o f the oppressive systems i n which they live. Liberation begins when the oppressed gain critical awareness o f oppression, and then are able to take collective action against oppression (ibid.).  According to Freire, traditional education is not geared towards liberation. Instead, it uses a banking approach that positions the teacher as the holder o f all knowledge and the student as the passive receptacle o f this knowledge. Traditional education is a tool o f the oppressors, who actively define what counts as knowledge, who can create knowledge and whose knowledge matters. Education as the practice o f freedom enables people to see the structured nature o f their oppression, to envision a different kind o f world, and to take action to achieve that vision. He called this notion o f reflective and engaged education praxis, which D . Jary and J. Jary (2000), have defined as "[p]urposive action to alter the material and social world" (p. 482). Praxis is a cycle o f reflection-actionreflection that "draws attention to the socially constructed nature o f economic and social institutions and the possibility o f changing these" (ibid.). Freire (1968/1972) describes a liberatory education practice that presents participants with problems and issues from their own life situations, and engages them i n questioning and analysing their assumptions and attitudes related to these issues, and in planning, implementing and  24  reflecting upon actions aimed at changing subjugatory structures. The ultimate goal o f liberatory education is action aimed at social change. Through engaging i n this process of reflection, action, and then re-reflection, learners begin to take back their own power, and enter their history as active, thinking subjects, instead o f passive objects. Liberatory education starts with and values the participants' knowledge about their lives. Liberatory education is dialogic: teachers and students work as critical co-investigators o f reality. Freire lists critical thinking, hope, love and trust as key elements o f a dialogic relationship between the teacher and the learners (ibid.).  Freire argued that oppression affects both oppressed and dominant groups, as it keeps us from experiencing our full humanity. For oppression to change, it is the oppressed who must begin to think and act differently, as the oppressor is not able to understand the significance o f oppression, and w i l l never change o f his own initiative. However, by freeing themselves from oppression, and acting to change social and economic structures that reproduce and perpetuate oppression, the oppressed also free the oppressors and give back to them their own humanity (ibid.). D . Jary and J. Jary (2000) summarize that Freire believed that "humanity's capacity for freedom... cannot be achieved entirely on an individual level" (p. 482).  Norton (2000) points out that the terms "critical, liberatory and transformational are all used to name educational perspectives concerned with social change" (p. 13). However, under the general rubric o f critical, liberatory and transformational approaches to education, there is more variety and diversity among these approaches than is indicated in the Canadian Labour Congress' (n.d.) manual. Other theorists o f emancipatory education share Foucault's analysis o f the socially constructed nature o f the self, but differ slightly on the way in which the educational process can address and alter this. M e z i r o w builds on theory o f participatory, learner-centred adult education, and moves it i n the direction o f emancipation. According to Merriam (1995), M e z i r o w presents "critical selfreflection and perspective transformation... as central to adult learning and development. In adulthood, development is synonymous with perspective transformations" (p. 126). Mezirow (1995) writes:  25  W e know that we must respond to initial learner interests and self-defined needs, but we do so with the intent to move the learner to an awareness o f the reasons for those needs and how learners' meaning perspectives may have limited the way they customarily perceive, think, feel, and act in defining and attempting to satisfy their needs (pp. 123-124; italics original). While acknowledging that transformational adult education shares "a rich body o f experience and a proud professional legacy from community development and social action education," M e z i r o w ' s focuses squarely on "individual perspective transformations," which, he argues, must take place "before social transformations can succeed" (p. 124, p. 128). For Mezirow: The most significant kind o f adult learning invokes bringing psychocultural assumptions into critical consciousness to help learners understand how they have come into possession o f conceptual categories, rules, tactics, and criteria for judging that are implicit i n their habits o f perception, thought, and behaviour... Emancipatory education... helps learners become aware and critical o f the presuppositions that shape their beliefs (p. 127). For most transformational educators, working i n this way does not usually include "taking collective political action themselves" (ibid.). Rather than focusing on action, Mezirow concerns himself more with a notion o f "agency," which is not as synonymous with action, but, rather, is defined as "the power o f actors to operate independently o f the determining constraints o f social structure" (Mezirow, as cited in Merriam, 1995, p. 127; Jary and Jary, 2000, p. 9).  bell hooks, another theorist o f liberatory education, shares M e z i r o w ' s emphasis on coming to awareness - or, as she calls it, "coming to voice" - as the defining moment o f transformation. For hooks, transformation is "that historical moment when one begins to think critically about the self and identity i n relation to one's political circumstances" (1988, p. 47). In her essay,  'when I was a young soldier for the revolution': coming to  voice, hooks describes the feminist focus on coming to voice, on moving from silence into speech, as "a revolutionary gesture" and "a metaphor for self-transformation" (p. 12). While acknowledging that the concept o f voice is frequently used as a cliche that oversimplifies or commodifies and turns into spectacle the experiences o f oppressed and silenced people, hooks argues that coming to voice is nevertheless a powerful and  26  important liberatory moment. Marginalized or disempowered groups are frequently silenced, or do not speak, as Audre Lorde writes, "for fear our voices w i l l not be heard nor welcomed" (as cited i n hooks, ibid.). Marginalized groups have so few opportunities to speak their own truths i n their own "multi-dimensional" voices, that coming to voice is, i n itself, "an act o f resistance" (hooks, p. 12)  Ultimately, Freire, M e z i r o w and hooks write from similar perspectives, but with variations. Central to Freire's notion o f praxis is a cycle o f action and reflection. M e z i r o w takes the focus away from collective social action, and onto a more psychologically-informed notion o f a personal paradigm shift and a gathering sense o f agency. Through her notion o f voice, hooks identifies the central importance o f this paradigm shift as a moment when the personal and the political meet. However, critical, transformational and liberatory theorists o f adult education all share a focus on the subjectivity o f oppressed groups, and their approaches emphasize the stories and voices of oppressed groups in opposition to established knowledge. A s Razack (1999) explains, "a radical or critical pedagogy is one that resists the reproduction of the  status quo by  uncovering relations o f domination and opening up spaces for voices suppressed i n traditional education" (p. 42). In this regard, hooks appears to consciously echo Freire's own words: Speaking becomes both a way to engage i n active self-transformation and a rite o f passage where one moves from being object to being subject. Only as subjects can we speak. A s objects, we remain voiceless - our beings defined and interpreted by others (ibid.). However, in her chapter,  The Gaze from the Other Side: Storytelling for Social Change,  Razack (1999) calls for a close interrogation o f "the emphasis i n critical pedagogy on voices silenced through traditional education" (p. 36). She argues against the assumption that just because an oppressed person speaks or has voice, some kind o f change in oppressive circumstances and structured power imbalances w i l l result. Razack warns: [TJhere are land mines strewn across the path wherever storytelling is used, that it should never be used uncritically, and that its potential as a tool for social change is remarkable, provided we pay attention to the interpretive structures that underpin how we hear and how we take up stories o f oppressed groups (p. 37).  27  Problematizing the notion o f subjectivity inherent in critical approaches to adult education, Razack (1999) points out that each story-telling experience involves both the teller and the listener, and the structured power differentials between their two respective positions can both reveal and reproduce "the complex ways in which relations o f domination are sustained, lived, and resisted" (p. 36). For example, she argues that critical educators are often guilty o f sentimentalizing and essentializing oppressed voices and stories, and such passive acknowledgement can contribute to the maintenance o f the  status quo, rather than its upheaval, as it serves to reassure participants that Canada is actually "diverse and full o f folklore" (p. 37). Listeners o f the stories o f the oppressed can also easily fall into the trap o f what Razack, citing Monture-Angus, calls "appropriating pain," which Razack herself explains as "basking i n the sense o f having visited another country so easily and feeling no compulsion to explore their own complicity in the oppression o f others" (as cited, p. 52, Razack, p. 52).  Razack (1999) draws attention to a fundamental dilemma in critical pedagogy, namely that the stories o f the oppressed are "unproblematically conceived o f as suppressed therefore valued knowledge" (p. 45). It then becomes impossible to question or critically evaluate the educational project (p. 44). Thus locked into a dualistic paradigm o f oppressor vs. oppressed, we "box ourselves into one subject identity" and we gloss over any differences and tensions within and among oppressed groups and stifle the growth o f new consciousness (ibid.). Razack acknowledges that, in part, these shortcomings i n critical pedagogy stem from the straightforward and uncritical application o f Freire's work from its origins in the South to a North American context without questioning the category o f the "oppressed" (p. 43). She points out that "there have been few critical analyses of, for example, white middle-class educators... leading subordinate groups to which they do not belong into critical pedagogy" (p. 44). However, beyond that, Razack also argues that there is a general tendency in the practice o f critical pedagogy "to discourage critical reflection o f various hierarchical differences within oppressed groups" (p. 44). The result is often that efforts to come to consensus around what actions to take in the face o f oppression are stymied, because rather than engaging in a collective critical reflection, students remain caught in their own histories and are unable to 'hear' one  28  another. In attempting to critique, question and seek clarification, students rely on rationality "and the stories o f various groups [then have] to be justified and explicated using the very tools that held these stories to be inadmissible" in the first place (p. 47). This kind o f educational project ends up changing nothing about the reality o f oppression, since "unless we want to fall into the trap o f demanding that the oppressed speak with one voice before we w i l l believe them, we are still left with the difficult task o f negotiating our way through our various ways o f knowing and toward political action" (p. 50).  Instead, Razack (1999) proposes an approach to education that involves collectively: reflecting critically on how we hear and how we speak; on the choices we make about which voice to use and when to use it; and, most important o f all, on developing pedagogical practices that enable us to pose these questions and use the various answers to guide those concrete moral choices we are constantly called upon to make (p. 54). This approach to what Razack, citing Spivak, calls "unlearning privilege" would involve a critical self-examination on the part o f all participants not only o f what stories we choose to tell and how we 'hear' the stories o f others, but also o f what we ' k n o w ' and how we know it (as cited, p. 54, Razack, 55). A g a i n citing Spivak, Razack concludes that this approach encourages us to '"trace the other in s e l f " (as cited, p. 55). The result is a pedagogy capable not only o f "untangl[ing] how we are constructed" but also, crucially, of successfully defining "what it is we want to change about the world and w h y " (Razack, p. 46).  Razack (1999) offers a critical o f the often-unexamined use o f storytelling as a methodology o f critical pedagogy, and the accompanying notion o f voice. Just because a story o f oppression has been told, she argues, does not mean that is has been really heard or  acted upon to bring about a change i n structures o f oppression. Educators working  from a critical pedagogy perspective often essentialize story-telling in the classroom, uncritically accepting and encouraging the acceptance o f stories. Razack agrees with Zuniga and Ellsworth that "we do shy away from critical reflecting on the practices o f those on the 'good' side" (p. 50). This unquestioning acceptance leaves the (often  29  significant) positional authority o f the critical educator unaltered, glosses over differences within and among the lived experiences and political stances o f oppressed groups and stymies further attempts to move past these differences by questioning and critiquing the underlying assumptions, comparing the various experiences and stances, and navigating through difference to come up with possibilities for change. In part, this ironically uncritical approach to critical pedagogy stems from the ways in which popular education and critical pedagogy have been unquestioning adopted and adapted from their origins in the South to various North American contexts.  2.5  Chapter Conclusions  Contemporary theories o f adult literacy education draw on liberal and emancipatory traditions i n adult education. While both o f these traditions emphasize learning i n terms of its value to the individual learner, and see learning as a social event occurring within and influenced by a specific set o f historical circumstances, these traditions differ i n terms o f their understanding o f the notion o f power. In general, liberal approaches draw on the tradition o f Enlightenment, and assume that with equal access to education, all people w i l l have equal opportunity to advance and contribute to a democratic society and a functioning, developing economy. However, emancipatory perspectives on literacy education assume a socially-structured understanding o f power, and a related understanding that education is not neutral, but serves to advance or resist these structured hierarchies. Emancipatory perspectives, as put forward by theorists such as Mezirow, Freire and hooks, rely on a transformation in the individual learner's internalized perception o f him or herself in relation to power, and believe that social change w i l l be the ultimate result o f such transformations. There are differences and nuances within the emancipatory tradition, as some writers, such as Mezirow, emphasize the role o f adult learning i n bringing about these individual paradigm shifts, while others, notably popular education approaches in the Freirean tradition, view education and educators as having a role i n engaging learners in collective social action aimed at upsetting socially-structured power imbalances.  30  The remainder o f this paper w i l l build on this literature review. In the next chapter, I w i l l outline recent developments in the field o f workplace literacy policy, and show that literacy is increasingly viewed through a functionalist, techno-rationalist lens that is profoundly at odds with both the liberal and emancipatory traditions in adult literacy education. Indeed, it has been argued that the new perspectives on literacy, which link learning to the needs o f the global economy, is profoundly anti-educational in that it results in a reductive, instrumental, and often exploitative approach to literacy learning. In subsequent chapters, I w i l l examine worker-centred literacy as an alternative, oppositional approach to literacy learning, one that fundamentally challenges the functionalist, technicist perspectives o f the emerging dominant discourse, and continues to draw on emancipatory traditions. However, I w i l l also examine tensions in the theory and practice o f worker-centred literacy, and show ways i n which labour-based approaches, while purporting to take an emancipatory approach, are often simply liberal or even reproductive o f the dominant productivity-oriented regime. In analyzing and critiquing (as opposed to criticizing) worker-centred literacy in these ways, I w i l l be attempting to recognize that the oppositional voices o f labour-based literacy advocates are, as Ellsworth, as cited in Razack (1999), suggests ' " v a l i d - but not without response'" (as cited, p. 47).  31  CHAPTER THREE: THE POLICY CONTEXT OF WORKPLACE LITERACY 3.1  Introduction  Many writers have identified a growing outcry around supposed gaps in the literacy skills of North American workers and cite lack o f worker skills as responsible for economic losses and inability to compete in the global marketplace. H u l l (1991) identifies a unique "public discourse" surrounding workplace literacy that, she argues, "is constructed to be... powerfully alarming" (Hull 1991, p. 2). Similarly, Gowen (1992) calls this discourse a "war on illiteracy" marked by "the appearance o f a wide range o f dire predictions and sobering commission reports" that create "alarm over the literacy skills o f current and future workers" and the impact literacy skills gaps w i l l have on the prosperity of individuals and on the economic well-being o f the nation (pp. 6-7). Holland, Frank and Cooke (2003) argue, "There is now a widespread body o f literature from industrialised nations to support the view that significant basic skills deficits exist i n these countries, and that education and training w i l l increase economic productivity" (p. 31).  H u l l (1997) highlights examples from government texts and other articles that also  report on worker deficiencies and illiteracy. Castleton's (1999) work further illustrates this point, showing that institutional texts portray workers as having inadequate literacy skills, and that key stakeholders, including government, labour, workplace literacy practitioners and employer groups, all conform i n support o f these views. Elsewhere, Folinsbee and Hunter (2002) point out that Castleton also argues that the dominant discourse o f workplace literacy is "virtuous" in that it "cites workers, through their lack of literacy skills, as  morally responsible for a country's inability to compete" (Folinsbee  and Hunter, 2002, p. 10; italics mine). A s a result, remedying this situation is the aim o f the majority o f funded literacy programming across the industrialized world.  Graff (as cited i n Holland, Frank and Cooke, 2003) maintains that, historically, literacy crises are not new, but surface at specific "times in history, particularly during times o f large scale upheaval and rapid change" (as cited, p. 16). Gowen (1992) also argues that the perception o f literacy crisis "also deflects public attention from a complexity o f social and economic problems that the nation is not addressing" and encourages us to look for  32  the real sources i n this changing attitudes towards workplace literacy (p. 8). Foucault's (1979) discourse-oriented work encourages us to view the emergence o f a need, such as the new, critical need to increase worker literacy skills, as "a political instrument, meticulously prepared, calculated, and used" (p.26). What, then, is driving this new emphasis in policy talk on workplace literacy and learning, and whose interests does this needs discourse serve?  This chapter w i l l argue than an economic imperative is driving the emerging policy interest in workplace literacy because the skills o f Canadian workers are increasingly seen as central to future economic competitiveness and success (Blunt, 2001; Gee, H u l l and Lankshear, 1996; Holland, Frank and Cooke, 2003). Within an overarching context o f global economic, workplace and labour market change, the debate over "definitions and understandings o f literacy, its social value and applications, and, particularly, workplace literacy policy and practices" is shifting away from past perspectives, which emphasized literacy as a tool for citizenship, social inclusion and access to employment, and towards perspectives that privilege the economic function o f literacy and its value as a means o f human capital development (Blunt, ibid.).  The perspectives represented i n the dominant discourse on workplace literacy are not neutral, but represent particular economic and political standpoints and serve their interests (Blunt, 2001, p. 93). Specifically, the productivity discourse constructs literacy in ways that are clearly aligned with market interests (Darville, 1999). A s Gowan (1992) points out, " A solution is generally offered to a problem based on how the problem is defined.... [T]he public discourse about workplace literacy defines the problem in a particular way," and thus gives rise to particular solutions (p. 15). In focusing on worker skills and literacy gaps on the economy, and on the development o f core competencies associated with increased competitiveness, the discourse  describes and inscribes the  worker as the source o f economic problems associated with low literacy. In response, the discourse prescribes instrumental, techno-rationalist and dehumanizing learning solutions aimed at promoting literacy for narrow, job-specific purposes.  33  Although it is still relatively new, the economic imperative for literacy has quickly become established as the dominant paradigm for literacy policy and program development in Canada, defining contemporary workplace literacy needs in terms o f productivity and competitiveness. However, other residual and emergent oppositional aspects o f the discourse continue to define the problem o f literacy in terms o f citizenship and equality, as opposed to productivity, and thus to pave the way for alternative policy and programming solutions (Gowen, 1992, p. 15). To put it another way, policy 'talk' about contemporary Canadian workplace literacy 'needs' is a political discourse that functions as a medium for making and contesting various political claims (Fraser, 1989, p. 161). A s literacy at and for work is sought to a hitherto unprecedented degree, stakeholders representing various economic and social interests struggle to establish or deny the legitimacy o f this need, to define and interpret this need and to secure or withhold resources aimed at satisfying it (Blunt, ibid., p. 94; Fraser, ibid., p. 164).  This chapter w i l l explore the contested terrain o f contemporary Canadian workplace literacy policy discourse. I w i l l show that while productivity-oriented perspectives are increasingly dominant, residual elements o f perspectives on literacy that emphasize citizenship, equality and social inclusion continue to 'leak through' into the public policy discourse. These openings are important since they represent opportunities for labour activists to push forward their emergent, oppositional discourse o f worker-centred literacy, which w i l l be the subject o f subsequent chapters. In this chapter, I w i l l also tease out the competing claims made about the 'problem' o f workplace literacy and its 'solution' in order to expose the political standpoints represented by the dominant discourse, and their epistemological implications for workplace learning and literacy programs.  3.2  The Economic Imperative for Workplace Literacy  Historically, workplace literacy in Canada has been regarded as a tool for creating active citizens, access to the job market and social inclusion. When the Canadian Reading Camp Association and, later, Frontier College, were established at the turn o f the last century, their programs engaged in democratic nation-building, and focused on offering  34  the masses o f mostly immigrant, labouring men "the how-tos o f becoming a naturalized Canadian" (Morrison, 1999, p. 36). Later, as literacy began to emerge as a formal public policy concern i n Canada in the 1960's, it was still "widely regarded as a basic human right, a means for the marginalized to achieve full participation in society and the labour market" (Blunt, 2001, p. 96). However, in recent years, literacy efforts in all industrialized countries have moved from their origins as projects aimed at the emancipation and enfranchisement o f marginalized groups, including the working class, or, especially in Canada, as exercises in nation-building (Holland et al., 2003, p. 15). Literacy has now become a central effort aimed at improving a nation's economic productivity. In Canada today, public funds for workplace literacy are almost exclusively focused on supporting business competitiveness (Blunt, p. 97).  Most authors agree that the change in the focus and locus o f literacy has been driven by profound economic transformations in the late 2 0 century, which have engendered an th  intense new emphasis on literacy, learning and skills for work (Gee, H u l l and Lankshear, 1996; Holland, Frank and Cooke, 2003). Blunt (2001) points out that workplace literacy has only recently moved from a relatively marginal concern addressed through community-based programming to become a central focus for government literacy policy and practice (p. 89). This change follows shifts in social and economic policy since the 1970s that have sought to ensure that businesses have skilled labour to compete in the new global economy (Blunt, 2001, p. 89). Darville (as cited i n Holland, et al. ibid.) argues that the "economic push for literacy" emerged i n the 1960s, and was then directed mostly at developing countries (as cited, p. 20). This direction gained strength in developed countries the 1980s, and International Literacy Year (1990) "literacy became firmly established as the path to economic growth" (Holland et al., ibid.).  The general arguments about contemporary economic change i n industrialized nations are three-fold. First, and most significantly, the growing globalization o f production and trade is making local economies more dependent on international investments and markets. Globalization has led to a saturation o f markets with mass-produced goods, mostly from Asian countries with vast, cheap labour pools (Holland et al., p. 27). The  35  resulting crisis in competitiveness in the 1970s saw "world recessions and dumping o f products, the beginnings o f large scale cuts i n the workforce and o f lengthy workers' strikes" (ibid.). Western industrialized nations have responded by diversifying production. Mass production has been replaced with a focus on high quality products for niche markets, and on the creation o f new markets (ibid.). Labour adjustment has also resulted, as Western countries have rationalized and downsized their labour forces, or moved production offshore entirely (pp. 27-28). In this context, industries and national governments are looking to equip their workers to international standards, and to create a more flexible workforce able to adjust to rapid changes i n the deregulated, global economy (Jackson and Jordan, 2000, p. 3). They are also looking to build a 'high-skills' labour force, one that w i l l be able to keep up with the demands o f high-quality, specialized production.  The second development concerns new forms o f work organization. Restructured work patterns and relationships are said to have resulted in an emphasis on coordination and ideas-management, as opposed to the old-style command and control management o f Fordist industrial design. The old, command-style, hierarchical forms o f work organization that successfully created the material wealth o f the industrialized world no longer work. N e w models o f work organization are being called for and are contributing to the rise o f the learning organization, the virtual business economy, contingent businesses and global interests (Bierema, 2000, p. 280). Some have argued that the impetus for this new direction in workplace learning came from the Total Quality Management movement o f the 1970's, with its emphasis on "Japanese production practices" and the focus on worker identification with the needs o f management (Holland et al, 2003, p. 21). In an effort to adapt to the new, global pressures o f the marketplace, businesses in many Western, industrial economies started to adopt and adapt these new practices. These new work patterns supposedly require greater ability on the part o f workers to participate in knowledge transformation and conversion, and on their communication, critical thinking and teamwork skills (Tomassini, 2000; Forrester, 2000; Livingstone, 1992).  36  Thirdly, and as a related point, the introduction o f new electronic technologies and computerization into work practices is said to be leading the need for multi-skilled workers with higher literacy, numeracy and computer literacy skills (Jackson and Jordan, 2000). Finally, many current policy documents cite an aging workforce as a matter o f concern, because it means that future skill requirements w i l l need to be met by workers who are already employed. Gowan (1992) argues that the aging workforce i n industrial economies, together with changes in the social structure o f the family, have lead to an introduction into the labour pool o f 'non-standard' workers (women, immigrants, people o f colour), and that businesses and employers have expressed alarm over what they judge or expect to be a lower level o f skill among these groups (pp. 10-11).  Thus, the combined effects o f changing demographics, new technologies, new work structures and, overall, globalization, are changing the nature o f the capitalist economy. Lankshear (2003) outlines the features o f the 'new capitalism,' which include specialization, innovation, flexibility, and an emphasis on information and knowledge on the production floor. It also encompasses flatter hierarchies, the ability to play on a world stage, and the integration and use o f technology. The new capitalism is equally characterized by an emphasis on the development o f high quality goods, on knowledge and flexible work and learning, and on the push to produce more and more in a leaner (and meaner) environment. This new paradigm promises empowerment, meaningful work and greater prosperity for workers, and warns that unless we keep up with the increased training needs o f the knowledge society, w e ' l l fall behind, and decreased corporate competitiveness coupled with increased individual vulnerability to unemployment w i l l be the result. The economy and society as a whole are therefore at stake (pp. 1-10).  In this new environment, knowledge has become the new commodity. Gee, H u l l and Lankshear (1996) describe the characteristics o f the new capitalism, or what they term the  New Work Order: The business world, as part and parcel o f massive global economic, technological, and social change, now sees 'knowledge' as its primary value. Contemporary, globally competitive businesses don't any longer really compete on the basis o f  37  their products and services per se. They compete, rather, on the basis o f how much learning and knowledge they can use as leverage in order to expeditiously invent, produce, distribute and market their goods and services, as well as to innovatively vary and customize them (p. 10). Likewise, Bierema (2000) argues that i n today's global economy, "knowledge is displacing capital as the scare resource in production and the hierarchical model o f business enterprise, so successful at creating material wealth in the industrialized world, no longer works" (p. 280). In this context, the skills and knowledge o f workers have assumed an expanded and particular importance. The new agenda for workplace learning is aimed at producing 'knowledge workers' who can respond to the heightened, multidimensional and technological demands o f the new workplace (as cited, p. 29). Drouin (as cited in Holland, Frank and Cooke, 2003) argues, "The real post industrial revolution is not a service revolution, but a cerebral one, i n which value is produced less by skilled hands than by skilled minds" (p. 29).  However, many authors are critical o f the influence o f corporations in the new global economy and in society as a whole. In  The End of Work: The Decline of the Global  Labour Force and the Dawn of the Pat-Market Era, Rifkin (1995) argues that in the new capitalism, "corporations have taken the place o f kings" (as cited in Bierema, 2000, p. 278). Bierema explains that under the new rules o f the global economy, "corporations have emerged as the planet's dominant governance institution reaching into all corners o f the world" and "exceeding most governments in size and power" (p. 278). Corporations increasingly exceed national economies i n terms o f size and Gross Domestic Product as well, since o f the world's one hundred largest economies, fifty-one are corporations (Bierema, p. 281). Through new legal structures, including international trade agreements, corporations have come to enjoy more legal rights than citizens, and "the human is getting lost in the global rush to dominate commerce," a characteristic o f modern economies which some authors have described as "psychopathic," in reference to the emphasis o f short-term corporate gain over long-term human and planetary survival (Bierema, p. 278; see also Bakan, 2004).  38  Following on these critiques, the emerging critical literature on workplace learning and literacy i n the new global capitalism, or  new work order, questions whose knowledge  matters in the new knowledge economy. In response, many authors identify an agenda that is set in the interests o f business, and functions as a way o f organizing and disciplining labour to become more flexible and adaptive to the emerging needs o f the global market (Bierema, 2000; Gee, H u l l and Lankshear, 1996; Holland, Frank and Cooke, 2003; Jackson & Jordan, 2000). These authors argue that to serve corporate interests, corporate human resource development, o f which, as I w i l l show, workplace literacy is a sub-set, "seeks to harness intellectual capital, align training with strategy, and attain optimal performance o f employees" (Bierema, p. 278). The result, critics argue, has been the emergence o f a workplace education and training agenda that is increasingly linked to productivity and profits by both government policy and industrial interests (Holland et al., p. 12).  These goals are reflected in the emergence o f the knowledge society and lifelong learning as dominant policy frameworks. This 'new' policy framework, essentially drawn from Human Capital theory, equates knowledge and skill acquisition with economic competitiveness, productivity and survival. The policy framework o f the knowledge society includes a new 'consensus' on labour supply solutions to economic planning, and on how labour should be organized to serve the needs o f capital in the emerging global economy (Jackson & Jordan, 2000). However, this consensus is skewed i n favour o f global business interests. To illustrate, Jackson and Jordon (2000) provide a critical examination o f the training policy framework across the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ( O E C D ) over the last decade. They examine whose interests these policies serve, and assert that, despite apparent consensus among stakeholders, the policies actually favour business. They state that the resulting training policies put more control i n the hands o f business and less in the hands o f unions and individuals. Workplace learning, then, is just one more casualty o f economic globalization, which, as Bierema (2000) maintains, places the control for resources including human resources - into the hands o f transnational corporations and financial  39  markets that are far from public scrutiny and local control, and divorced from community and individual interests (p. 278).  3.3  Competing Perspectives on Literacy  The contested public discourse o f workplace literacy reflects competing paradigms o f literacy and learning. Blunt (2001) identifies two main perspectives on workplace literacy: emancipatory and technical-rational (pp. 89-90). Holland, Frank and Cooke (2003) outline three perspectives: functional, liberal and radical/critical, o f which they identify the latter as the "proper" approach (p. 12). There is a lot o f overlap between these two sets o f perspectives. Blunt argues that the emancipatory perspective "views literacy as essential to social development, the maintenance o f democratic institutions and the achievement o f social equity and justice" (p. 89). Similarly, Holland et al. define the radical/critical as "literacy for active citizenship" which "necessarily has a political dimension" and is "embedded i n social and cultural practices rather than being simply a technology. To be literate is to continually 'read' one's world (understand social, cultural, political aspects), to write and rewrite it, and thereby to transform one's relationship to it" (ibid.). The liberal perspective they outline also takes the context o f learning into account, and sees literacy as "broader than a set o f necessary skills to perform a given task" (ibid.). However, this perspective overlooks the socially constructed nature o f power inequities by assuming that the divergent interests o f employers and unions/workers are ultimately reconcilable (ibid.). For both Blunt and Holland et al., the technical-rational and functional perspectives view literacy as "the means by which organizations and countries can improve their competitive edge" while "poor literacy skills... are often blamed for a country's lack o f global competitiveness (ibid.). In other words, functional, technical-rational perspectives v i e w workplace literacy as a "component o f human capital" and an "essential skill required o f the labour force" (Blunt, p. 90).  I w i l l agree with these authors in arguing that o f these different perspectives, it is the functional, technical-rational perspectives that increasingly dominate the public discourse, while the liberal, radical/critical and emancipatory approaches are residual or  40  emergent and oppositional. In today's policy discourse, literacy is increasingly defined as a discreet set o f measurable, technical skills in which people can be said to be competent or not (Holland et al., 2003, p. 89). These skills are typically narrowly focused on work applications. "Job tasks and workers are assessed in a 'literacy audit', and providers aim to fill the 'skills gaps'" (ibid.). Blunt (2001) shows that the technorational view leads to a functional research paradigm based on quantifiable variables that enable researchers to categorize population groups and generate numbers and statistics that appeal to policy makers and program evaluators (pp. 90-92). These perspectives diverge from constructivist perspectives o f literacy that are popular with literacy educators and program planners, who tend to see literacy as a socio-political construct and value learners experiences o f meaning-making and education as a social process (Blunt, ibid., pp. 91-92; Fingeret, et al., 1994; Folinsbee and Hunter, 2002). Blunt points out that the emancipatory and techno-rational perspectives on literacy are mutually exclusive, and their polarity is perpetuated by the fact that research in the field continues to operate out o f either constructivist or functional paradigms. In turn, the results o f each research stream sustain the paradigms out o f which it was conducted (p. 92).  Functionalist, productivity-oriented, techno-rationalist perspectives on workplace literacy fly in the face o f historical theory and practice o f adult education, which, as discussed in the previous chapter, have centred on liberal and/or emancipatory perspectives and have tended to operate out o f constructivist paradigm that value the experiences o f the individual and social learner. In other words, the new goals o f adult literacy education as determined by state, business and industry do not reflect the historical interests o f the field (Deshler, 1991). There is a tension between the interests o f the business community, which sees adult education as a way to increase worker efficiency and industrial profitability, and traditional, community-based adult education perspectives viewing literacy as a vehicle for creating social change (Collins, 1995). Indeed, it is possible to argue that functional, techno-rationalist definitions o f literacy are antieducational. To put it another way, the difference between these two perspectives is profound and hinges on whether workplace literacy aims to "domesticate" workers by bringing their learning and its applications into line with the needs o f the new, global  41  market, or to "emancipate" workers by giving them the skills and knowledge to understand this new economic environment, and to advance within it or resist it as necessary (Lankshear, as cited in Blunt, ibid., p. 95).  3.4  Workplace Literacy in the Knowledge Society  In the contemporary Canadian policy 'talk' about workplace literacy, the new, functionalist, techno-rationalist productivity orientation has come to dominate over historical threads that emphasized literacy as a tool for creating citizenship, democracy and social inclusion. The next section o f this chapter w i l l be a close reading o f several select Canadian policy documents to determine the various, conflicting perspectives that these documents represent. In particular, I w i l l show that the productivity-orientation, with its focus on worker skills deficits, dominates contemporary Canadian policy discussions about workplace literacy. Narratives o f citizenship are becoming increasingly residual i n the discourse o f literacy, while narratives o f productivity and accountability are gaining eminence. However, I w i l l also show how historical and emergent alternative perspectives that focus on workplace literacy for equality, inclusion and citizenship continue to 'leak through' into policy talk. In subsequent sections o f this chapter, I w i l l take a closer look at the impact o f this shifting policy agenda on the content and process of workplace learning and literacy.  3.4.1  Defining Literacy: The IALS and the Rise of Functionalist Interpretations  Recent surveys and studies, the most widely known o f which is International Adult Literacy Survey ( I A L S ) have itemized and quantified Canada's literacy 'gaps'. A s well as defining the discussion in economic terms, these studies define literacy in terms o f a functional, techno-rational paradigm, one that posits literacy as a quantifiable, measurable set o f skills and that defines it i n ways that are specifically amenable to rational policy interventions (Blunt, 2001, p. 92).  Sponsored by the National Literacy Secretariat and Human Resources Development Canada, the I A L S was the first multi-country assessment o f adult literacy. It was conducted i n eight industrialized countries, including Canada, and it compared literacy  42  performance across a range o f cultures and languages. The I A L S results were first published in December 1995. The I A L S survey dispelled the old notion that individuals are either literate or illiterate and introduced a new concept o f literacy as a continuum o f skills ranging from quite limited to very high. Statistics Canada's  Backgrounder on the  International Adult Literacy Survey (1996) explains that the I A L S built on this new view of literacy, defining it as: the ability to understand and employ printed information in daily activities, at home, at work and in the community, to achieve one's goals and to develop one's knowledge and potential.  Reading the Future: A portrait of literacy in Canada (Statistics Canada, 1997) provides the I A L S results on the literacy skills o f Canadians using three skill scales: prose, document, and quantitative skills. Results were graphed along a continuum o f skills from one (lowest) to five (highest). Level two identifies people who may have adapted their lower literacy skills to everyday life, but would have difficulty learning new job skills requiring a higher level o f literacy, and level three is considered as "the minimum desirable threshold." The I A L S found that 22% o f Canadians were at level one, 26% at level two, 30% at level three, 16% at level 4 and 4% at level 5. In other words, in 1994  almost half'(48%) of the adult population i n Canada was found to lack the literacy skills necessary to participate fully and successfully in our socio-economic system.  The report provides new information by which to judge Canadian policy on literacy, education and social and economic development. In "opening a window on the life o f Canadians at home, i n the community, and in the workplace," Reading the  Future also  proposes to give Canadians "a glimpse o f their possible future." ABCanada, a private corporation dedicated to raising the profile o f literacy among Canada's business community, give as sense o f how these statistics were interpreted by industry. Their website explains that  Reading the Future "bluntly told Canada that its future  competitiveness hinged on the degree to which we can raise literacy and learning levels in our society, and that one o f our most vulnerable areas is the workplace" (http://www.abc-canada.org/literacy_facts/).  43  A second Canadian I A L S report,  Literacy Skills for the Knowledge Society (1997),  frames the 'problem' o f literacy more clearly in terms o f the requirements o f the knowledge society: " W h i l e most people can read, the real question is whether their reading and writing skills meet the challenge o f living and working in today's information-rich and knowledge intensive society and economy."  Current critical literature questions the political underpinnings o f the I A L S surveys. For 1  example, Hamilton (1997) argues that the psychometric tradition o f the I A L S creates a vision o f what literacy should be, as defined by the needs o f government and industry, and not o f how people actually use literacy or want to use it in relation to their lives experience. She suggests that the I A L S is undemocratic and says, "It is important that we reveal the institutional underpinnings o f and aspirations for the I A L S , rather than treating the findings from surveys like this as indisputable facts about contemporary life" (p. 15). Further, Darville (1999) explains that the I A L S is aligned with managerial interests in that it promotes only the ability to use texts in performing functional tasks in a way that management intends, rather than problematizing the work and workplace relations that the texts re/present. The I A L S survey fits people into institutions and does not take a holistic view o f power differentials within institutions or human experiences beyond institutions.  In many ways, then, the I A L S signals the move o f literacy from its initial underpinnings as a marginal, community-based activity concerned with equality and citizenship, to a more central policy concern. The survey functions to quantify literacy needs in accordance with the needs o f the state and industry. In so doing, the I A L S also set the tone for today's 'culture o f accountability,' i n which literacy is increasing viewed as a discreet set o f skills that are open to quantitative and fiscal measurement. Finally, the surveys emphasize the worker/literacy learner as the problem unit, the element that needs to be 'fixed' in order to assure Canada's future competitiveness. A s Gowen (1992) argues, today's "Other" is "an undereducated workforce" (p. 7). Following on and I am indebted in this paragraph to Folinsbee, S. (2001). 510 Literature review: Master of Education. Unpublished manuscript, St. Francis Xavier University. 1  44  flowing out o f these initial studies and definitions o f literacy, the resulting policy discourse emphasizes a functionalist, techno-rationalist productivity orientation; however, alternative perspectives that emphasize literacy as a social activity aimed at building democracy and citizenship are still residually evident in the policy discourse...  3.4.2 Describing Literacy: Contemporary Canadian Workplace Literacy Policy In response to the apparently growing need for worker literacy, and then increasingly bolstered by the I A L S data, the federal government committed itself to creating literacy opportunities that would benefit the Canadian economy. In the October 1986 Speech from the Throne, "to develop measures to ensure that Canadians have access to the literacy skills that are the prerequisites for participation in an advanced economy" (House of Commons, Debates,  Speech from the Throne, 1 October 1986, p. 14). Thus, literacy  first emerged in Canada as an area of industrial and national concern when "a highly literate workforce" became seen as "one o f the essential ingredients for successful production and global competition" (Folinsbee and Hunter, 2002, p. 6).  The National Literacy Secretariat ( N L S ) , Canada's national literacy development agency, was created the following year, in 1987. One of my interviewees illustrates how the agenda N L S has shifted away from its initial valuing o f narratives o f citizenship and inclusion and towards productivity narratives. Tamara refers back to its origins when the N L S was housed in the Department of the Secretary o f State:  The neat thing about old Sec State was that there was always a citizenship angle in the biggest sense of the word. Because Secretary of State had the 'becoming Canadian' kind of. .programs... [These programs] were also about citizenship, they were about participation... [about] recognizing that there were groups within Canadian society that were not functioning fully as citizens because of historical disadvantage or whatever. So there was sort of a hook to hang this on: in the same way as those other programs were linked to citizenship, so was literacy, which J think was an incredible asset. Tamara goes on to say that we began to lose  "the citizenship and participation angle"  when the N L S was re-housed into Human Resources Development Canada:  lost it in terms of the government structure when Secretary of State was killed and HRDC was created. We don't have that hook anymore for the NLS. There [areJ still some of those historic threads that are there in good part because a few  45  people... are still there. But I think... that the NLS being in HRDC is a link to essential skills and knowledge economy and all of those things have become very, very powerful forces and the citizenship force is a much-diminishedforce. Tamara concludes that today, the idea of literacy as a right  "is more radical because the  productivity and skills deficits and all of that stuff have come more to the fore. " The renaming o f H R D C is a cause for concern, since in the name o f new department, Human Resources and Skills Development, humans and their skills appear to be given equal weight. The result, according to another literacy educator, has been "the increased assimilation o f the National Literacy Secretariat into the labour market side o f H R D C " (L. Weinstein, personal email, November 20, 2004).  Most recent policy documents speak to this appropriation o f literacy by labour market concerns, while occasionally, the residual citizenship and social inclusion narratives continue to leak into the dominant discourse. Part o f Canada's Innovation Strategy,  Knowledge Matters: Skills and Learning for Canadians (Human Resources Development Canada, 2002), is perhaps the most significant literacy and learning policy document o f recent years.  Knowledge Matters articulates the federal government's stance on literacy  and learning in the knowledge economy, and lays out directions for the country's economic and social development over the next ten years. The paper begins with a quote from then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien, warmly emphasizing inclusiveness as a key characteristic o f Canada's move to the new economy: " W e must invest not only i n technology and innovation but also, i n the Canadian way, to create an environment o f inclusion, in which all Canadians can take advantage o f their talents, their skills and their ideas," and it later re-emphasizes that the nation's success "is founded on strong values o f sharing, equality, openness, and inclusion" (p. 3, p. 5).  However, despite framing the problem o f literacy in social terms, the paper goes on to outline and emphasize the underlying economic motives that are driving the direction o f Canada's Innovation Strategy. First, "the knowledge-based economy means an everincreasing demand for a well-educated and skilled workforce in all parts o f the economy and in all parts o f the country" (p. 7). Charts indicate that the greatest employment  46  growth is occurring in jobs that require a post-secondary diploma or degree, and growth in jobs requiring only high school education or less is plummeting. Second, "there is a looming demographic crunch that w i l l exacerbate these skills shortages" (p. 8). The paper cites a statistic from the Conference Board o f Canada, a right-wing think-tank, which forecasts a shortfall " o f nearly one million workers within twenty years" (ibid.). Third, "our learning system must be strengthened i f we are to meet the skills and labour force demands o f the next decade" (ibid.).  Thus, despite the phrases about inclusion and equality, it is clear from the overall document that the emphasis in Canada's Innovation Strategy is not on creating a warmer, more inclusive and more egalitarian country, but on meeting the urgent needs o f the new economy. This focus is also reflected in the paper's discussion on literacy, which envisions a learning agenda for schools aimed at giving all new graduates "the literacy skills necessary to participate i n the knowledge-based economy". It also emphasizes the need to "provide ongoing opportunities for workers to improve and upgrade their skills and acquire new ones to meet the changing skills demands o f the new, knowledge-based economy" (p. 9, p. 38).  Other recent Canadian policy documents focus on the need to increase worker literacy skills in order to keep up with the demands o f the new capitalism. For example, i n her  Speechfromthe Throne on February 10, 2004, the Lieutenant Governor o f British Columbia made strong comments about the need for literacy skills building: It is estimated that 40 per cent o f adult British Columbians have low literacy skills. They have difficulty in reading, writing and basic numeracy skills that place them at a severe disadvantage in their everyday lives. Many adults cannot read at all. They cannot fill out job applications, read a map, use an A T M machine or balance a chequebook (pp. 19-20). Beyond filling out a job application or getting money from the bank, the economic implications o f this literacy skills gap are clear: " L o w literacy is directly tied to low income and unemployment" (ibid.). Similarly, in his  Reply to the Speech from the  Throne on February 3, 2004, Prime Minister Paul Martin also called for a "Canada where universal literacy and lifelong learning are part o f the national fabric" and outlined his  47  intention "to develop a new Workplace Skills Strategy, boosting literacy and other essential job skills for apprentices and workers." Literacy has thus become an 'essential job skill.'  According to  Adult Literacy Lessons Learned' Project Technical Report, a summary  sponsored by Human Resources Development Canada, articles and studies by the National Literacy Secretariat, the Hudson Institute and the Ontario Ministry o f Skills Development all repeat the claim that the economy is changing, and countries with the best educated and best trained work force w i l l prosper i n the new global economy, while others w i l l not be able to compete (Barker, 1999, p. 21). These articles conclude that the growth in high-skill jobs requires workers with higher levels o f literacy, and the existing skill base o f Canadian workers is insufficient to meet the demands o f the new economy. To be more competitive, Canadian companies are growing, becoming more efficient by retooling and modernizing. I f workers are not prepared for these changes it w i l l cost companies both directly and indirectly. Further, as the workforce ages and new workers do not replace those that are nearing retirement, industry w i l l increasingly come to reply on the skills o f existing workers and their abilities to train and re-train in order to keep up with change. It has therefore become essential to ensure that workers and would-be workers have the initial education and literacy levels to pursue education, training and retraining throughout life (ibid.).  Other studies and articles focus more graphically on the supposed economic consequences o f illiteracy from the perspective of Canadian business. In Lessons  Learned in Adult Literacy: Policies, Programs and Practices, H R D C (2001) reports speculation that "literacy-related problems cost business and industry in terms o f lost productivity, health and safety problems, training and retraining" and that as a result, the "majority o f employers - 70% - feel that they have a significant literacy problem in some part o f their organization" (p. 4). T o cite another example, in 1991, the National Literacy Secretariat wrote an article for the Canadian Business Review in which they stated "lack of literacy and numeracy skills poses difficulties with strategic human resource, managements and operational objectives and goals. In a broader sense, the extent o f  48  these problems and the number o f industries and sectors affected are cause for concern as organizations strive to improve competitiveness."  To further bolster their point, i n the same article, the National Literacy Secretariat (1991) cites the 1988 statistic from the Canadian Business Task Force on Literacy estimating the direct cost to business o f illiteracy at around $4 billion or more annually, mostly due to lost productivity. They also refer to a 1990 survey, funded by the National Literacy Secretariat and carried out by the Conference Board o f Canada that found "widespread" concern about illiteracy among managers in establishments with more than fifty employees. Their survey suggested that there are "well over one million workers i n Canada who are functionally illiterate" and this "lack o f literacy and numeracy skills poses difficulties with strategic human resource, managements and operational objectives and goals." They suggest that "the extent o f these problems and the number o f industries and sectors affected are cause for concern as organizations strive to improve competitiveness" and conclude that "[bjusiness, government, educational institutions, and all who are interested in Canada's future, must recognize that improving literacy skills is critical to our livelihood, our standard o f living and our economic well-being." The article carries on to further identify workers as the site and source o f the literacy problem by referencing a survey for A B C a n a d a , a private-sector foundation promoting literacy, that found that while 46 per cent o f Canadians consider "illiteracy" to be primarily a "social problem," only 10 per cent view it as "an economic problem."  The overall direction for workplace learning and skills development in Canada emphasizes productivity goals and a functionalist, techno-rational paradigm. For example, the 2004 federal  Speech from the Throne emphasized a commitment to develop  a Workplace Skills Strategy, stemming from the findings o f the Innovation Agenda. The Human Resources and Skills Development website announces the Workplace Skills Strategy as "a coherent framework that w i l l guide the development o f policies and programs that recognize the importance o f developing human capital in, and for, Canadian workplaces"  49  (http://www.hrsda^  The goal o f the  Strategy is to ensure that Canada "has the skilled workers it needs for the future" (ibid.).  In a related development, a new Sector Council Program, announced on March 16, 2004 by the Minister o f Human Resources and Skills Development, is aimed at"[p]romoting innovative workplaces and supporting workers so they can adapt and respond to changing skills demands is key to ensuring the success o f our economy in the 21st century" (Biotechnology Human Resource Council, 2004, p. 1). Through this initiative, the federal government proposes to improve the skills o f Canadians, since the nation's "successful economic and employment growth requires the creation o f an inclusive, adaptable and mobile workforce. More than ever before - with an aging workforce and new emerging global competitors - Canada must focus on maximizing the skills o f all its people" (ibid.). One o f the priority areas is the promotion o f "workplace skills development to help existing workers increase their earning potential and ensure that they and their employers can more effectively adapt to technological and other market-driven realities" (ibid.). The descriptions o f both the Sector Council Program and the Workplace Skills Strategy initiatives clearly focuses on productivity-oriented goals, positioning the labour market and workers as the site o f the problem and the solution to Canada's supposed economic woes.  However, the discourse also carries a tension between these new, productivity-oriented goals for workplace literacy, and residual social inclusion and citizenship perspectives. Human Resources Development Canada ( H R D C , now re-named Human Resources and Skills Development Canada) recently completed its  Lessons Learned (2002) project,  which reviews and evaluates ten-year's worth o f literacy interventions in order to determine 'what works' in adult literacy policies and programs.  Lessons Learned frames  adult literacy as a public policy issue within the dual contexts o f "citizenship, human resources development, and lifelong learning," and an "essential skill for work and participation i n the economy" (p. 1). This text appears to favour the former, as it states that literacy is primarily "fundamental to citizenship in a democracy - to informed  50  decision making, to personal empowerment, and to active and positive participation in the local and global social community" (p. 3).  Similarly,  Valuing Literacy in Canada, a joint initiative o f the Social Science and  Humanities Research Council with the National Literacy Secretariat o f H R D C , states that "Literacy is vitally important in a knowledge-based economy" and it also "allows individuals to participate in their communities, promoting both personal and social wellbeing" ( S S H R C , 2002, p. 1). However, the research framework for  Valuing Literacy in  Canada also emphasizes the need to define successful literacy programming, and to create structures o f accountability in order to measure and value, in fiscal and economic terms, the outcomes o f literacy programs, since "[ljiteracy professionals and policymakers are under increasing pressure to demonstrate the effectiveness o f adult literacy programming and to justify expenditures i n literacy and essential skills programs ( S S H R C , 2002, p. 2). Here, it seems that the citizenship and participation angle is required to submit to the accountability measures o f a functionalist, techno-rational paradigm.  Another example o f the persistence o f social and citizenship narratives o f literacy is found in the closing remarks o f the then-Minister o f Human Resources to Best Practices Workshop on Literacy in Toronto on October 4, 2002. This event was organized and hosted by the Conference Board o f Canada, a right-wing employer think-tank on economic development. Initially, the Minister's speech rests on some o f the same assumptions about the knowledge economy that inform Canada's Skills and Learning Agenda. She asserts, "Modern Canada is really about people. It is not natural resources anymore... it's not brawn anymore it's brain," but adding, "and everybody has got to be included" (Honourable Jane Steward, Minister o f Human Resources Development Canada, 2002, 9. 2). A s in Knowledge  Matters, the Minister conflates social inclusion  and labour market development in terms o f "economic and social policy needing to support each other" (ibid.). However, at times i n the Minister's speech, the social inclusion aspect appears to be given more weight than the productivity arguments. O f literacy, the Minister says, "Sure it's about labour market development but when we're  51  talking about literacy, we're talking about so much more. We're really talking about social inclusion right?" (p. 1).  The tension between productivity-oriented and social inclusion perspectives on literacy continues throughout the Minister's speech. When Stewart first calls for accountability measures to be attached national strategy in literacy and basic education, it is clear she means tracking financial return on investment "so that i f money is invested we can follow the money" and we w i l l be able "to provide the outcomes, provide transparent information on how the money is being invested." Minister Steward then appears to backtrack from this accountability agenda, saying that the approach should "encourage everybody to be the best they can be, without being prescriptive but knowing that what we are prescribing is that we want to get rid o f the fact that we have eight million Canadians who don't have the literacy skills to participate, whatever those broad national goals would be." There is, thus, a 'split personality' in the Minister's closing speech, i n that she seems to endorse productivity-oriented messages about literacy, and then contradicts herself to recognize and validate citizenship and social inclusion perspectives in their own right.  Raising Adult Literacy Skills: The Needfor a Pan-Canadian Response, the Report o f the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status o f Persons with Disabilities (House o f Commons, 2003), is perhaps the most optimistic literacy policy document o f the day, in that it clearly broadens the focus o f the debate to include not only economic outcomes, but also a wide variety o f social and democratic goals. Thus, the  Report reminds Canadians that "literacy skills have a fundamental influence on all aspects o f our lives, including, for example, our families, our health, our democracy, our work and our communities" and that "literacy enables all citizens to fully realize their personal potential and their potential as citizens i n our community" (p. 1). In response, the  Report calls for "additional public and private sector investments in this critical area  of human capital" in order to improve "the economic and social welfare o f many thousands o f willing participants who lack the necessary basic skills to participate more fully i n Canadian society" (p. 2). The Report's specific discussion o f workplace literacy  52  is couched in terms o f the knowledge society: " A s jobs change, so do the skills required to do them. A s the relative importance o f knowledge-intensive sectors continues to grow, the relative demand for more highly educated and skilled workers w i l l rise" (p. 63). In this context, "the importance o f continuous skill acquisition or lifelong learning continue to grow, so w i l l the need to ensure that workers acquire and maintain the necessary literacy skills on which to build" (p. 65). However, the  Report clearly does not frame the  literacy issue solely as a labour market issue, citing, for example, the National Literacy Project Coordinator for the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers Union o f Canada: " W e need to raise that curve, start to keep pace, and make sure people have the skills they need, not only for the workplace, but for all elements within the workplace. It's a democracy issue, it's an access issue" (p. 3).  Drawing on the work o f Fraser (1989), it can thus be argued that all this 'talk' about workplace literacy and skills deficits has become "a medium for the making and contesting o f various political claims," and that, while the productivity-orientation is clearly gaining dominance, this moment policy formation also presents opportunities for alternative, oppositional perspectives to emerge (p. 161). The persistence o f residual narratives o f citizenship and equality should give some hope to workplace literacy educators and labour activists who favour liberal or emancipatory perspectives on literacy education as "essential to social development, the maintenance o f democratic institutions and the achievement o f social equity and justice" (Blunt, 2001, p. 89). Indeed, it can be said that it is the fundamental task and responsibility o f literacy educators and labour activists to continue to carve out ways o f inserting their interpretations o f literacy into the dominant discourse and thus to make sure that the discourse values learners as humans and not just as human resources. In this regard, it is interesting to note that many o f the activists and lobbyists who were present at the 2002 Best Practices Workshop on Literacy attribute the 'split personality' o f the Minister's closing remarks to the fact that they organized to push back on the productivity-orientation o f the workshop and to make sure that the Minister heard their alternative perspectives (P. Hodgson, personal communication, Oct. 9, 2002). The move towards the development o f a national strategy on literacy and basic education, which has thus far culminated i n the 2003  Pan-Canadian  53  Response paper, is a direct result o f their efforts at what Yeatman (1998) calls policy activism, or "activism which is oriented to intervention within policy" (p. 1).  The remainder o f Chapter Three w i l l examine precisely what kinds o f workplace literacy and learning programs result from the dominant, productivity-oriented framework. To quote a Program Manager from the National Literacy Secretariat, my discussion w i l l ask, "What happens to literacy when literacy issues come to the fore as a result o f other, nonlearning issues?" (Hayes, 2003, p. 5). Chapters Four and Five w i l l examine the philosophy and practice o f worker-centred literacy as an ambiguously oppositional discourse to the dominant productivity orientation.  3.5  Critiques of the Knowledge Society: The New Work Order  The discourse o f workplace literacy is situated within the larger arena o f workplace learning and training. M a n y authors have identified a contemporary 'neo-Liberal training orthodoxy' that posits the need for working people to develop their learning skills i n order to keep up with economic change and ensure economic prosperity for themselves, the company they work for, and society as a whole (Gee et al., 1996; Gowan, 1992; Holland et al., 2003; Jackson & Jordan, 2000). Following the lead o f these critical theorists, I w i l l investigate the emerging discourse o f workplace literacy in relation to, and as a subset of, the neo-Liberal skills training discourse, which emphasizes the driving need for working people to develop their learning skills in order to keep up with economic change and to ensure economic prosperity for themselves and for society as a whole. This discourse "is built on the presumption o f mutual benefit" and yet, "the resulting reforms have had a remarkably unilateral effect: they move control over and benefits from skill training away from individuals and unions and into the hands o f private capital" (Jackson & Jordan, p. 2). The encroachment o f capitalism into the sphere of workplace learning can be discussed in terms o f performativity and subjectivity. These areas w i l l be discussed briefly below, and then their epistemological impact on learning w i l l be considered. 2  I am indebted in this section of Chapter Three to Folinsbee, S. (2001). 510 Literature review: Master of Education. Unpublished manuscript, St. Francis Xavier University.  54  Bierema (2000) references Lyotard's (1984) notion of'performativity' to describe the postmodern shift away from concepts o f knowledge concerned with the enhancement o f human life and towards knowledge singularly concerned with achieving optimal performance (p. 282). In this new, functionalist, techno-rationalist view, work and learning are viewed as machine systems rather than living ones and the lifeworld is traded in for the money world (ibid.). Within the new paradigm, a new set o f values is emerging that places people before profits and that values learning only in relation to its ability to affect the corporate bottom line through the attainment o f greater and greater production efficiency. A s Bierema (ibid.) states: Attaining efficiency has become the single legitimizing measure o f value and human worth, and the pursuit o f performativity has marginalized efforts to enhance the life o f the spirit and emancipate humanity. Instead the focus is on generating and using scientific knowledge for profit... (p. 284). The result is an agenda for literacy and learning that seeks to harness intellectual capital by aligning training to corporate interests and strategies, to attain maximum efficiency from employees, and to justify expenditure on training in terms o f a demonstrable, measurable return on investment.  In turn, this emphasis on performativity has strong implications for the role o f employee subjectivity i n work and learning. Gee et al. (1996) and Holland et al. (2003) describe the  new work order as a situation in which workers are asked to invest, often to their  detriment, their hearts, minds and bodies into their work. The new work order emphasizes information management and knowledge as its drivers, and aims to create 'knowledge workers' i n support o f this new competitive edge. The resulting production framework posits "the worker's mind, as well as her/his body are now essential to the production process" (Holland et al., p. 18). These attitudes shape practice i n workplace learning. The enhanced focus on profit-making "requires workers to 'buy into' company goals and develop and sell their knowledge i n an entrepreneurial fashion" (Holland et al., 2003, p. 27).  55  Approaches to workplace learning, i n consequence, are aimed at engendering commitment to corporate goals and emphasize the creation o f a social identity that is aligned with corporations. The result is a new emphasis on "employee subjectivity" as a key area o f new management and training practices (Forrester, 2002, p. 141). Gee (1994) references the work o f Gramsci (1971) in pointing out that the goal o f workplace learning in the new capitalism is to replace the need for overt control o f the working class with more covert methods that encourage the internalization o f a set o f beliefs that represent not the interests o f the workers, but those o f the elites. In this context "workplace learning is often seen as an essential part in the capture o f this subjectivity for achieving corporate objectives... A t the centre o f new forms o f wealth creation is the ability o f workplace and corporate strategies to exploit the skills, knowledge and insights o f employees" (Forrester, 2002, p. 141). In like vein, Bierema (2000) acknowledges that under this new globalization many corporations utilize workplace learning as a strategy to harness intellectual capital, and align people with their business interests. Holland et al. (2003) point out that, in its focus on employee subjectivity, the new capitalism is "socially constructive," creating rather than simply reflecting a new reality (p. 19). In this sense, then, workplace learning is not about benefits or growth for workers; it is about extending the reach o f capitalism into the hearts and minds o f workers.  A s mentioned, some have argued that the impetus for this new direction in workplace learning came from the Total Quality Management movement o f the 1970's, with its emphasis on "Japanese production practices" and the focus on worker identification with the needs o f management (Holland et al., 2003, p. 21). In an effort to adapt to the new, global pressures o f the marketplace, businesses in many Western, industrial economies started to adopt these practices, which focus on team work, flatter workplace hierarchies and, in principle at least, more democratic workplace where every worker's input is sought and valued. However, some researchers have argued that this model o f work does not deliver on its promise o f a more democratic workplace, but, rather, employee attitudes and behaviour in the social realm o f work to ensure worker compliance (Graham, 1995). For example, this new emphasis on employee subjectivity can be seen in the rising focus on 'soft skills' training for work. These skills include communication,  56  problem-solving and team work, and function to position the culture o f the workplace as a resource to be managed and mined just like any other (Jackson & Jordan, 2000, p. 9). 'Teamwork', whether it involves a rotation o f tasks among groups or structured competition between various groups i n the workplace, increases organizational efficiency because teams absorb the work o f any absent member and compete with each other for bonuses. Teamwork also has a surreptitious disciplining effect, as teams put pressure on absent or underperforming members (p. 10). Both examples highlight ways that the new workplace learning agenda is aimed at giving workers the skills not to participate in a democratic workplace, but to increase profits for the corporation (Holland et al., p. 29).  Other writers link the interest i n employee subjectivity to the field o f Human Resource Development, which emphasizes motivation, empowerment and adaptability, and is usually seen as legitimizing the privileged place o f knowledge in the new workplace (Bierema, 2000; Forrester, 2002). However, Deshler (1991) describes the Human Resource Development as a capitalist term, which makes humans objects to be used i n the interest o f business. Fenwick (as cited in Folinsbee & Hunter, 2002) also argues that the Human Resource Development framework is "limited and reductionist and fails to acknowledge workplace power dynamics and social systems" (as cited, p. 27). In a related notion, critics argue that efforts to create learning organizations, or to otherwise implement the new management style result, are actually "co-opting the language o f education". These efforts promise control over work and learning; collaboration; critical thinking and empowerment, but actually offer these only within the context o f existing structured power relations (Holland et al., 2003, p. 21). In the same vein, Blackmore (1997) and Yeatman (as cited i n Blackmore, ibid.) have pointed out that the new skills discourse co-opts social (and feminized) skills for their instrumental and productive value (Blackmore, p. 235).  These are the facets of the  new work order that relate to the construction o f employee  performativity and subjectivity. This encroachment o f capitalism into the sphere o f workplace learning has clear epistemological implications. A s Gowan (1992) points out, the new training discourse arguably represents a particular set o f theories about making  57  displaying and measuring knowledge, and results in particular applications o f these theories to workplace learning programs (p. 18). In many ways, this discourse is simply a recycling o f Human Capital theory, which is often attributed to Theodore Shultz (1963). Although it has been much contested, Human Capital theory continues to offer a simplistic (and unproven) but powerful equation o f personal and industrial investment in education to improved economic benefits for the individual and society (Jackson & Jordan, 2003, p. 3; Marginson, 1997, p. 94). In essence, Human Capital theory represents a rejection o f Keynesian economics and a reversion to classical economics theory, with its emphasis on educational production functions, and input-output industrial model o f education, and cost effectiveness as a way to measure educational output and reduce the wastage o f human capital (Blackmore, 1997, p. 231).  The result is an emerging instrumental, positivist and skill-based view o f education that harnesses learning to national economic priorities and calls for training systems that are responsive to the needs o f industry (Blackmore, 1997, p. 232; Jackson & Jordan, 2000, p. 5) . In contrast to writers who argue that ' s k i l l ' is a socially constructed concept, the training discourse posits ' s k i l l ' as a "fixed and measurable attribute defined by the technical needs o f the workplace," and one which is "measurable, standardisable, regulatable and ultimately tradable in a market" (Blackmore, p. 233; Jackson & Jordan, p. 6) . Knowledge, skills and capacities are thus re-configured as discrete, isolatable, translatable and marketable commodities. Blackmore points out that national governments i n several industrialized countries are now engaged i n the task o f breaking skills further into key competencies i n order to better standardize, control and account for them (p. 232). A s a result, "[w]here skills development was once seen as a chance for individuals to gain bargaining power in the labour market, in the last decade it has become a means for employers to gain workers whose knowledge and skill is already tightly harnessed to the 'bottom l i n e ' " (Jackson & Jordan, p. 1).  A s well as gearing education more closely to the needs o f industry, there are other profound educational consequences to the skills-based approach to education and training. Essentially, this approach 'dumbs down' education. A s Blackmore (1997)  58  points out, "the language o f skills conflates the acquisition o f menial, trivial and routinized tasks by subdividing and labelling, thereby converting 'tasks' into 'skills'. In so doing, such tasks become 'meaningful and productive w o r k ' " (p. 234). Thus, the skills discourse reflects the vocationalist notion that "[l]earning is work and work is learning" (p. 232). This approach also moves adult learning away from the traditional humanist and liberal approaches, which emphasized a learner-centred curriculum, to approaches based on mechanized and standardized curricula (p. 235). Indeed, the skills discourse fundamentally repositions the subjectivity o f the learner i n relation to the task, as serves to "objectify and reposition skills so they can be treated less as an attribute o f individuals and more as a property o f the work process" (Jackson & Jordan, 1997, p. 6).  The move towards skills-based training has also resulted in pressures to make the education system more responsive to the needs o f industry. Several authors comment on the fact that the new focus on skills for the knowledge society has been coupled with attacks on schools for failing to adequately prepare workers to meet the changing demands o f industry, and calls for an expansion i n the private provision on education and training (Holland et al., 2003, Gowen, 1992; Jackson & Jordan, 2000). For example, in  Knowledge Matters, although Human Resources Development Canada (2001) does not outright attack the public sector, the government calls for a "broad based, accessible and comprehensive adult learning system" which draws on "Canada's formal post-secondary education resources - universities, colleges, technical institutes, private training institutions and apprenticeship programs - and also on the efforts o f employers and unions" (p. 38). Some writers have argued that the discourse thus provides an argument for replacing the public education system with a 'training industry' consisting o f "multiple providers i n the public, private and community sectors" and with a focus on "employers rather than individuals as a principle client o f the system" (Blackmore, 1997, p. 235; Jackson & Jordan, p. 5).  From a political economy perspective, these arguments for a more productivity-oriented approach to workplace literacy rationalize government expenditures o f education money on training programs aimed at skills acquisition. In the context o f the training discourse,  59  such expenditures supposedly benefit the whole community, but actually they chiefly benefits corporations (Blackmore, 1997, p. 235). Further, as Griffin Cohen (1999-2000) and others have pointed out, this is a significant change, as it makes learning for work subject to the strictures o f emerging multinational trade agreements such as the General Agreement on Trade in Services, which specifically envisions free trade i n education and training services (ibid., Jackson & Jordan, 2000). Holland et al. summarize Aronowitz and Giroux's point that the new "instrumental rationality" i n the provision o f education arguably "signifies the triumph o f the school-business partnership approach to learning motivation" (as cited, p. 22).  Thus, while skills and learning may, in the tradition o f the Enlightenment, strengthen the position o f the individual in the world o f work, "the opportunity increasingly on offer is to 'acquire skills' that w i l l give access to the workplace on terms that actually reduce individual power relative to the interests o f the employer" (Jackson & Jordan, 2000, p. 11). The effect o f both actions is to harness workplace learning to the needs o f the global market. The result is two-fold: learning is both expanded into the realm o f employee subjectivity, and reduced to a basic, functional set o f skills.  Thus, critics o f the knowledge society take a pessimistic view o f the economic impacts o f post-Fordism and globalization on work and learning opportunities for working people. Reversing the dominant optic, which focuses on the 'problem' o f skills deficits as the cause o f economic woes, these authors identify that "the so-called literacy crisis... is actually a crisis for industry i n a shrinking global marketplace" (Holland et al., p. 30). What has changed, Go wen (1992) argues, "is not educational attainment, but the demands o f the workplace" (p. 12). Yet, " i n putting the onus on the individual and the schools for producing deficient workers, the public discourse carefully avoids the notion that perhaps the workplace itself and how workers are positioned in the workplace need to be restructured" (p. 12). Critics have pointed out that this 'new' formula for economic development simply regurgitates the familiar 'trickle-down' claim that economic growth and prosperity for business w i l l , i n turn, translate into well-being for individuals and communities, thus reinventing the productivity o f organizations as a common good  60  (Jackson & Jordan, 2000, pp. 1; 4). Nevertheless, the 'need' for increased worker literacy training has become commonly and, for the most part, unquestionably accepted across Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries (Jackson & Jordan, 2000, p. 4).  3.6  Implications for Workplace Literacy  Definitions o f workplace literacy within the dominant regime have also both expanded to encompass a broader range o f activities and the area o f employee subjectivity, and, simultaneously shrunk to a focus on narrow, work-related skills. While the definition o f literacy may have expanded to include many 'literacies', most workplace literacy programs offer only functional literacy programs that focus on work-related competencies. The dominant discourse describes literacy i n ways that blame poor worker literacy skills for the inability o f businesses to compete i n the global marketplace and prescribes, as a remedy, an approach to literacy education that is narrowly constructed as a functional employment skill (Folinsbee & Hunter, 2002, p. 11). Such programs are evaluated according to pre-determined core competencies and by accounting for the return to the employer on the investment. Learning is thus reduced to discreet, objective tasks or competencies, to which a price tag is attached.  Holland et al. (2003) state that the new work order has produced an expanded definition o f literacy so that "while still passive and functional," literacy has also come "to include not only reading and writing, but also 'learning to learn', listening, creative thinking and problem solving, motivation, interpersonal skills, organizational effectiveness and other 'skills' which allow workers to be 'self-managing'" (p. 29). However, these interpersonal, organizational and managing skills are valued only from within currently structured power relations in the workplace, and literacy, i n these terms, "becomes a tool for creating company committed workers" (p. 30). These dominant definitions view literacy as a discreet, objective and universal set o f skills, and do not place literacy within "the everyday social and power relations o f the workplace" and ignore other research that argues that "print is interpreted, produced, and learned meaningfully only i n the contexts o f its use" (Folinsbee & Hunter, 2002, p. 7).  61  Lankshear (2003) agrees that the new capitalism has led to both an expansion o f the concept o f literacy and commodification. H e outlines four new literacies: the lingering basics, the new basics, elite literacies and foreign language literacy (pp. 2-5). Lingering basics refer to basic language and math skills that individuals need for everyday life, and the new basics reflects the emerging interest in applied language, critical thinking and problem-solving. Elite literacies refers to higher order scientific, technological and symbolic literacies, and foreign language literacy refers to the ability to communicate with new partners i n their own language. Lankshear argues that, while the definition o f literacy has thus expanded, these literacies nevertheless come under the influence o f the "current 'competency-based everything' regime" (p. 8). Under the production and consumption pressures o f the global market, literacies are subject to powerful forces o f standardization and homogenization, and seen as skills that can be broken down and commodified to support required performance outcomes.  Other writers claim that the International Adult Literacy Survey has contributed to a techno-rationalist perspective on literacy. Darville (1999) argues that the I A L S only promotes the ability to use texts in performing functional tasks i n a way that management intends rather than making problematic the relations or work that the texts constitute. He concludes that the I A L S is fundamentally aligned with managerial interests. He also shows the contradiction between the survey's egalitarian, holistic definition and the survey, itself, which only wants to know how people fit into institutions. Blunt (2001) concludes that there is little to gain from looking at statistics in isolation from their context, as under-education i n Canada is more a social problem than an economic one.  Examples from Canadian public discourse support the view that the dominant discourse on workplace literacy influenced by the current competency-based regime, and presents an instrumental, positivist and techno-rationalist view o f literacy that ignores social and power dynamics and harnesses learning to national economic priorities. For example, Human Resources Development Canada is currently engaged in an  Essential Skills  Research Project that focuses on nine Essential Skills: reading text, document use,  62  numeracy, writing, oral communication, working with others, thinking skills, computer use and continuous learning. A s stated i n the Government's website, the impetus for this project comes from the growing body o f international research that links "labour market success to a set o f teachable, transferable and measurable skills" (http://srv600.hrdcdrhc.gc.ca/esrp/english/general/researche.pdf).  The goals o f the project are to seek a  common language capable o f describing skills across occupations and o f measuring whether individuals have the required skills for certain jobs. Researchers interview a number o f workers i n each occupation, identify common tasks found in the data, and rate their complexity. They claim that the result is "an Essential Skills profile that illustrates how the nine Essential Skills are used in an occupation" (ibid.). The researchers also gather samples o f "Authentic Workplace Materials" that provide real life examples o f how workers use Essential Skills (ibid.). They plan to complete most o f the 520 occupation groups o f the National Occupational Classification by 2007.  Thus, like many national governments i n industrialized countries, the Canadian government is now engaged i n the task o f breaking these skills down into key competencies (Blackmore, 1997, p. 232). Knowledge, skills and capacities are seen as discrete, isolate-able, translatable entities, which can then be quantified and harnessed to productivity. This initiative has been taken up by the Conference Board o f Canada (http://www.conferenceboard.ca) i n their  Employability 2000+ project, which aims to  articulate all the abilities that workers need to succeed in the workplace, including fundamental, personal management and teamwork skills.  H R D C ' s Essential Skills Research Project, although still underway, already has an impact on literacy programming i n Canada, which can be detected i n particular programs that adopt a competency-based, functional context approach to teach reading and writing, envisioning these as discrete sub-skills that are part o f specific job tasks. This approach aims to teach people to read as though the skill could be contained in a workplace manual or memo, but not a Collective Agreement or, say, Shakespeare. K . Shultz (1997) says, that these definitions o f literacy "rest on the assumption that literacy is a set o f universal skills disassociated from the individual and made specific by the functional context in  63  which they applied" (p. 49).  Interestingly, Shultz points out that the term functional literacy has a history o f use within a military context. Likewise, de Castell and Luke (as cited in Gowen, 1992) explain that functional literacy is generally referred to the ability "to understand instructions necessary for conducting necessary military functions and tasks" (as cited, p. 16). Functional literacy is an approach that was developed by the U . S . army, and has since gained currency as the acceptable framework for workplace literacy programs. Further, Gowan suggests that the popularity among employers and funders o f the functional context approach may be because this is a model "well-suited to [military and] industrial modes o f production [and] driven by the same set o f industrial and behaviouristic assumptions about knowledge that separate skills into discreet categories and emphasize the linearity and hierarchy o f tasks involved in production" (p. 17). Gowen concludes that functional context literacy is "exploitative, simplistic, and culturally insensitive - 'a reflection o f the narrowness o f the military m i n d ' " (p. 122, de Castell and Luke, as cited in Gowen, ibid.).  To give just one example, Human Resources Development Canada's Essential Skills Profiles have been adopted into a workplace literacy curriculum by the Western Canada Workplace Essential Skills Training Network (WWestNet). WWestNet is a multisectoral network with representatives from business, government and labour committed to raising awareness o f and being a catalyst for workplace literacy issues and activities. In a conference,  Taking the Next Steps Together: A Collaborative Approach to  Workplace Essential Skills (April 17-19, 2002), WWestNet offered a package for Workplace Essential Skills Across the Technical Curriculum. The Curriculum clearly frames the discussion i n the context o f skills shortages, and presents H R D C ' s Essential Skills Profiles as the basis upon which workplace curriculum should be modeled. The  Curriculum encourages providers to define essential skills at their workplace, to compare their findings to the government classifications, and to use authentic workplace material to teach skills specifically geared to the work context. Some specific examples o f workplace essential skills are listed as:  64  • • • • • • • • • • • • •  Reading and responding to an email Writing in a logbook Reading instructions in a manual Interpreting a blueprint M a k i n g a call to a supplier Reading a collective agreement Converting metric measurements to Imperial Scheduling daily activities Measuring angles Interpreting W H M S symbols Completing an expense claim Calculating square footages Doing a cost estimate for a job  WWestNet and the other Canadian projects that build on H R D C ' s Essential Skills Profiles are examples o f a functional competency approaches to literacy learning.  These approaches ignore significant ethnographic research that positively recognize workers' ways o f getting work done and point out "the fallacy o f viewing skills as a toolbox that workers can take into any workplace" (Darrah, 1997; Gowen, 1996, 1992; Folinsbee & Hunter, 2002, pp. 11-. 12). These and other researchers (see e.g. Holland, Frank et al., 2003) have shown that workers are often insulted by or suspicious o f literacy programs developed by management without their input, and find that the content o f the programs, although ostensibly geared towards the "everyday/everynight" reality o f their working lives, does not accurately reflect their actual work process and the ways in which they construct meaning and relate information about their work (Smith, 1999). A s a result, workers often resist or subvert these programs. Program facilitators too often miss out on this entire event, and conclude that workers are simply resistant - too lazy or too stupid to understand.  It is difficult to argue against the productivity-orientation that dominates workplace literacy provision in Canada and elsewhere in the industrialized world. The dominant discourse o f workplace literacy has assumed and co-opted many o f the fundamental tenets o f more traditional, liberal approaches to literacy programming. For example, the  Workplace Education Development project, another multipartite Canada-wide research  65  project with National Literacy Secretariat funding, offers a view o f literacy education that is entirely competency-based and workplace-oriented. L i k e WWestNet, the W E D project builds literacy development around H R D C ' s Essential Skills Profiles. However, the  WED Practitioner's Guide (Whincup, 2001) uses language from a more traditional, liberal approach to adult literacy, and justifies its workplace orientation in terms o f "helping workers gain accreditation and skills they can use i n life," "contextualizing the learning o f skills," "facilitating skillfully and empathetically" (p. 1; p. 3). Thus, as many o f the critics o f the new skills and learning agenda have pointed out, this approach to learning offers empowerment and personal development, but disguises the fact that these are attainable only within the context o f existing structured power relationships around work and learning.  Part o f the purpose for quantifying and standardizing literacy skills is so that their impact can be measured in productivity terms. To cite a Canadian example, Human Resources Development Canada recently funded research focusing on Return on Training Investment (ROTI) as a tool for evaluating the effectiveness o f literacy programs. According to Barker, one o f Canada's leading experts in the field o f adult education program evaluation, and author of  Return on training investment: An environmental scan,  this approach offers an "accounting-based method o f comparing the costs and benefits o f training by converting all costs and benefits to financial measures" (Futured, 2001). Every learning outcome has to be given a price tag. R O T I answers the question, "For every dollar invested in training, how many dollars does the investor get back?" Barker acknowledges that while R O T I is commonly employed by employers and business groups, "there is a limited amount o f literature from the point o f view o f individuals, the trainers, or society" (p. 4).  Barker's (Futured, 2001) work raises the question o f whether a learning program can, in fact, ever be effectively evaluated when viewed exclusively through such a reductive and monetary lens, or whether the imposition o f this particular set o f outcome criteria would simply end up fundamentally distorting the original intent. In a related study, N g (1990) showed how a community employment program was fundamentally altered by the  66  reporting requirements o f a new funding arrangement, and, specifically, that in order to produce a required paper trail, the organization ended up dis-organizing itself away from its previously collective, grassroots and advocacy-oriented principles. It seems likely that the same issue would arise i f a ROTI-style accountability structure were imposed on a workplace literacy program. Indeed, Barker states that just such a reorientation towards new guiding principles o f competencies for competitiveness might, i n fact, be one o f the main reasons for conducting a ROTI-style evaluation: "Course objectives and content w i l l become more lean [sic], relevant and behavioural with a focus on monetary results rather than the acquisition o f information" (p. 5).  Lankshear (2003) argues that these developments have led to a strengthening and deepening o f literacy's socially reproductive function in ways that should concern supporters o f democratic approaches to education, since "crucial issues o f equality, social justice, [and] inclusivity are at stake" (p. 8). Literacies are configured not in the context of socially constructed relations, including relations o f power, but as measured capacities o f the individual learner. This notion o f "possessive individualism" assumes a society that is composed o f free and equal individuals, each proprietor o f their own capabilities (ibid.). Describing literacy skill as a private issue makes it possible for the dominant discourse to place the blame at the foot o f individual workers i f the public skills needs are not met. In fact, Lankshear argues, literacy and skills are socially constructed and reproductive o f existing power inequities: "where individuals end up in the new order is likely related i n material ways to their prospects within the new  word  work order" (p.  8). Finally, the current literacy agenda incorporates critical thinking, but only as it "relates to the demands o f the economy and labour formation" (ibid.). The emphasis o f the critique is on "finding new and better ways o f meeting institutional targets (of quality, productivity, innovation, improvement)," but the targets themselves remain "beyond question" (ibid.) Quoting Delgado-Gaitan, Lankshear concludes that these new literacies contain notions o f empowerment construed as "the act o f showing people how to work within a system from the perspective o f people in power" (as cited, p. 9).  67  3.7  Whose Knowledge Matters?  The "literacy myth" suggests that workers who are "more print literate" w i l l be "more productive" and that becoming more literate w i l l "improve workers' self-esteem and enable workers to adapt more easily to new technologies" thereby positively impacting overall company productivity (Gowen, 1994, p. 41). This 'truth' is central to the dominant discourse o f workplace literacy that cites worker skill-deficits as the cause o f corporate struggles in the global marketplace. However, as Foucault (1972) argues, the effects o f truth are produced within discourses that are in themselves neither true nor false (p. 118). This raises the question of  whether the new economy really does demand a  higher level of literacy skillsfromall workers. A r e worker literacy skills really a growing factor in corporate competitiveness? The answer seems to be that literacy skills are important for some segments o f workers, but not for all. The new knowledge society does not seem to place equal value on everyone's knowledge. Fraser (1989) proposes a "framework for inquiry" for understanding the way that power functions within discourses, such as the dominant discourse o f workplace literacy (p. 145). One aspect o f her framework is a structural analysis, which is what I w i l l turn to now.  Some authors have carried out ethnographic research that shows how managementdriven, top-down workplace literacy programs, sometimes implemented as part o f an attempted shift towards a more high performance workplace, actually destroy workers' competent communities o f practice, ignore the informal, sophisticated and relational ways o f knowing that form an integral part o f the labour process and teach 'against the grain' o f workers 'everyday knowledge' (Gowen, 1994; Gowen 1992; Holland, 2003; H u l l , 2000; H u l l 1999; Jackson, 2003). A s Gowen (1994) argues, a "seldom discussed component is that management has difficulty recognizing and tapping the knowledge that workers already possess - a kind o f managerial literacy problem" (p. 43). Programs that decontextualize literacy, configure literacy as a set o f discreet skills instead o f a practice that is embedded in relational and power dynamics, and strip away the social practices surrounding the way print and communication literacy is actually used at work, are consequently destined for failure. The studies show that such top-down approaches to workplace literacy miss out on any worker improvements and contributions to improved  68  quality and productivity that workers might have otherwise been able to make. Further, Livingstone (1997) argues cogently for the fact that, while both formal and informal learning within Canadian society has increased significantly in the past generation, workplaces have not adapted to permit the fuller use o f people's current education and continued learning capacities (p. 73). These studies build a strong argument in favour o f workplaces that are actually flatter, actually more collaborative and democratic, and where worker input is actually valued as a contribution to corporate competitiveness. Yet, " i n putting the onus on the individual and schools for producing deficient workers, the public discourse carefully avoids the notion that perhaps the workplace itself and how workers are positioned in the workplace need to be restructured" (Gowen, 1992, p. 12).  Critics have also argued that promise o f jobs and advancement commensurate with education remains hollow, even in the context o f the 'new capitalism'. The crisis, they argue, is not the literacy skills o f workers, but the restructuring o f the global economy. Fraser (1989) states, "the 'fiscal crisis o f the state' is a long-term, structural phenomenon of international proportions" (p. 144). Increasingly, more is expected of, and offered to, employees with high levels o f formal training and skill, while the rest are threatened with under- or unemployment (see, for example, Green & Riddell, 2001, Literacy,  Numeracy  and Labour Market Outcomes in Canada). A s Pierson (1998) argues, the "watchword o f post-Fordism isflexibility"(p. 60; italics original). He explains: The demands o f batch production and 'niche marketing', taken together with the production possibilities afforded by the application o f new technologies, favour a 'demassification' o f the workforce. A t its simplest, employment becomes polarized between a 'core' o f well-paid, secure and qualified wage-earners with polyvalent skills and a 'periphery' o f poorly paid, casualized and unskilled workers who may move in and out o f a category o f still more marginalized 'welfare dependents' (p. 60). Similarly, Livingstone (1997) argues the real contemporary economic challenge is not the supposed skills deficit among workers, but a growing shortage of jobs and the growth in temporary or part-time work brought about, first, by the mechanization o f the workplace and, more recently, by downsizing in response to global economic pressures (p. 76). A s Forrester (1995) points out, "experiences o f working life have been transformed over the  69  last two decades and are increasingly characterised by falling standards o f living, temporary or long-term absence from employment and increasing insecurity" (p. 173). In related point, M c Q u a i g (1998) points out that Canada has chosen to adopt a high unemployment rate as part o f our strategy for controlling inflation, which begs the question: how does the reality o f structured unemployment fit with the rhetoric around supposed skills shortages?  The notion o f 'skills' is also impacted by industrial change. Braverman (cited in Blackmore, 1997) argues that technology has led to the "deskilling or dispossession o f the mass o f workers from 'the realm o f science, knowledge and s k i l l ' since 1900" and also to a bifurcation o f the labour market by "at the same time increasing the specialization and skill o f a small segment o f the workforce, the managers and technicians" (as cited, p. 227). Holland et al. (2003) point out, "Some writers argue that Braverman's writings are no longer relevant because workplaces are no longer organized in the way he describes," but others see that the changes and o f which he warns "have simply accelerated" in the context o f globalization (p. 18). Other writers emphasize the gendered and racialized aspects o f the bifurcation i n labour market development. For example, Blackmore (1997) points out that there is an "increasing polarization o f labour between the majority o f workers, most o f them women, being concentrated in increasingly semi-skilled or unskilled labour and a minority o f 'highly skilled' technicians, professionals and managers, usually male (p. 227). In the same vein, Sasson (1998) argues that the globalization agenda rests in an often-overlooked or hidden way on the availability o f "a vast supply o f low-wage workers," which she describes as the new "serving class," composed primarily o f immigrants and women (p. 90).  Critics also point out that, despite the renewed focus on literacy and learning for work, little has changed in terms o f the actual opportunities available for working people to learn at work, which might suggest that the  status quo is operating just fine. For  example, Studies such as Gowen's (1994),  The 'literacy myth' at work, suggest that,  contrary to the myth, reading and writing i n many worksites actually play "a very minimal role in acquiring and displaying the information needed for [entry-level] workers  70  to get their jobs done" (p. 38). Livingstone (1997) argues that, regardless o f the emphasis on the restructuring o f work i n the global, technology-driven economy, there is little hard evidence that the level o f skill needed to perform most work tasks has changed at all (p. 83). Jackson and Jordan (2000) point out that employers in the new global economy have not been making unequivocal demands for workers with higher levels o f technical knowhow," particularly " i n large, low-skilled segments o f the service sector that are creating the largest numbers of jobs, but where much work is casualized and qualifications traditionally less regulated (p. 3).  The new economy may, i n fact, depend on a growing class o f peripheral, marginalized workers just as much as it does on a small class o f highly skilled workers. It is, therefore, questionable whether it is 'worth it', i n terms o f a return on investment, for many employers to offer literacy upgrades for entry-level employees. When factored into the company's finances, such programs simply add to the overall cost o f labour, while corporations in the Western world are already struggling to compete with the massive, cheaper labour pool available in the worldwide market (Holland et al., 2003, p. 27). One o f the clear effects o f the new economy is that corporations increasingly contract work out to cheaper, often non-union workers, and also now routinely move production activities to "wherever labour is cheapest worldwide" (Reich, as cited in Holland et al., p. 28). There is "a growth i n subcontracting, i n 'non-standard' employment and in work within the 'informal' economy (with its attendant lack o f rights)" (Pierson, 1998, pp. 1516). In this context, providing training upgrades to existing workers may simply not always be the most efficient way o f attaining production goals, as contracting out or sending the work offshore entirely become increasingly viable options.  This notion is supported by the fact that, despite all the rhetoric o f the knowledge society, Canadian employers still consistently under-invest in workplace training and literacy. Jackson and Jordan (2000) argue, " i n real life, employers have been reluctant i n their support for emerging training policies, and instead have called for ever-greater 'flexibilities' in the system o f provision" (p. 2). In keeping with these findings, in  Knowledge Matters, Human Resources Development Canada (2002) cites reports  71  indicating that "[a]mong indicators o f business performance, one o f Canada's lowest scores is for skills training" (p. 40). Moreover, when employers do provide workplace training, it is usually aimed at the top tier o f employees, those who already have considerable education, qualifications and remuneration, thus re-enforcing labour market bifurcation. Historically and now, "entry-level workers... who are most often defined as being most i n need o f literacy training... have received the least on-the-job training" (Gowen, 1994, p. 37). Holland et al. (2003) point to studies showing that workplace education and training have played a key role in the creation o f the new capitalism, as companies have reduced the size o f their workforce overall and simultaneously sought to upgrade and multiply the skills o f their remaining workforce to fill the gaps (p. 19). They achieve these goals by consistently offering training to the most highly skilled employees, and not at all to those who, arguably, are most i n need o f skills upgrades.  There is also relatively little government support for workplace literacy. Despite the discussion o f creating a more competitive (and a more inclusive and democratic) society, both levels o f government in Canada also continue to pass the buck, with the federal government asserting that education is a provincial responsibility and most provincial governments clamouring for more federal investment in education and social infrastructure, while retreating from public-sector and affordable provision o f basic education, including workplace literacy. In  Knowledge Matters, Human Resources  Development Canada (2002) commits (somehow) to reducing the numbers o f Canadians with low literacy skills by 2 5 % over the next decade, and, as part o f this agenda, to (somehow) seeing that within five years, businesses increase by one-third their annual investment i n training per employee - but specific actions are not outlined and have not been forthcoming (p. 46). Thus, the provision o f workplace literacy programming i n Canada has been long on talk and short on action. Raising adult literacy  skills: The need  for a pan-Canadian response, is damning on this point: It is obvious to us that higher literacy skills enhance employers' profitability, which in turn raises the earnings o f workers. In fact, a more highly skilled and literate workforce is one o f the keys to improving productivity and the economic wellbeing o f Canadians. The Committee is thus somewhat mystified as to why the incidence o f workplace-based training is so low in this country when, given the abundance o f workers with low literacy skills across the country, the opportunity for economic  72 gains is so great (p. 65). The Report calls for increased public incentives for employers to invest in workplace literacy. Whether this call is heeded remains to be seen. As mentioned, the Canadian Government is attempting some interventions aimed at increasing the opportunities for workers to learn at work, and I have previously mentioned the Workplace Skills Strategy and the Sector Council Program. Through the Workplace Skills Strategy, the Government of Canada proposes to invest $3.5 billion over this year and the next five years. Human Resources and Skills Development will be providing $37,336,642 to the Sector Council Program. However, as the Movement for Canadian Literacy (2005) points out, it is unclear - and unlikely - that this money will be targeted at literacy initiatives for entry-level workers: "Although advancing literacy in the workplace is supposed to be a cornerstone of the strategy, it's unclear as to what precisely has been done on the literacy front to date" (p. 2). Since, as the Movement goes on to note, these initiatives concern apprenticeship training, it is likely that they will involve workers with more specialized skills, not entry-level workers. Moreover in these, as in almost all federally-sponsored workplace literacy and learning programs, governments are structurally constrained. As a Program Manager from the National Literacy Secretariat points out, governments must collaborate with employers in order to achieve "buy-in from business" for workplace literacy, so it seems obvious that business perspectives will increasingly dominant the workplace literacy agenda (Hayes, 2003, p. 7). The outcome - "what happens when literacy issues come to the'fore as a result of other, non-learning issues" - seems to be that the goals of the literacy program, and the way that knowledge is configured within it, become closely geared to corporate needs (ibid.). Thus, the dominant regime in workplace literacy continues to offer, at best, narrow and job-specific basic skills programs for most entry-level workers, and to offer higher level learning opportunities only to the most skilled members of the workforce. Further, lack of support for workplace literacy by government and industry compounds the effects of  73  global economic structural adjustment by increasing to the growing bifurcation in the labour pool, and re-enforce the skills and training divide. Most Canadian workers w i l l be lucky to get offered workplace literacy programs that focus on the 'lingering basics' o f reading and writing skills or even the 'new basics' o f applied language, problem solving and critical thinking skills (Lankshear, 2003). Fewer and fewer w i l l have any structured access to the emerging array o f higher order, scientific and specialized 'symbolic' literacies and foreign language skills (ibid.).  Perhaps these comments on the structural, political-economic underpinnings o f the knowledge society discourse point to some o f the underlying reasons why, despite all the talk o f 'the literacy crisis', and despite the fact that Canadians are, on the whole, reading and learning more than ever, little has actually changed for workers with low levels o f literacy and numeracy. Recent findings show that there has been, over the course o f the past ten years (1994-2004), virtually no change i n the literacy proficiency o f Canadians at I A L S levels one and two: Contrary to expectation, the report finds little improvement in literacy proficiency since 1994. The new survey shows almost nine million Canadians aged 16 to 65 (12 million i f Canadians over 65 are included) score below the desirable threshold of prose literacy performance... This is significant because o f the importance o f literacy for economic development and social cohesion (Statistics Canada, 2005, pp. 7-8). To sum up, in challenging the dominant claims, many critics argue that the new training orthodoxy is simply yet another way to organize and discipline labour in order to make it flexible and responsive to the needs o f capital. In contrast to the dominant claims o f increasing and shared prosperity, critics also point out that while the new economy offers some 'high-skill, high-pay' jobs in certain industries, it has also led - locally and internationally - to a process o f high income gentrification, and a bifurcation in the labour market. Critics point out that, despite the rhetoric o f the knowledge society and the learning organization, for the vast majority o f workers, the new workplace is depressingly similar to the old one, and employers and governments alike continue to consistently under-support and under-fund meaningful workplace training for low-skill employees. The dominant discourse posits workplace literacy as an important factor contributing to  74  competitiveness in the global economy, even as it glosses over the negative effects o f this economy on the most marginal workers. These authors reverse the 'knowledge society' paradigm by positioning the economy, not the worker, as the source o f underproduction. A s Gowen (1992) has argued, the perception o f literacy crisis "deflects public attention from a complexity o f social and economic problems that the nation is not addressing" (p. 8).  In light of these critiques, one can be left wondering whose knowledge  really matters i n  the new knowledge society? The answer appears to be that the knowledge that matters are the skills and competencies that serve the interests o f global capital. A s long as contemporary workplace literacy programs offer workers only those skills deemed, in the eyes o f their employers, to be "really useful knowledge," they are no more advanced than the programs o f Victorian predecessors, who aimed "to give the means o f content to those who, for the most part, must remain i n that station which requires great self-denial and great endurance" (Simon, as cited in Holland et al., 2003, p. 16). Indeed, the modern-day version is arguably less enlightened than this 19 century charity model, th  since it seeks to harness it its own ends even that which might otherwise be, at the very least, a source o f content.  3.8  Chapter Conclusions  Recent developments in literacy and learning at work draw on human capital theory, which is largely influenced by the neo-classical theories o f economist M i l t o n Friedman the same Friedman whose theories on the economic necessity o f structural unemployment have been adopted by the Canadian government (Marginson, 1997, p. 98). Human capital theory "presumes a direct, linear and positive correlation between education and technology, education and individual productivity, education and national economic productivity" (Blackmore, 1997, p. 226). Human capital theory also introduces a fiscally-oriented culture o f accountability into education theory, as the "so-called 'social' rate o f return on educational investment is necessarily calculated exclusively on the basis of observable pecuniary values" (Blaug, 1976, p. 830). However, human capital theory raises many questions about education and labour training in particular, that are  75  unanswerable within its own frameworks. With reference to labour training, the theory ignores the reproductive and stratifying function o f the education and workplace learning programs, where the more you  earn, the more you can afford to learn. Blaug notes that  human capital theory assumes that all workers are operating in an environment o f free choice, unhampered by poverty or lack of job options, and that financial gain is the only motivator: Nothing is said about the non-pecuniary attractions o f alternative occupations, the costs o f gaining adequate information, and the imperfections o f the capital markets, which inhibit some individuals from financing their desirable occupational choices. Moreover, the model concentrates all its attention on the supply o f human capital, while virtually ignoring the nature o f demand in labour markets (p. 839). The theory also ignores the social-stratification function of the educational system as a whole, in regards to which sociologists have shown that "family finance is highly intercorrelated with academic ability and achievement drive" (p. 841). However, the logical structure o f the dominant discourse on workplace literacy that sustains, and is sustained by, theoretical constructs such as human capital is "entirely penetrated by ideology" and exposed to "political manipulation" (Foucault, as cited in Marginson, 1997, p. 95). To illustrate, the dominant discourse posits literacy as a financial investment and an individual choice, frames the (supposed) low skill level o f workers as the 'problem' behind (supposed) economic ills, and then offers certain, narrow productivity-oriented 'solutions' as the necessary cure. A t the same time, the dominant workplace literacy discourse glosses over other explanations o f current economic pressures, and carefully avoids the notion that capital, not labour, is in crisis. Thus, the ideological, structural and political economic aspects o f the dominant discourse on workplace literacy are self-re-enforcing and reproductive, operating i n tandem within the total social system (Althusser, 1971). Further, human capital theory functions as an internal normative and logical justification for the dominant discourse. A s Foucault (as cited in Marginson, 1997) argues, the normative and logical structures o f hegemonic discourse are also self-re-enforcing (p. 95). This effect is neither a random effect nor a "blind spot in the science," but entirely exposed to political manipulation: "Friedman  76  knew what he was doing. The suppression o f the 'uneconomic' other was a deliberate and necessary condition o f the normative power" o f economically-based theories (Marginson, p. 99). So, although Blaug (1976), like many others since, asked the question o f "whether the human-capital research program is also capable o f providing new normative criteria for public action," such as workplace literacy, the human capital perspective has, nevertheless, emerged as a strong justifying thread within the dominant, productivity-oriented discourse (p. 830). A s a result, despite the fact that there is no solid proof o f the link between worker skills deficits and economic woes, or workplace learning and economic prosperity, the "objectified relations," in Smith's (1999) words, o f productivity-oriented workplace literacy discourse "have emerged as increasingly independent and increasingly pervasive as organizers o f people's everyday/ every night activities" such as their workplace literacy activities (p. 73). A s Marginson puts it, "It was not necessary for the assumptions o f human capital theory to be verifiable for it to function as a compelling metaphor linking education with economic life" (p. 94).  These arguments about the "economisation o f educational government" recall the work of K a r l Polanyi (as cited in Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2005), who theorized that the modern market society is different from all previous societies because the economy has become "disembedded from the society" and, now, "drives" all aspects o f the society, including its skills and learning agenda (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2005, p. 1; see also Marginson, 1997, p. 106). While previous economic arrangements were 'embedded' in social relations, i n capitalism the situations are reversed - social relations are now defined by economic relations. Thus, in the modern market society, "the economy is lifted up and operates according to laws o f its own, and society becomes subordinate to the laws o f economics" (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, ibid.). However, Economic History Services (n.d) points out that another feature o f Polanyi's analysis is his argument that the self-regulating market could not survive - not because o f the distributional consequences that play the major role in Marx's explanation o f the inevitable collapse o f capitalism, but because the starkly Utopian nature o f the selfregulating market w i l l give rise to counter movements, even among those enjoying increased material prosperity. Society is vital to humans as social animals, and so the  77  self-regulating market is ultimately inconsistent with a sustainable society. A n y expansion o f the market w i l l , in short, elicit a counter-response from society.  In the sections that follow, I w i l l explore the discourse o f worker-centred literacy as a possible counter-response to the dominant, productivity-oriented discourse o f workplace literacy. The next chapter w i l l analyze my first-hand interviews with labour literacy activists in order to explicate key themes i n their 'talk' about worker-centred literacy. I w i l l show that their discourse defines literacy i n ways that are oppositional to the dominant, productivity-oriented discourse. Whereas the dominant 'talk' about workplace literacy posits the worker as the source o f economic problems and focuses on monetary imperatives and the corporate bottom line, the discourse o f labour literacy activists takes workers' perspectives into consideration and focuses on the personal and social meanings that literacy can have for working people. Further, the discourse o f labour literacy activists posits literacy not as a tool for increasing corporate profits, but as a means o f bringing about individual and collective social change.  78  CHAPTER FOUR: THE PHILOSOPHY OF WORKER-CENTRED LITERACY  4.1  Introduction  This chapter w i l l begin my exploration o f the emerging labour-based discourse o f workplace literacy as "a medium for the making and contesting o f various political claims" (Fraser, 1989, p. 161). This discourse w i l l be examined as a 'site o f struggle' among competing claims about the value and purpose o f workplace literacy, as well as its practical application. I w i l l posit labour 'talk', and i n particular the talk o f labour literacy activists, as occurring in "a complex and polyvalent nexus o f compromise formations in which are sedimented the outcomes o f past and future struggles as well as the conditions for present and future ones" (Fraser, p. 157). First, I w i l l describe labour-based discourse as a site o f struggle among emergent perspectives and frameworks that are sometimes allied with the dominant discourse, and sometimes oppositional to it. Then, I w i l l refer to the data from my interviews with labour literacy activists to explore in greater detail the ambiguously oppositional discourse o f worker-centred literacy.  A l l this 'talk' about workplace literacy created a 'moment' i n policy formation, an opportunity for oppositional voices from labour to challenge narrow, productivityoriented, competency-based models o f workplace literacy, and to put forward alternative visions. A s Forrester (2002) indicates, " T o some extent, ironically, it was this emergence of the Human Resource Management perspective in the 1980s and 1990s that provided the legitimacy and the political space for trade union workplace learning initiatives that previously had been ideologically closed or blocked" (p. 141).  It has been argued that, for the most part, trade unions have been cautious around responding to the changes brought about by the new, global capitalism. Forrester (2002) writes, "the available evidence does suggest a certain caution and hesitancy by trade unions in responding to these changes" (p. 138). Citing Muckenberger, Stroh and Z o l l (1995), he goes on to argue: There is general agreement within the discussion among trade unions about the need for a fundamental reform with structure and programs o f their organizations. Despite this agreement, however, trade union practice as such has not undergone  79  any obvious change. The trade unions have taken up a defensive position i n an attempt to safeguard their achievements" (as cited in Forrester, ibid.). This defensive position may also be reflected in unions' relative lack o f engagement with, and opposition to, the new learning agenda o f global capital. Jackson and Jordan (2000) argue that, "Trade unions are often too absorbed in coping with the effects o f restructuring that threaten their own survival to take a broad view o f 'learning' as an opportunity to mobilize a democratic agenda" (p. 12).  However, Levine (2005) describes the emergence o f a union-based approach to literacy since the 1980's and 1990's. According to Levine, union-based literacy emerged in the 1980's as a natural extension o f labour's role in providing education and training to workers and fighting for public education. A variety o f union-based literacy programs were developed. In the 1990s, the Canadian Labour Congress and several national unions undertook projects to raise awareness and resources to further their union-based literacy project. In 1996, with N L S funding, the Canadian Labour Congress ( C L C ) Workplace Literacy Project began a number o f literacy-related initiatives and launched the C L C Literacy Working Group to share information, resources and strategies. However, in spite o f many successes, when the political landscape changed, as it did, for example, in Ontario in 1995 and in B . C . in 2000, funding for union literacy evaporated, and has remained hard to come by to this day. Despite these ongoing struggles, unions have developed, through these experiences and experiments, capacity and expertise in union-based literacy. The resulting programs were not all identical. Some were negotiated to run i n the workplace, others were provided through public education or union training centres, and their methodologies and program models were likewise diverse.  Levine (2005) identifies a "growing awareness o f the need for programs to be workercentred" (p. 14). However, some labour organizations have begun to adopt the dominant perspective on workplace learning. Some Canadian workplace literacy initiatives, in which labour organizations are active participants, emphasize the collaborative nature o f the union-management partnership, and the improved labour relations that can result. To  80  name just few: • • •  B C Construction Industry Skills Improvement Council (SkillPlan B C , http://www.nald.ca/skill.htm') Western Canada Workplace Essential Skills Training Network (WWestNet, http://www.nald.ca/wwestnet/index.html) Learning and Education Assisted by Peers ( L E A P ) , a program in the B C pulp and paper industry that emerged out o f the Joint Union Management Initiative, originally funded by Forestry Renewal B C (Evans et al., n.d.)  Further, several programs wholeheartedly adopt a competency-based approach to workplace literacy programming that, I have argued, is part o f the competitiveness project. The Workplace Education Development ( W E D ) and Test o f Workplace Essential Skills ( T O W E S , www.towes.com) projects are two salient examples. I have discussed W E D in the previous chapter. L i k e W E D , T O W E S was developed in partnership with labour, employer and education organizations, with funding from Human Resources Development Canada's ( H R D C ) National Literacy Secretariat (Murphy, 2002, p. 6). A l s o like W E D , T O W E S employs a functional context approach to literacy that "compares an individual's skills against the requirements o f specific occupations, identifying areas o f competency and areas for further development" (ibid.). The aim o f the program is to give "businesses in Canada an important tool to help them become more profitable and productive" (ibid.). Here, labour and capital meet on the battlefield o f workplace literacy - and shake hands.  O f course, just because labour adopts the dominant rhetoric does not mean they believe it. It is perhaps more an indicator o f the fact that there is no other way for them to get to the table. To offer a brief structural, political-economic analysis, this coalition o f labour and capital over workplace literacy is, in part, due to the fact that most workplace literacy programs take place at the worksite, and the employer and, in many cases, the government are at the table, active in developing and evaluating the programs. I have discussed the fact that the federal government is under-funding workplace literacy programming, but is active i n issuing (perhaps empty) promises that employer contributions i n support o f workplace literacy w i l l increase (Human Resources Development Canada, 2002, p. 46). The National Literacy Secretariat insists that having  81  "employer associations provide leadership is critical to achieving buy-in from business" for workplace literacy programs that are otherwise generally unjustifiable on the corporate or national financial ledgers (Hayes, 2003, p. 7). However, because management is at the table, "responding to literacy needs in the workplace and o f workers is not a direct application o f traditional adult literacy practice" or, I offer by extension, o f union practice (p. 5).  A s Levine (2005) points out, " W i t h funding for delivery uneven or unavailable... the step o f implementing programs was often an insurmountable challenge" for unions to take on their own (p. 15). However, some unions have taken that step and have negotiated literacy program money as part o f their Collective Agreement with the employer (notably Pulp and Paper Workers o f Canada, L o c a l 9 in Prince George), perhaps taking the lead in this from  Bargaining for basic skills (Canadian Labour Congress, 2000b). Others have  used their own union membership money to fund entire Training Centre where there members can participate in an array o f programs, from basic skills upgrading through to college credit courses (in this, the United Food and Commercial Workers union is probably the best example in Canada. See Dowdell, 1999). These examples suggest that, in addition to external factors, there is some hesitancy within the trade union movement on the whole to fully endorse and fund literacy programs for their members.  There are also oppositional voices within labour that propose an alternative vision o f workplace literacy, one that they refer to as  worker-centred literacy. While agreeing  with, or seeking to capitalize on, the need for increased investments in workplace training, many labour texts and spokespeople express misgivings about the competencybased model o f learning underpinning current discourse. Speaking to the Conference Board o f Canada's National Summit on Literacy and Productivity, Jean Claude Parrot (2000), the then-Executive V i c e President o f the Canadian Labour Congress, is detailed and explicit i n outlining the challenge o f worker-centred literacy to the dominant paradigm: I want to challenge the notion o f literacy and productivity, the theme o f this summit. I get pretty anxious when I hear the business sector talk about 'literacy  82  deficits' and about how literacy training can boost productivity and improve the bottom line. Too often, workplace literacy is framed as a remedy for the ills o f the workplace, whether we're talking about industrial accidents or low productivity, problems that we know are caused by a multitude o f factors. We are concerned when workers get blamed for these ills. Too often, workplace literacy programs are defined in narrow terms, and the training offered is limited to the skills needed for the job the worker is currently performing (p. 1). The Canadian Labour Congress (n.d.) is also clear i n stating their belief that limited literacy is not a principle cause o f low productivity, is not a major reason for poverty or unemployment, and does not account for Canadian industry's difficulties in international competition (p. 8).  In opposition to the dominant discourse, worker-centred literacy presents a view o f learning that draws on humanist and emancipatory traditions in adult education and posits literacy as a tool for creating individual and collective social change. Turk and Unda (1991) explain that the philosophy o f worker-centred literacy "comes from labour's dedication to the broader goals o f social unionism: • • • •  To help empower working men and women to take control o f their lives both individually and collectively; To be better able to speak with their own voices; To be better able to make those voices heard; To question, critique, evaluate, and act as full citizens with a broad social vision in a democratic society" (p. 271)  A s Judy Darcy ( C U P E Literacy Project, 2001), the former National President o f the Canadian Union o f Public Employees puts it: Good union-based workplace literacy programs help workers to learn about their rights as workers and they also help to build the union and strengthen our collective efforts as workers for social change. Good literacy programs also deal with the worker as a whole person to help them meet their needs as workers, as activists, as members in local unions, and as people in their communities. A n d it also helps people i n their homes and family lives. Good literacy programs help to open the door to further education and training, and also help to provide access to job opportunities that many o f our members would not otherwise have had (pp. 34).  83 Similarly, Jean Claude Parrot (2000) rejects the productivity-orientation o f the dominant discourse in favour o f a worker-centred approach: A t the same time, the labour movement believes that the workplace can be an important venue for learning because workers are familiar with its surroundings and have a social network there. It is convenient, especially i f the classes take place at least partly on work time. Workers who have the chance to learn i n their workplace usually find out that they have a lot i n common with others in their classes. But that doesn't mean that everything that goes on in the class has to come from the workplace... the learning w i l l happen more effectively i f the materials and content come from the range o f activities and interests o f the workers. We believe that a successful workplace literacy program has to be a workercentred one. That means addressing the needs of the whole person, because workers have many roles in life beyond the workplace. It means that we need the kind o f program that empowers participants to have more control over their learning and over their lives and their jobs. While building on their literacy skills, they also should have the chance to learn about their individual and collective rights (p. 2). Thus, Levine (2005) writes, there is "no standard model o f what union-based literacy looked like" (p. 14). N o r is there a standard agreement about a union-based philosophy of literacy.  I w i l l explore i n detail what five key labour literacy activists say about their beliefs in the role and goals o f worker-centred literacy i n order to elucidate the philosophy and underlying principles o f worker-centred literacy. In particular, I w i l l show why and how worker-centred literacy envisions literacy as a tool for creating personal and social change. I hope this discussion may contribute to existing knowledge and understanding of the worker-centred approach to literacy.  However, I w i l l also show that, even as it has transformational and revolutionary aims, the discourse o f labour literacy activists sometimes reflects the dominant paradigm. This contrast comes through in moments when the interviewees speak o f literacy learners as the 'Other', and speak o f literacy as something that is 'done to' learners as opposed to 'done with' them, and imply that the literacy program catalyzes their otherwise dormant learning faculties. Dominant elements also guide part o f their goals for a worker-centred  84  literacy project, i n that they propose literacy as a tool for aiding in workers' advancement within the  status quo, even as they envision a broad social change agenda. In the  activists' talk about literacy, these dominant elements are secondary to their overall vision for a worker-centred approach, but they are nevertheless present. The result, I w i l l argue, is an approach to workplace literacy that is "ambiguously non-hegemonic" insofar as it challenges the assumptions o f the productivity-oriented dominant discourse, while still carrying traces o f that very framework (Blau D u Plessis, 1987, p. 269).  In pointing out these limitations, I in no way wish to insult my interviewees or to denigrate worker-centred literacy. Indeed, I hope that my critique (not criticism) w i l l contribute to a fuller, more subtle understanding o f the dominant discourse o f workplace literacy, o f the subtle ways it enters into and is sustained by even oppositional voices, and of the ways that unionists can counteract that agenda.  To inform my analysis, I w i l l draw on the work o f Razack (1999), who suggests that "we do shy away from critical reflecting on the principles and practices o f those on the 'good' side" (p. 50). This unquestioning acceptance leaves the (often significant) positional authority o f the critical educator unaltered, glosses over differences within and among the lived experiences and political stances o f oppressed groups and stymies further attempts to move past these differences. However, there are ways, Razack suggests, citing Ellsworth, o f recognizing that oppositional voices are ' " v a l i d - but not without response'" (as cited, p. 47). This approach to "unlearning privilege" involves a critical self-examination on the part o f all participants not only o f what stories we choose to tell and how we 'hear' the stories o f others, but also o f what we 'know' and how we know it (Razack, p. 55; Spivak, as cited i n Razack, p. 54). A g a i n citing Spivak (1990b), Razack concludes that this approach encourages us to '"trace the other in s e l f " (as cited, p. 55). The result is a pedagogy capable not only o f "untangl[ing] how we are constructed" but also, crucially, o f successfully defining "what it is we want to change about the world and why" - and how (Razack, p. 46). Through my investigation o f the ideological aspects o f worker-centred literacy discourse, as represented i n the 'talk' o f these labour literacy activists, I hope to define "the limits o f the possible" o f and for the philosophy o f worker-  85  centred literacy, and the role o f this philosophy, and these activists, in transmitting and/or resisting dominant culture (Ball, 1990, p. 11).  4.2  In Their Words: Labour Literacy Activists  4.2.1  Labour Adjustment  None o f the people I interviewed started out with a belief in literacy as a tool for creating personal and social change. A t least one o f my interviewees is clear that he did not come to literacy with any driving belief in the value o f education at all. Jim:  When I got involved in JUMP, it wasn 't because of this deep-seated belief in education; it was because of a chance to work promoting unionism and building community within the union movement throughout the province of British Columbia. So my motivation at that point was that. The education was sort of 'yeah okay, that would be kind of neat for people to get the education. For two o f my interviewees, literacy was, i n fact, quite the opposite o f a change agent; it was a tool to assist i n the implementation o f structural adjustment programs impacting their industries. Sylvia's first introduction to literacy came when she was on secondment from the Hospital Employees' Union and working as a training officer for the B C Healthcare Labour Adjustment Agency ( H L A A ) . Her job was to distribute funds to healthcare workers for upgrading and re-training. Similarly, J i m was working in Forestry Renewal B C ' s Joint U n i o n Management Program ( J U M P ) and his job was to get pulp m i l l employees to engage i n training and upgrading opportunities.  In this sense, these two activists arrived at literacy simply because they were looking for the best way to help their union and their fellow members gain something through industrial transition, or at least to mitigate as much as possible the negative impact o f this transition. Significantly, this positioning reflects the ambiguous position o f workplace literacy as a whole, within the context o f the structural adjustment requirements o f the global economy. B y engaging in discussions around workplace literacy, labour unions risk becoming a tool i n the hands o f capital, which is designing programs that w i l l increase and perpetuate the marginalization and exploitation o f working people.  86  4.2.2  External Shifts  Several o f my interviewees describe a similar ' A - H a ! ' moment, which came when they realized that certain groups of people were consistently not showing up or participating in existing forms o f union or workplace training. Sylvia noticed that very few of her fellow union-members were accessing the H L A A funds:  So I could see - [becauseJ essentially I had to put all of the reports together for the training funds and what we were approving — that there [were] very few Hospital Employees' Union members accessing any of the money, so I told the union that, and then they finally decided to create a position of training officer. So I went back to the union [as a training officer] and... worked on the literacy project... because... we realized that [literacy] was probably a big reason why our members were not accessing the programs... The light bulb that went off for Jim was when he realized the extent to which people, some people, were not getting involved. For Jim, literacy was about realizing who was excluded:  Well, [JUMP] was supposed to be all levels.... I didn 't think we needed this formal thing [for literacy], because JUMP would provide all of that. And so we went out there and we started to notice that there [were] a lot of inhibitions around getting involved in education. People... didn't want to, people were busy. And there [were] a lot of reasons why people said they didn't want to get involved. But you quickly became used to the fact that the inhibitions were more than [that]... So within six months... it really started to set in to me that people weren't going to get involved in training opportunities, they weren't going to do the type of things that I thought necessary, [and] that education would allow people to become empowered. Tamara saw this gap reflected in the attitude o f partner organizations. While working as a Regional Coordinator for the Ontario Federation of Labour's Basic Education for Skills and Training program, she approached Queen's University to ask for support for a workplace literacy program:  Queen's absolutely refused to support the program. This bastion of higher learning! Because they already had a program of tuition replacement, right? If you wanted to take Philosophy 101, you could take it and there wouldn 't be charge. And so they had that covered off - without, of course, taking into account the people who were the groundskeepers and the maintenance workers and the cafeteria workers - and all of those people who would never avail themselves of that kind ofprogram.  87  Further, Sylvia articulates a realization that workplace training programs do not automatically address inequalities in access to education; that, indeed, traditional workplace training may only reproduce and perpetuate that inequity:  When you look at the average age in the public sector -1 think of CUBE members and probably the HEU is no different - it is you know, mid to late 40s. They 're not really hiring very much in the public sector. And even though people are retiring, they 're not reallyfillingthose jobs. So that just means an aging group. So you know, that's 30 years out of school, right? I mean, if Eve been out of school for 20 years, we have some [?] like thirty years out of school. As if you 're going to go sign up for training, or-you know, you've never been offered training in the workplace. And it's not like you 're a nurse or a technician and you 're constantly training. [For those people] it's like, 'Oh great, now I have an opportunity to do this. It interests me and it's free.' So of course you 're going to jump on it. But... when you've been out of school and have had very little opportunity for workplace training, you 're not going to jump on it. It's going to be like, 'Oh my god, do I have to do this? Is this the only way to keep my job or to find another job?' It's stressful; it's not a welcome thing. Ultimately, these realizations are linked to more fundamental understandings of the way that educational opportunity and attainment is socially structured along class lines. They came to view literacy within the framework o f systemic inequality that is produced and reproduced along class lines by socially structured access to education. Sylvia:  When you look at... labour in terms of [the] working class, then the education system is not for them and it's designed to serve the middle class and the rich, and it's inflexible and does not understand where working class comes from and all of that, right... ? Although Rob came to literacy as a professional, college-based educator, his motivation for becoming involved in workplace literacy came directly from his prior experiences as a construction worker, and his understanding that for many working people, pursuing education is simply not a realistic option:  I think part of the attraction was that I always identified with, not so much being a union member, but being a working stiff myself and seeing all the needs that surrounded me with my work mates and how there was no place for them. They couldn't access regular programming because of their shifts, and in construction you have to be so mobile. In part, then, worker-centred literacy simply aims to overcome external, socially structured barriers to education. This project recognizes that, while education may  88  theoretically be considered a 'right', in practice, access to education is differentially distributed along power lines, including those o f class. Worker-centred literacy calls on the educational system to flex in order to provide for the integration and accommodation of formal schooling to the rhythms and patterns of working people's lives" (Morrison, 1999, p. 36). A s it has been since the early days of Frontier College, this is an argument "not simply for educational change, but for an education revolution" (ibid.). This systems approach is very different from the mainstream perspective, which, on the contrary, posits the individual learner as the source o f perceived literacy and productivity issues, and as the target o f educational interventions.  4.2.3  Internal Shifts  A s well as focusing on external, systemic barriers to education, all of the interviewees shared an understanding of internalized oppression and the socially constructed nature o f the self. Jim uses the example o f his union's National President, who told Jim that he  " 'had not done any learning for 30 years. "' Jim: So to me that was case in point. If that is what the President thinks about himself can you imagine the members that are on the floor, and society keeps telling them that they 're nothing, they 're nothing, they 're nothing? They believe it after a while. They describe literacy as a tool not for imparting specific discreet skills, but rather for overcoming self-doubt, building learner confidence in learning, and increasing learners' sense of agency in the world. In Jim's words, literacy is  "not about teaching them to  read and write. It's about very much [about] giving them the confidence in their own learning ability. " He says again: "It's not about imparting specific skills to people... it's more about imparting the confidence and... ability to learn. "  For Hugh, similarly, the goals of a literacy program centre on the personal, internal changes or paradigm shifts that literacy program can promote:  I think you see success in a literacy program in the confidence level of people. I think people begin to be more free [sic] with what's on their mind and [with] expressing themselves, [and more] willing to take chances and make mistakes. Because I think the BEST program, at least, we encouraged people... it was okay to make mistakes, that you can't learn unless you make mistakes, you know?...  89  And I think it was a great morale booster, the BEST program. I saw people almost like come out of themselves, become more confident. Hugh speaks o f the transformational effect he observes among program participants:  "For me the biggest highlight... is people coming and talking to me and not being shy around me. " He also references his own experiences as a tutor i n the literacy program: "I used to be the shyest person in this world. I was terrible. " Once literacy is reframed i n terms o f lifelong learning, the artificial divide between the 'skilled' and the 'unskilled' disappears. J i m :  I never thought of it in terms of literacy... Fve always thought of it in terms of helping people get comfortable learning again.... And it's really how I promote it still, and how I see it. People have all different levels ofskills. And it's just a matter of having enough confidence to empower them to get it. Learning - it's something we all have to do. Ultimately, J i m says that literacy is not about the task but, rather,  "about the process. It's  about the person getting the confidence, because learning really is a life-long endeavour." Thus, these interviewees seem to position one's perceptions o f oneself as a learner and o f one's learning ability as one aspect o f identity that is socially constructed along lines o f inequality and that carries the markers o f class divisions. They describe literacy as a way to effect a change i n one's notions o f ' s e l f and 'agency'. These perspectives challenge the dominant competency-based framework that describes literacy as an array o f skills that can be acquired like a new set o f clothes, and that prescribes competencies and outcomes without any regard to the internal life o f the learner. G o wan's (1992) study o f one workplace literacy program i n a hospital i n the American South highlights some o f the pitfalls o f competency-based programs i n this regard. She shows how learners who feel that the curriculum does not speak to them simply passively resist or actively subvert it, and are often characterized as 'poor learners' as a result.  90  However, although my interviewees here take a critical and humanist stance i n opposition to the dominant paradigm, they also make some unexamined statements that carry traces o f that very paradigm. B y framing literacy as a 'return to learning,' some o f my interviewees imply that learning was not happening for the participants before the literacy program came along. This stance overlooks the numerous informal ways i n which people learn at work and outside o f it (Livingston, 1997). Further, in positioning the learner as a blank slate and a victim o f oppression, this stance also risks ascribing to the educator or educational program the role o f liberating and benevolent force. So, while these activists clearly describe lifelong learning as a journey we are all on, it remains unclear from these quotations whether my interviewees are working out o f what Stinson O'Gorman (1997), citing Felix Cadena, calls a paternalistic model o f education, in which the educator assumes a benevolent position o f superiority, or a participatory model o f intervention, which recognizes the educator as part o f the group and collective learning functions to overcome dependency and existing social relations (as cited, p. 182). This point w i l l be discussed i n greater detail i n Chapter Five, which concerns the practical applications o f worker-centred literacy.  4.2.4 Shifts in Relations To these activists, one o f the key impacts o f worker-centred literacy is a shift i n relations at work. In part, this is a shift away from the individualism and isolation o f workplace culture. Hugh speaks o f the impact o f worker-centred literacy on himself and his coworkers i n terms o f them becoming visible to each other, and the shift i n social relations at work that can result:  Willie is a woman in food services. And I see her more often now than I did before... [A] couple times I said, 'Hi Willie, how are you?' And this is just within the last couple of years, and she went through BEST the very first year we had it. And she said, 'You remember my name?" Isaid, 'Yes, of course I do!' And it was just wonderful. And how she uses my name and says 'Hi' and 'How are you?' Andjust that alone is — it makes the hospital an incredibly pleasant place to work. You know, when people talk to one another and not afraid of each other. And to me that's the ultimate measure in itself.... That community sense.... Hugh's comments about the isolation and alienation o f the current workplace are reminiscent o f some feedback from a tutor after a recent training session for a workplace  91  literacy project. When asked what he had really gained from the training, one tutor-intraining wrote back: "I feel this is an opportunity to participate in building a personal communication i n what I had thought until now was a hopelessly alienated space" (R. McDermitt, personal communication).  Alone among the people I interviewed, Hugh talks directly from his experience as a tutor in a workplace literacy program, and does not, as a result, refer to the learners and participants as the 'other'. The other activists speak from a different position or location in describing their growing understandings o f literacy as the process o f seeing, for the first time, who was not showing up and o f recognizing who was excluded. In a sense, these activists are talking about seeing those people who had always been invisible to them. Hugh speaks to this same notion, but from a different angle.  Jim echoes Hugh's words, minus the experiential angle:  First it's just a disposition in the work place. I mean, we've heard it so many times: 'They just sat off in the lunch room and they wouldn't talk to anyone, and now they 're always involved in all the conversations.' That's critical. Because now they 're becoming part of the community. Traditional skills-based literacy programs miss the point entirely, because with their focus on specific, tangible skills outcomes, they cannot focus on these invisible outcomes. The problem with this approach is that it does not tell any stories. Speaking o f a failed evaluation their program had after the first year, Hugh says:  But thatfirstevaluation that the management person did, I mean it didn't tell any stories. It didn't give any information except really bad uh, bad publicity for the program, because the managers were saying, 'Well what is this BEST program? We know that this person is offfor two years, but we don't know what that person is doing!' And here they are evaluating that person and they don't know what they're looking for. 4.2.5  Equity and Inclusion  These activists bring this systems analysis to their own union organizations, and argue for ways to make them more equitable and inclusive. Sylvia:  Well, the way that Fm looking at literacy and how we are promoting it in CUPE is an issue of equity and access... [Jfust because you've been out of school for a  92  longtimeor you didn't have the education to begin with, you shouldn't be stuck and you shouldn't be the first person out of the door without any options. So it's very much about that from a labour perspective... These insights caused some of them to re-examine how well inclusion and equity were working within their own unions. Tamara:  Literacy in my mind is a metaphor for inclusion. It's about recognizing inequalities in the world and it's about making an attempt to make things a little better for people who have been left out or disenfranchised in many ways for lots of reasons. So I look at it in some ways similarly to the way I'd look at a ramp for wheelchairs: that it's an access point, it's a way to enter into being part of the community in ways that might not have been there before. Further, Tamara says,  "So really it's about inclusion and it's about community... which I  think has been sorely lacking generally in the labour movement, and I think we do that in our literacy classes..." A l o n g the same lines, Jim says:  And so all of that time was really an opportunity to mature my philosophical views around where the needs were and were not. And what was really going on... Why were only 3% of our members actually participating in [our training programs]? Why even as we had JUMP - and it was wildly successful - but we never achieved more than 50% of people participating. So what about the other 50%? And JUMP by every other measurement - what we could measure against - was by far and away more successful than anything that'd been tried before! So but even with those measurements, even if you take the 50% - what happened to the other 50%? You know? And I can accept that some of those people are busy and doing other things. I can't accept 50%.  4.2.6  Control vs. Empathy  M y interviewees are all self-defined committed trade unionists, and people who have chosen trade unionism in general, and worker-centred literacy in particular, as their preferred tools for creating a more just society. Yet, not one o f them even mentioned a need to bring an explicit union focus to worker-centred literacy. They are clearly not intent on replacing one prescribed curriculum, such as the narrow skills-based focus of the dominant discourse, with another.  93  These programs take an empowerment approach to literacy learning in the sense that the program goals are not prescriptive, the approach used is not 'banking' education, and even the union organization cannot dictate the program outcomes. Sylvia:  So there's sort of a collective service that we can provide, but there's also that individual benefit that's really important, you know, what our members as individuals can get out of it for themselves. And that - that is something that we can't dictate. It's really what they want to accomplish and what they take out of it and what they put into it themselves, right? And we 're not - there's no pressure to put a certain amount in and to get something out. And that's the part of the nature of the program that's very hard to define and measure and promote. This recalls the clear ethical boundary that M e z i r o w (1995) draws between education for emancipation - and propaganda (p. 127). In this, these programs represent a radical departure from the instrumental approach posited in and by the dominant discourse on workplace literacy, in which, to cite Freire (1968/1972): One o f the basic elements o f the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is prescription. Every prescription represents the imposition o f one man's choice upon another, transforming the consciousness o f the man prescribed into one that conforms with the prescriber's consciousness (p. 31; italics original). In opposition to the dominant discourse, these activists envision education as the practice of freedom (hooks, 1994).  This contrasts sharply with the ways in which other workplaces use functional literacy as a form o f control, to 'discipline and punish' learners, and simply another way to extend workplace surveillance and discipline into the classroom (Foucault, 1975/1995). Hugh describes typical corporate culture as being about control:  They don't know how to deal with people. It's all about control. To keep people under control. That's all they care about. It's not about people becoming more socially aware, or empathetic. They don't care about empathy. They just want work done. How you do that work, it doesn 't matter, as long as you get the work done. Social skills don't matter. Only time is if there's a problem, you know, people arguing and not getting along. But somebody always gets hurt, you know. Somebody always gets reprimanded or... And that's the only way they know how to deal with it. They don't know how to sit down and have people communicate with each other.  94  In contrast, worker-centred literacy programs are about empathy, recognition o f the other person, and love. Hugh:  I think that's what the BEST program is really about, is communicating with one another and being empathetic. Seeing the other person's side of the story. Because there is a lot of history.... Hugh tells a tale to illustrate his point:  You know, one of my favourite books is To K i l l a Mockingbird... Atticus Finch is my hero, and he says to Scout, 'You can't really ever know a person till you've walked around in their shoes!' And at the end of the book... Boo Radley is in the corner, and Jan, her brother, has been injured, he's got a broken arm. And she's in the room with her dad, and they 're trying to figure out who killed the guy that attacked. Somebody killed him and they think it's Jan. But then Scout sees Boo Radley behind the door. And she said, 'It was him. He was there...' The sheriff is there and they decide to let it go, but she walks him home. And she remembers what her dad had said, and she says, T think I walked around in his shoes that day.' Boo Radley was the scary character. Everybody thought he was a mental case and cruel. And he was just a human being and you just had to see his side of the story. And she managed to walk around in his shoes that day. Hugh's words are reminiscent of Freire's (1968/1973) notion that solidarity requires that one enter into the situation of those with whom one is in solidarity; it is a radical posture.  Another way that Hugh speaks of this stance is as one validating someone else's existence and identity, and o f asserting one's own humanity in a way that creates a space for the other person to do the same. Hugh:  It's about validation too. Validating that person's experience and existence. Because Ifind that I have learned that [pause]... I'm trying to think how to say this. I think each of us has the ability to give another person their humanity. And at the same time, assert our humanity or help that other person recognize our humanity... And one of the very easiest ways to do that - it's a difficult thing to do initially, but it's just to use a person's name. It just - that in itself just breaks down barriers. Like getting someone to use your name and use that person's name in conversation. I do all the time at work. I come in to work in the morning and I say hi to everyone using their names. And Ifindthat everybody now uses my name. They don't just say hi, they say, 'Hi Hugh, how are you?' Because I taught them - well, not... I showed them how to be human and how 'that's the way I want you to treat me and that's the way I treat you'. Again, Hugh's words show the subtle difficulty of talking about liberation while claiming the role of liberator, or talking about a humanizing experience of education while  95  implying that the learner was 'inhuman' prior, a distinction that is also blurred in Freire's (1968/1973) original work.  In a related quote, J i m mentions the role o f love:  Why did I get involved with JUMP and that whole initiative? The reason why I got involved with it is that earlier - is because I believe very strongly in social justice. But I believe in community. I love my immediate family. I love my extendedfamily. And I've always loved the people that I've been around. Very much. And as I've got older, that expands and expands. When writing about the necessity o f fighting for freedom, Freire (1968/1973) says, " A n d this fight, because o f the purpose given it by the oppressed, w i l l actually constitute an act of love opposing the lovelessness which lies at the heart o f the oppressors' violence, lovelessness even when clothed in false generosity" (p. 29). True solidarity "risks an act o f love" (p. 35).  4.2.7  Personal and Collective Transformation  Another way that these activists talk about literacy is as a means o f creating  community.  This is a word that they repeat throughout the interviews. Tamara says "literacy is a  metaphor for inclusion.... But it's also about creating community. " In part, perhaps, these labour literacy activists simply recognize what many top-down, management-oriented workplace literacy programs overlook, namely that workers communicate information and construct knowledge within what Gowen (1994) has called "informal communities o f practice," and that, to be successful, a workplace literacy program must encompass not only literacy skills, but also the social relations i n which they are used and which give them meaning and purpose (p. 37). In this sense, programs based on worker-centered approach to literacy are likely to be much more successful than, say, programs based on a functional context approach.  However, for these labour literacy activists, building community is not simply about good literacy practice or social inclusion; it is about transformation, and as such, implies a learning process that not only empowers and includes people within the existing  96  structured relational and power dynamics, but also  challenges those dynamics. For these  interviewees, personal and collective empowerment are inextricably linked. Literacy builds community, and communities make social change possible.  Jim presents a polarity between  "the philosophy of capitalism " and "the philosophy of  community. " His democratic and radically inclusive vision o f community is opposed to the neo-liberal agenda:  And as the neo-liberal agenda takes - what they want to break down is community. Community flies in their face cause it makes multi-national corporations accountable. You know, as they start to marginalize groups and people. In Rob's mind, literacy is linked to one's capacity to act in community:  My definition of it has changed dramatically from where I started. I initially thought it was just about reading and writing, but I've come to accept UNESCO's definition, which is to contribute effectively to your society's development. I think that is closer to what literacy means to me now and I think those words are really important because if you 're not literate you can't supposedly - and I believe this to be true—that you can't effect positive change in your community. That's how I define literacy now... Again that definition includes development of the community. Well, that's a huge aspect of most people's lives. Here again, is that ambiguous stance, the subtle objectification of the learner when speaking about literacy as empowerment, also implies, perhaps paternalistically, that learners were incapable o f acting prior to their participation in the program. This distinction is also blurred in the U N E S C O definition Rob is quoting.  Sylvia echoes Barb Byers,  "I don't think that my view of literacy has evolved much from  what was envisioned in the BEST program, in terms of 'empowering people to speak with their own voices and make those voices heard. "' Tamara concludes, "But I guess for me what's special about literacy is that it's about both individual and collective transformation. And I think that we desperately need both."  Worker-centred literacy posits individual and collective transformation as the route towards personal empowerment and equitable social change. Jim put it this way:  97  [AJny community is always based on - their success will be on how they treat the people that are most in need. So if you ignore the members in our community that have the least amount of confidence in learning, then you simply can't build the [community]. So to me it's just logical. You have to go there... And as we become more and more sophisticated about wanting to build communities, we '11 see that there is more and more needfor that. Ultimately, for these labour literacy activists, community-building strengthens democracy. Jim:  Literacy is a key component ofgiving people the confidence to fully participate in a democracy... not just on a political level, on a provincial or municipal level, but a democracy within the workplace, a democracy within the household, a democracy within a club or organization, within a community. And what I mean by a democracy is very much people have an opportunity to speak their point of view and so when a decision is made by a collective, it's made with all the information available, that it's been fully exchanged. And until we get there, until people are comfortable, moving there andfeeling confident in their abilities in expressing their views, we are missing out on too many views and so democracy won't work as well as it should. J i m provides a detailed account of the transformational impact o f literacy, saying:  [OJne of the things I always ask people is whether or not they have the ability to look at every action a human makes as positive intention... It's a little bit 'out there', but no matter what actions people [take], there is positive intention... If people can't wrestle with that idea, it's a good thermometer that in all likelihood that they don't have a lot of self-confidence in themselves, because as soon as you say that that person's 'doing it to me' then you have no control over that. It's a good indication that there's a lack of confidence in the person's own ability to control things. You can't control the actual activity, but you can control your reaction to it. Predominantly, we advocate that. Jim links his notion of individual empowerment directly to a notion of community empowerment, by saying in the next breath:  And that's what happens in our community.... If you 're a victim, then there's nothing you can do about it. And when you give that power away - and that's why the word 'empowerment' really means something to me, is because only we can give that power away. Nobody can take itfromus. So it's the individual's choice. Doesn 't mean that you can necessarily stop someone else's behaviour. But you can really stop the way that you 're reacting.  98  Further outlining the links between personal empowerment and social change, Jim goes on to say:  How do you change in a more global system... ? [T]he simple fact is there's no political regime - whether it's feudalism, or monarchy or capitalism or communism - none of that has been able to provide a gate for will of the majority ofpeople. It simply hasn't. Historically, nothing has been able to provide [that gate] when the majority of the people take a different view... [H]ow didfeudalism fail? I'm sure I can convince you that it wasn 't the powers giving up the power. It was the people taking the power.... [IJt's the same with monarchy. Finally people said 'No! That's enough!' Every political regime - communism -finally people said no. These words are strongly reminiscent o f Freire's (1973/1968): This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task o f the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue o f their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only the power that springs from the weakness o f the oppressed w i l l be sufficiently strong to free both.... Although the situation o f oppression is a dehumanized and dehumanizing totality affecting both the oppressors and those whom they oppress, it is the latter who must, from their stifled humanity, wage for both the struggle for a fuller humanity (p. 28). Jim's words also carry traces o f the very same structured power hierarchies he is passionately speaking against. If empowerment signifies 'coming to power', then the oppressor can never 'give power away'. To speak o f power i n that way implies a paternalistic model o f liberation (Cadena, as cited i n Stinson O'Gorman, 1996, p. 182). Although it may be "motivated by compassion," such as approach cannot be truly liberatory, since it w i l l "result in dependency rather than self-affirmation" (Stinson O'Gorman, ibid.).  4.3  Chapter Conclusions  The perspectives on literacy described by these labour literacy advocates span a spectrum from liberal to radical/critical. O n the one hand, some o f the goals for literacy identified by these activists are, pragmatically, "to help workers develop the skills necessary to survive within the current system and to advance within it" (Gowan, 1992, p. 22). This attitude draws on liberal traditions in adult education, especially the Enlightenment ideal in which all members o f a society have access to education and, thereby, to the  99  fulfillment o f their talents and potential. According to the definition provided by Holland et al. (2003), in this "liberal view," literacy: is seen to be broader than a set o f necessary skills to perform a given task. The context o f learning is taken into account, and workers are not blames for their learning 'deficits'. Organisational communications systems, the attitudes o f key personnel, and the level o f democratic functioning in the workplace are all understood to impact on workers' literacies.... Workers are encouraged to make curriculum development contributions, and programmes are broadened to include special interests and literacy used in the community outside work (p. 12). A l s o within the liberal view, "[management, union/worker and educational interests are seen to be reconcilable" (ibid.).  In Freire's (1968/1973) terms, this perspective may exemplify "an attitude o f adhesion to the oppressor," which he defines as follows: " A t this level [the oppressed's] a perception of themselves as opposite o f the oppressor does not yet signify engagement i n a struggle to overcome the contradiction; the one pole aspires not to liberation, but to identification with its opposite pole" (p. 30). From this perspective: For [the oppressed], the new man is themselves become oppressors. Their vision o f the new man is individualistic; because o f their identification with the oppressor, they have no consciousness o f themselves as persons or as members o f an oppressed class. It is not to become free men that they was agrarian reform, but i n order to acquire land and thus become landowners - or, more precisely, bosses over other workers (ibid.). However, when considered from within a dominant system that prescribes limited and exploitative educational opportunities for workers, simply having occasion to work towards one's o w n goals may be i n and o f itself a radical and transformative event, even i f the enlightenment ideal o f advancement commensurate with education remains hollow. Indeed, becoming 'the oppressor' may not be the point here. Perhaps labour literacy activists simply believe, along with Alfred Fitzpatrick, the founder o f Frontier College, that "education [is] the God-given right o f every person, male or female, not the exclusive privilege o f the favoured few" (Morrison, 1999, p. 35). This has been the case in a few alternative literacy programs. For example, Foster (1989) found that one o f the common themes among teachers o f poor Black children is the belief that they must teach  100  the children "that school does not necessarily lead to advancement" and that, instead, their learners "must learn the value o f education in its own right and not simply as a ticket for a good j o b " (as cited in Gowan, 1992, p. 122). Gowan (1992) also found that many o f the learners in the hospital-based workplace literacy program she studied wanted access to the General Education Diploma not only because o f the supposed opportunities for advancement that it may or may not represent, but also simply for its own sake (p. 121). M y data is inconclusive on this point. In some ways worker-centred literacy may be joined to the dominant, productivity-oriented system o f meanings and practices in that it aims to secure advancement for learners within the  status quo. This perspective does  not challenge the underpinnings o f capitalism, it simply aims for a redistribution o f what Bourdieu (1997) calls cultural and institutional capital.  A t the same time, labour literacy advocates also believe "that the system needs to be changed" and see "the goal o f workplace literacy instruction as empowerment through the development o f a critical consciousness in order to change the current social, political, and economic system" (Gowen, 1992, p. 22). A s Holland, Frank and Cooke (2003) define it, the radical/critical (or "proper") view is: literacy for active citizenship and necessarily has a political dimension. It is embedded in social and cultural practices and relations rather than being simply a technology. To be literate is to continually 'read' one's world (understand social, cultural, political aspects), the write and rewrite it, and thereby transform one's relationship to it (p. 12). It is in this sense that labour literacy activists posit emancipation as that moment o f understanding the links between our private situation, and that o f others (hooks, 1994, p. 47). Worker-centred literacy aims to bring about shifts i n critical self-reflection, perspective transformation and sense o f agency that Mezirow (1995) describes as transformational. Further, these advocates describe a literacy agenda that aims to promote inclusion and community i n opposition to the alienation and individualism working life under capitalism, and to produce shifts i n socially structured relations at the workplace. Literacy is thus offered as a source o f alternative conditions and consciousness for working people and for the working class. This latter approach involves "a recognition o f the class interest in education as  something more than a tool  101  for enhancing the marketability of our labour capacities. It is a revolutionary questioning o f the sources and goals o f knowledge..." (Stinson O'Gorman, 1996, p. 169; italics mine). This perspective aims to fundamentally re-wire relationships to cultural, institutional and embodied capital (Bourdieu, 1997). In this view o f literacy, "[mjanagement and worker interests are often significantly different, and sometimes irreconcilable" (Holland et al., p. 13).  Thus, labour activists' views o f literacy are both liberal and critical. This ambiguity is also reflected i n the way they talk about the learners/workers. O n the one hand, advocates clearly seek personal and collective transformation for all participants, including themselves. O n the other hand, they sometimes objectify their fellow union members, and speak o f empowerment in terms o f something they can give to or create for the 'other' in their own ranks. In this, they are reflecting the subjugated position o f the learner reflected i n the dominant discourse. Indeed, even Freire's (1968/1973) work establishes a dichotomy between 'human' and 'dehumanized', and positions the 'liberating' educator as someone who 'enters into solidarity' with the 'oppressed' i n "their struggle to recover their lost humanity" (p. 28).  In contrast, Razack (1999) advises a problematization o f the notion o f subjectivity i n critical pedagogy. She argues that critical educators are often guilty o f sentimentalizing and essentializing the voices and stories o f the 'oppressed', and points out that by unproblematically configuring oppressed knowledge "as suppressed therefore valued knowledge," critical educators often gloss over the structured power differentials between their position ('the listener') and that o f the learner ('the teller') (p. 37; p. 45). This stance both reveals and reproduces "the complex ways in which relations o f domination are sustained, lived, and resisted" (p. 36). For example, such passive acknowledgement can contribute to the maintenance o f the  status quo, rather than its upheaval, as it serves  to reassure participants that Canada is actually "diverse and full o f folklore" (p. 37). Listeners o f the stories o f the oppressed can also easily fall into the trap o f what, citing Monture-Angus, Razack calls "appropriating pain," or "basking in the sense o f having visited another country so easily and feeling no compulsion to explore their own  102  complicity in the oppression o f others" (as cited, p. 52). A s a critical educator reading Razack's words, I felt a stab o f shame, as I realized there have been moments, probably many, in my practice when I have sentimentalized or basked. There are probably moments like that in this paper, and in the way I deal with the stories the interviewees shared with me from the place o f positional authority o f the one analyzing and framing them. I take Razack's comments as a reminder that all o f us who are engaged i n critical education for social change need to remain self-critical and open to being made aware o f our blind spots. Without this, it becomes impossible to question or critically evaluate the educational project (Razack, p. 44).  Overall, however, the philosophy o f worker-centred literacy is an alternative to the controlling and reductive agenda o f dominant perspectives on worker education. Chapter Five w i l l turn from a discussion o f philosophy to an investigation o f practice, and w i l l show how this ambiguous stance is reflected in the practical applications o f workercentred literacy. Specifically, I w i l l measure three worker-centred literacy program models against liberal vs. critical approaches to participatory programming.  103  CHAPTER FIVE: T H EPRACTICE OF WORKER-CENTRED  5.1  LITERACY  Introduction  Having examined the discourse o f labour literacy activists to explicate their alternative representations o f the 'problem' o f workplace literacy, I w i l l now turn to an examination of the 'solution' proposed by the discourse o f worker-centred literacy. This chapter w i l l investigate the practical applications o f worker-centred literacy. I w i l l look at the three examples o f worker-centred literacy programs that my interviewees were involved in designing, implementing and evaluating (although the evaluation material is thin on the ground): the Ontario Federation o f Labour's B E S T program, and, i n British Columbia, the Hospital Employees' Union B E S T program and the L E A P program. I w i l l argue that these program models span a spectrum from the liberal to the liberatory. In practice as well as philosophically, worker-centred literacy is ambiguously non-hegemonic.  Since the Canadian Labour Congress (n.d.) proposes popular education as a key influence on the worker-centred approach to literacy I w i l l use this methodology as a yardstick for comparing the critical orientation o f these programs (p. 12). This theoretical framework w i l l allow me to tease out the liberal, learner-centred aspects o f these programs from the actual moments o f critical analysis. I w i l l argue that, despite the references to popular and critical education i n the course manuals and promotional material, these programs engage in participatory education in ways that are learner-centred as opposed to critical. This practice is consistent with the liberal, humanist traditions in adult education, and is aimed at improving the position of the individual within the existing status  quo, rather  than challenging its underpinnings. However, worker-centred literacy carves out subversive moments in which more radical goals are advanced.  Thus far, my discussion o f worker-centred literacy discourse has been concerned what Fraser (1989) calls the "ideological" aspect o f the "framework for inquiry," i n that it has been concerned with how labour literacy activists 'talk' about worker-centred literacy (p. 145).  I have investigated the way labour literacy activists frame the notion o f literacy,  and have outlined the ideological meaning system o f worker-centred literacy. I have  104  argued that the discourse o f labour literacy activists is not a closed system, but is also the site o f competing claims and interests. A s a result, their discourse is ambiguous - it both resists and reproduces the dominant perspectives. In this chapter, I w i l l continue this examination o f the ideology o f worker-centred literacy in relation to the dominant discourse on workplace learning, taking program materials and manuals as my focus.  A s I have mentioned, Fraser (1989) and B a l l (1990) suggest that there is also a structural, political-economic aspect to the inquiry framework. I have outlined some o f these elements i n my discussion o f the struggles to obtain funding for union-based literacy programs. B y examining worker-centred literacy programs in practice, I w i l l now investigate some o f the "the local particularities o f everyday experience" o f workercentred literacy (Smith, 1999, p. 73). The analysis i n this chapter w i l l consider the funding, resources and support offered to worker-centred literacy by government, industry and labour, and the impact o f these structural and political-economic elements on the material, everyday reality o f the programs in practice.  I w i l l suggest that labour literacy activists propose a vision for literacy that aims, in part, to restructure the position o f workers within the economic system, but relative lack o f support for worker-centred literacy from governments, employers and unions makes this challenging, and forces activists to pull back from some o f the more radical aspects o f their agenda for literacy, or to work towards them in subversive social spaces and ways. In the next chapter, I w i l l examine ways that activists are working strategically to advance their notions o f worker-centred literacy within the labour movement itself.  Since I have neither interviewed program participants nor engaged in an ethnographic study o f these programs in practice, I w i l l not be able to comment conclusively on any impacts o f these programs on the "matrix o f consciousness" (Smith, 1999, p. 73). I am still engaged i n investigating and articulating "the limits o f the possible" defined in and by the ideological space o f worker-centred literacy policy and programming within the context o f global capitalist society, and the role o f worker-centred literacy in transmitting or resisting the dominant culture (Ball, 1990, p. 11).  105  5.2  Learner-Centred vs. Critical Approaches in Participatory Education  Stinson O ' G o r m a n (1996) points out, "the term 'popular education' has been co-opted to refer to everything considered even remotely learner-centred or 'popular' and is, as a result, being stripped o f much o f its liberating content in educational circles" where the term has come to refer "strictly to the practice and methods o f the original liberating model" (p. 167). While all approaches to participatory education use "methods and structures [of] participant-directed, participant-controlled, and participant-centred learning," they must use these in combination with "the critical dialogue o f dialectical materialism" in order to accomplish the revolutionary agenda o f popular education (pp. 167-168). In keeping with this distinction, there are definite methodological differences between learner-centred and critical approaches to workplace literacy. Below, I w i l l tease these differences and their impact on three worker-centred literacy program models.  In her introduction to  Learning about participatory approaches in adult literacy  education, Norton (2000) gives an excellent overview of the range of ways in which the term 'participatory education' has come to be understood, and I w i l l use her summary as a springboard. Accordingly, Jurmo described participatory approaches as ones in which learners have "higher degrees o f control, responsibility and reward vis-a-vis program activities," while Fingeret describes participatory education as "a collaborative process that places learners at the centre o f instruction," and Gaber-Katz and Watson described learner participation as a "continuum ranging from using found materials i n the program to becoming active in the community" (all as cited in Norton, p. 11). According to Norton, Auerbach first distinguished "participatory education" from "learner-centred approaches," and described the former explicitly as "a critical education process aimed at social change" (as cited). Building on Auerbach's work, Norton continues to draw a clear distinction between learner-centred and critical approaches. To summarize, a learner-centred approach is defined as a process whereby: •  Learners are involved in setting their own learning goals and determining their own curriculum,  106  • • • •  Materials are used that have meaning for the learners, Learners have opportunities to take active roles in creating meaningful materials, Both the cognitive and affective development o f learners is supported, and There is a high degree o f equality among learners and teachers or tutors (pp. 1213).  However, the learner-centred approach focuses on individual interests and individual rather than group learning. It is thus not likely to lead to social analysis (Norton, 2000, pp. 16-17). Norton cites Gaber Katz and Watson who also questioned, "whether a selfdetermined curriculum, which focuses on the individual learner's experience, can also be a 'social change' curriculum that w i l l support the empowerment o f individuals and the community through collective action" (as cited, p. 17).  Similarly, Stinson O ' G o r m a n (1996) argues that not only is systemic or dialectical analysis key to popular education, but so are "popular participation" and "actual involvement in joint political action" (p. 169; p. 170; italics original). Mezirow (1995) makes a similar distinction. O n the one hand, he argues, transformative learning nurtures students' "[r]eflective judgment" and "crucial sense o f agency" (p, 125; p. 127). Merriam (1995) argues that, for Mezirow, "[i]n adulthood, development is synonymous with perspective transformations" (p. 123). M e z i r o w distinguishes this approach from the one used i n the "community development and social action education" pioneered in North America in the Highlander School, and i n which "social action educators... devote themselves to working within oppressed groups throughout the entire process o f transformation, including taking collective political action themselves" (p. 123; p. 124). In short, collective systemic analysis and social action are central components o f an engaged critical pedagogy. Program participants may engage in reflection, but without the action-reflection-action cycle, which Freire (1968/1973) calls praxis, the program is not one o f critical or popular education (p. 52). Participants may even engage i n systemic reflection about the circumstances o f oppression, but without collective action aimed at upsetting the hegemonic production and reproduction o f oppression, the praxis is still lacking.  107  5.3  Situating Worker-Centred Approaches  M y analysis w i l l be centred on a comparative methodology o f three worker-centred literacy programs: the Ontario Federation o f Labour's B E S T program, and, in British Columbia, the Hospital Employees' Union B E S T program and the L E A P program. Little literature exists in this area, and more documentation and research is necessary to capture the methodology employed in these programs, as well as how the learners experienced them. I w i l l draw on texts that are specifically related to these three programs, and the material from the Canadian Labour Congress ( C L C ) and the national body o f the Canadian U n i o n o f Public Employees ( C U P E ) , the two main labour organizations engaged in promoting the worker-centred model o f literacy. M y discussion w i l l also draw on my own experience and stories from my colleagues.  A n ambiguous methodological approach that spans the spectrum o f participatory approaches, from learner-centred to critical can be traced throughout the printed curriculum and promotional material that describes worker-centred literacy. A t first, when the C L C 'talks' about adult education, they appears to mean the liberal, learnercentred approaches that dominate i n the field o f adult education i n English-speaking Canada today, as opposed to popular education or critical pedagogy. In Union based  literacy course: Participant notes, the C L C (n.d.) defines the core principles of the worker-centred approach as follows: • • • •  Adult learning is voluntary. It acknowledges and builds on what adults already know. It recognizes that adults' backgrounds are varied and rich and it provides opportunities for these differences to be taken into account and valued. Adult learning is significant - it relates to adults' interests, goals and needs (p. 13).  Similarly, i n Learning for  our lives: A union guide to worker-centred literacy, the C L C  (2000a) defines the "keys to a worker-centred approach" (p. 23). It: •  Builds on what workers already know  • • • •  Addresses the needs o f the whole person Is developmental Reflects the diverse learning styles and needs o f adult workers Involves workers in decision-making  108  • Looks to integrate literacy training with other aspects o f workplace training • Assures confidentiality • Is open to all • Is accessible (pp. 23-25). Only one o f the C L C ' s 'keys' i n Learning for our lives seems immediately consistent with a critical approach to education, and that is: •  Worker-centred learning enables workers to have more control over their lives and jobs (p. 25).  Under this point, the C L C offers an explanation that highlights some potential for working collectively on systemic issues. They write: The objective o f a union literacy program is to empower its participants. Programs promote values like fairness, solidarity, and community. While building on their literacy skills, members also learn about their individual and collective rights. A worker-centred approach builds confidence and self-esteem. It strengthens the role participants play in the union, i n the workplace, and i n society (p. 23). It seems that empowering participants to play stronger roles in the union, the workplace and society is mostly to be achieved through building self-esteem and inculcating the value o f solidarity. Individual transformation, it is hoped, w i l l lead to social change.  However,  Seeds for change: A curriculum guide for worker-centred literacy, clearly  envisions a literacy program that engages in critical, collective, systemic analysis (Canadian Labour Congress, 2001). It states, "Education is not neutral. Underlying every education program is a particular vision o f society and what it means to be human.... The struggle over curriculum is essentially a struggle over whose interests the education process is to serve" (p. 3).  Further,  Seeds for change is clear about the role literacy plays in their vision o f society  and what it means to be human ( C L C , 2001): A s trade unionists committed to action on behalf o f human wholeness and social justice, we must understand literacy i n its fullest sense - as the exercise o f critical reflection and action, both individual and collective (p. 7).  109  This political stance towards education translates into a critical approach to workplace literacy, one that explicitly engages program participants in a collective, systemic analysis o f their "everyday/ everynight" lives (Smith, 1999, p. 75). To illustrate, Seeds  for change states: Our definition o f literacy includes both tasks and skills. Yet our definition goes one step further by taking into account the social and cultural practices - often institutionalized as systems - which structure our lives.... I f we look closely at examples o f real life literacy activities, we w i l l soon see that they are embedded in and carried out in the context o f social systems. Indeed, any given literacy cannot be dealt with i n isolation - it can only be 'read' and critically understood in the context o f the larger system o f which it is a part. This is what Paulo Freire meant when he said, 'Reading the world precedes reading the word' (p. 7; bolds original).  Seeds for change goes on to give an explicit example o f a literacy activity that combines literacy skills, real-life tasks and collective systemic analysis. It argues that filling out an accident report at work "entails much more than simply decoding the words on the page" (p. 7). In fact, "to really grasp the significance o f the accident report form we have to know quite a bit about how the Workers' Compensation system works: for example, what the specialized terms mean within the system, what the procedures and rules are and the nature o f our rights and obligations" (pp. 7-8). The goal is to enable the group to "complete the form effectively in order to access our rights in the system" (p. 8).  However, the analysis does not stop there. The agenda is not only to learn how to work within the Workers' Compensation system, but also to collectively determine strategies for changing the entire structured hierarchy o f which Workers' Compensation is just one manifestation or application.  Seeds for change demonstrates a belief that learning a  literacy activity i n and o f itself is not enough to create lasting change: Furthermore, knowing something about the larger system and critically reflecting on how it affects us as workers helps us realize that merelyfillingout a form correctly may not be enough to ensure that we access our rights. Indeed, we may need to develop individual and collective strategies to both deal with the system and to change it. Taking action to change a system like Workers' Compensation requires one to learn about the even larger systems o f government and the processes o f influencing and bringing about change. Thus, there is a whole other level o f literacy tasks and skills in the context o f dealing with systems (p. 8; italics mine).  110  Another example o f 'talk' about worker-centred literacy that seems to come from a critical perspective is found in the presentation o f then-Executive Vice-President o f the C L C to the National Summit on Literacy and Productivity. Jean Claude Parrot's (2000) description is consistent with classic, Freirean popular education approaches to literacy: Let me give y o u an example. A group o f night cleaners were participating in a literacy class that their union had negotiated with their employer. The class took place i n their downtown office building at 11 p.m., partly on work time, instructed by a co-worker who had been trained by her union. One night M i c h e l , a participant, came in with his hand in a bandage. When his colleagues asked him what had happened, he said that he had cut himself on a rusty metal garbage can. His co-workers all knew about the problem with the garbage cans. They had raised the issue with their supervisor and nothing had been done. This time, it was different. Gisele, the instructor, understood the situation well. After all, she was a cleaner on the same shift. She seized the opportunity to help the participants find a way to deal with the situation within the context o f their workplace literacy program. She asked M i c h e l and the other participants about their experiences with workplace injuries, writing key words on the board. Then she asked them to write down their stories and to share them with the group. Spelling patterns and verb endings were discussed. They talked about what they could do about the problem o f the rusty garbage cans. They looked at the clauses in their collective agreement that dealt with safety on the job. Together, they decided to write a letter to the health and safety committee to raise the issue. They discussed what should be included in the letter.... Ultimately, the letter was sent on behalf o f the class and the rusty cans were replaced with plastic ones. This was a process that took place over several weeks. It included a number o f literacy tasks, like writing about one's experience, reading sections o f the contract and composing a letter. It developed participants' skills, such as reading for understanding and spelling. But these tasks and skills came out o f the experiences o f the workers, from their real lives. The process went beyond looking at an individual situation. It helped the group work towards an understanding o f how decisions are made and where change is possible by dealing with the systems surrounding an actual incident. This way o f learning not only helped the participants understand these systems better, but it engaged them in a process o f how they could stand up for themselves to affect positive change (p. 2). Thus, through the texts o f these two manuals and this speech, the C L C 'talks' about worker-centred literacy in a way that sometimes seems consistent with liberal, humanist traditions in adult education, and sometimes clearly draws on the critical traditions in  Ill popular education. Methodologically speaking, the C L C describes an approach that straddles somewhat contradictory aims. O n the one hand, literacy is a tool for promoting and advancing the individual within the existing social order. O n the other hand, literacy is a tool for engaging in collective systemic reflection and action to change that social order.  5.4  The Ontario Federation of Labour's BEST Program  These methodological and theoretical tensions can be traced i n the two other program examples as w e l l .  3  Aspects o f the O F L - B E S T program methodology seem indebted to  popular education, and yet, i n the end, the program appears to have more in common with transformational as opposed to critical literacy.  From popular education, B E S T - O F L draws a community-development perspective and focus on praxis. Tamara is clear that worker-centred literacy uses a communitydevelopment model, one that is catered to each individual worksite and to the 'generative themes' that are relevant there:  [I]t [is] important to understand the culture of the workplace, which was the other thing about working with the local union. To know what the particular issues were... what the challenges were, what the threats were... So we would try to sort of tailor the arguments to the particular situation... [W]e would need to look at the workplace and see which kinds ofprogramming were appropriate to that particular workplace and that location. Writing o f their experience i n the O F L - B E S T program, Connon-Unda and Clifford (1997) attest the program was originally envisioned as an "agent o f change in the workplace, the union and the community" (p. 145). Further, they specifically stress that the "action and reflection cycle" is "an essential element in the B E S T approach to adult education" (ibid.). While the "starting point for learning is always the experience, knowledge and desires o f the participants," there is a "commitment to unforeseen development," and the end goal o f organizing learning around "the lived experiences o f participants and their efforts" not only "to describe and make sense o f that experience"  For the sake of coherence between the text of the study and the text of the quotes, I will mostly refer to these three program models in the present, although none of them currently have programs operational.  112  but also "so that [the participants] may take effective action towards desired ends.... Actions are taken in the group, in the workplace, i n the union and i n the family and community" (p. 148). These actions then lead to a further round o f reflection, as they are "described and reflected on, i n personal journals, in discussions, and in the monthly portfolio process for assessing progress" (ibid.).  A l l aspects o f the program follow from these goals, including "the educational approach, the project structure, the use o f co-worker instructors, and their selection and training" (Connon-Unda & Clifford, 1997, p. 146). The curriculum "is not prescribed but emergent. It is organized around themes that are relevant to participants' lives" (ibid.). The instruction is given by co-worker instructors, who are "not expected to be... teacher[s] but to model being good learner[s]... The relationship is fundamentally one o f peers engaged i n a collaborative venture" (p. 149). Co-worker instructor training for the O F L - B E S T programs was intensive. It began with a two-week residential pre-service, and continued with several in-service sessions through their first 36-week program. The training re-enforced the action-reflection-action cycle, as "during all stages o f training, instructors experience first-hand the kinds o f processes they are expected to facilitate back in their workplaces" (p. 150).  These examples strongly suggest that the O F L ' s B E S T program employed a methodology drawn from critical pedagogy and popular education. They used generative themes, they engaged i n an action and reflection cycle, they encouraged collective systemic analysis and the linking o f personal to collective experiences, and they employed peer co-instructors in order to promote radical solidarity and power sharing among the group. However, Jean Connon-Unda, one o f the founders o f the O F L - B E S T program, nevertheless assured me that actual moments o f collective systemic analysis and action were fleeting (J. Connon-Unda, personal communication, M a y 17, 2004).  Without more explicit literature on the practice and outcomes o f the program, it is hard to be conclusive. However, a close reading o f the way that Connon-Unda and Clifford (1997) describe their approach implies that is has more in common with transformational  113  education, as opposed to critical literacy, in that the overall emphasis seems to be less on systemic analysis and collective action, and more on literacy as a tool for changing one's relationship with oneself, one's subjectivity. In writing about their experiences in the O F L - B E S T program, Connon-Unda and Clifford explicitly situate literacy development " i n the context o f a more encompassing adult education approach, [that] fosters not only the growth o f literacy skills, but also the development o f a clearer and stronger sense o f s e l f (p. 147). The goal o f the program was not the mere addition o f skills within a continuing status quo, but rather "a re-orientation o f the subject towards self and context.... Through a process o f shared exploration and critical reflection, participants become familiar with the broader contexts o f their personal situations" (p. 147; p. 149). Here, the O F L - B E S T program appears to have more i n common with transformational education. This perspective recalls M e z i r o w ' s (1995) 'perspective transformations' and to hooks (1994) definition o f transformation is "that historical moment when one begins to think critically about the self and identity i n relation to one's political circumstances" (p. 47). In their own words, the Connon-Unda and Clifford argue that their approach "is consistent with what hooks calls 'an engaged pedagogy'... [which] is holistic, connecting self-actualization with wholeness and a quest for a union o f mind, body and spirit. The emphasis on wholeness is socially constructive. It challenges the splitting off and compartmentalization o f essential aspects o f our humanity, a destructive process through which we are divided, first against ourselves, and then against each other" (p. 150).  5.5  The BC Experience: BEST and LEAP  Both the H E U - B E S T and L E A P manuals also emphasize a community-development implementation model. However, these programs are more clearly liberal and learnercentred in their approach and methodology than the O F L - B E S T program. The literature on these programs is almost entirely lacking in any discussion o f systemic analysis or collective action, and focuses on facilitating a 'return to learning' for working people.  Basic education for skills and training: The Hospital Employees' Union program coordinators' workbook (Evans & Twiss, n.d.), defines the guiding principles o f H E U B E S T as follows. B E S T programs:  114  •  • •  empowerment for working people Focus on returning to learning [See] learners [as] active participants in their own education, not passive  A r e first and foremost about  • • •  recipients o f someone else's learning agenda A r e about workers helping workers A r e accessible to workers Offer a framework for a joint union-management approach to workplace basic skills education  •  Assure participant confidentiality  •  Use  college instructors to provide support (pp. 1-3; italics original).  Here, 'empowerment for working people' seems to mean empowerment within existing social structures, as the B E S T program aims "to enrich the lives o f workers and to expand their potential as workers, as individuals, as family members, as union members, and as citizens" (Evans & Twiss, n.d., p. 1). The overarching goals o f the programs are clearly learner-centred, and do not appear to involve collective systemic analysis and action.  Implementing a worker focused learning program in the workplace: The LEAP experience (Evans, Twiss and Wedel, n.d.), expresses a similar set of basic assumptions for that program. L E A P : • • • • • •  Builds on the rich background o f experience and prior learning that adult learners bring with them Is an opportunity for participants to move towards their ambitions for the future Makes education accessible by offering a program in the workplace during work hours at no cost to participants Is planned, implemented, and coordinated i n a collaborative manner, which involves all partners in an active role Values peer tutors as a resource for helping adults to learn. W e call this the 'workers helping workers' model [Takes] the learning needs o f the participants [as] the priority (p. 3).  Again, there is no notion here o f upsetting the dominant paradigm, and the overall goal seems to be one o f helping learners meet their ambitions within that paradigm. In principle, then, both B E S T and L E A P programs lend themselves more to learner-centred participatory methodologies than to critical or popular education approaches.  115  In practice as well, these programs seem to favour an emergent curriculum design based on learners' individual practical needs, rather than collective, systemic issues. There is no set formula for what B E S T or L E A P programs w i l l look like. "Each program is a unique combination o f learning needs, personalities, and circumstances" (Evans and Twiss, n.d., p. 27). The programs are grounded in individual learning goals. I know that when I was active as a college-based instructor i n B E S T and L E A P programs in B C , the phrase I commonly used and heard was, "learners w i l l set their own goals and work towards them at their own pace." Learner goals might be to get their General Education Diploma, to learn how to help their kids with their homework, to gain certain skills and credentials that might help them transfer to other jobs within the system, or to become supervisors themselves. I have worked with learners towards all o f these goals i n my capacity as a college instructor i n B E S T and L E A P programs.  Goal-setting with learners is a therefore a central program activity. There is no formal assessment or testing as part o f the program; the instructor and tutors determine where to start on a particular course o f learning i n discussion with the learner and through casual or non-invasive observation o f the learner's work. Then, the instructors and/or tutors develop individualized lesson plans in direct response to each learner's needs. Typically, learners are grouped with others sharing similar needs and worked on a specific activity, then the group changes as the activities change. These goals are tracked and revised as necessary throughout the duration o f the program (see Evans and Twiss, n.d., p. 27).  The HEUprogram coordinator's workbook (Evans and Twiss, n.d.) gives this illustration of what goal-setting looks like in action. Speaking to a peer tutor who is helping a learner work towards their General Education Diploma ( G E D ) , the workbook describes: Together, you decide to start with the writing part. After a few discussions and reviewing some writing samples, you realize that the learner's writing skills are quite low. With the help o f the instructor, the learner and you decide to work on upgrading her writing skills before getting into the G E D book. In this example, the learner's mid term goal is to bring her writing skills up to the level where she could pass the G E D composition exam and her long-term goal is  116  to complete the G E D . This requires the ability to write a 200-word composition in 45 minutes. In the short t e r m , the two o f you agree that the learner w i l l write a series o f short pieces on topics o f her choice. Once it is written, the learner w i l l go over each piece with the tutor. Focusing on the learner's own writing, the two of you w i l l explore what makes effective writing, how to develop ideas in writing, and strategies for improving grammar and spelling. These short, mid and long-term goals are written down on a worksheet and kept in the learner's file (p. 27; bold original). We found from experience that this approach works best with learners who arrive with specific, concrete and practical learning goals, such as passing exams for the General Education Diploma or for Steam Engineer's tickets. Therefore, when interviewing learner applicants for the programs, one o f the screening tools we used was an assessment of whether each applicant had clear goals for what they wanted to get out o f the program.  A s Stinson O ' G o r m a n (1996) points out, "knowledge itself is not power" and " i n and o f themselves these basic skills [reading, writing, and mathematics] are not oppressive or liberating. Rather, they are simply tools that can be employed to maintain oppression or facilitate liberation" (p. 167; p. 182). M y analysis so far indicates that both H E U - B E S T and L E A P programs clearly favour a learner-centred approach aimed at building particular sets o f discreet skills for specific tasks, within a respectful, gentle and accessible environment. These programs do not generally seem to include systemic analysis or collective political action. In short, H E U - B E S T and L E A P literacy programs aimed to facilitate workers/learners acquisition o f basic skills and their advancement or well-being within the dominant, capitalist system, but not their or their fellow union members' liberation from that system.  I am noting that these programs elements o f 'adhesion' with the oppressor. However, this does not mean that I consider these to be 'oppressive' programs. I am not positing these programs as interventions that w i l l  either 'maintain oppression' or 'facilitate  liberation', but, rather, as sites o f conflict between these opposing forces. I see these programs not as instances o f opposing forces, but as the location o f different interests'  117  interactions. They are a "complex and polyvalent nexus o f compromise formations in which are sedimented the outcomes o f past and future struggles as well as the conditions for present and future ones" (Fraser, 1989, p. 157). Below, I w i l l trace some o f the more radical, critical elements o f O F L - B E S T , H E U - B E S T and L E A P , as well as some o f the structural and political-economic constraints in which these programs operate.  5.6  Further Considerations  5.6.1  Shifts in Relations  Perhaps the liberatory potential o f B E S T and L E A P programs is best explored through the types o f social relations these programs aim to facilitate among participants. Borrowing from Stinson O ' G o r m a n (1996), I w i l l argue that: by excluding management and local union officials from the day-to-day operations o f the [BEST] programs, and by continuing the struggle for a participatory approach within the classes, [BEST] programs attempt to maintain a degree o f independence in their structures and relations, and ideally escape the authoritarian relationships that usually pervade workplace activities. [BEST] is not a direct part o f the activities o f a union local or o f the employer. It does, in a very fundamental way, belong to participating workers (p. 176). In this sense, workplace literacy programs present a challenge to what Dorothy Smith (1999) has called the 'ruling relations' that structure social relationships at work. Smith talks about the "the complex o f objectified social relations" as having both "particularities" o f everyday/ everynight life, as well as "abstracted discourses and forms of organization" (p. 73). These programs provide a space i n which working people can experience day-to-day relations that contradict and counteract the authoritarianism and individualism that defines the modern the workplace. In so doing, the programs open up the possibility o f collective engagement with the abstract, ideological ruling relations that structure capitalist society and workers' lives.  Worker-centred literacy programs can create a site and an opportunity for workers to engage in community-development initiatives and political literacy (J. Brooks, personal communication, December 10, 2005.) To illustrate, a C U P E local is currently partnered on a workplace literacy program i n a work site that is largely "dysfunctional" (P.  118 Hodgson, personal communication, December 7, 2005). There is almost no committee structure within this very large (750 to 1,700 full and part-time employees in offseason, and double that number in peak season) workforce for the workers to meet and discuss work-related issues, or for the workers and management to meet (ibid.). The literacy project Working Committee is made up o f volunteer tutors and the instructor from Capilano College. Although the project Working Committee was intended as a venue for talking about the literacy program, it has provided an occasion for workers' collective engagement around a host o f other work issues as well. In the course o f the meeting, committee members are often 'sidetracked' and talk about work-related issues, grievances and questions. They share information and develop strategies for addressing these issues. When the employer representative is present at the meetings, committee members take the opportunity to bring these issues forward to her. They take what they learn back to their co-workers. From the perspective o f the college instructor, the Working Committee meetings are sometimes "frustrating" because the education program may be far down on the workers' priority list o f issues to discuss (ibid.). However, these meetings have created a space and an opportunity for workers to engage in collective analysis and action around the terms o f their work, and for them to communicate with an otherwise inaccessible employer (ibid.).  The model for educational delivery used i n all three programs also has the capacity to alter the relations o f people at work, and it seems that this was a deliberate intention on the part o f program architects. In O F L - B E S T , H E U - B E S T and L E A P , the program planners all chose to use trained peer tutors in an effort to disrupt traditional hierarchies at work and in the classroom. A s J i m says:  My idea of the empowerment model is the peer-led.... [IJfyou have peers working with peers, then you start to have more of an organic exchange of ideas... and your power base [will] change. Traditionally our education system is power-based.... [But] if it's peer-based, that quickly is diminished, because on any given day, even the leaders need some help. The leader of the group, you know, the peer, will need some help. And then the power shifts. The use o f peer tutors in the Canadian workplace literacy classroom stems back to 1902, when the Canadian Reading Camp Association (which later became Frontier College)  119  introduced the concept o f the "labourer-teacher," largely in an effort to establish a greater rapport between the workers and the "college kid," and also to offset the costs o f hiring college instructors (Morrison, 1999, p. 35). However, as Jim's quote indicates, B E S T and L E A P use peer tutors not only as a practical necessity, but also as a political act aimed at creating relational shifts in power.  In keeping with the goal o f creating a shift in power, the selection o f peer tutors for B E S T and L E A P focused simply on individuals who had "good communication skills... and the desire to help others help themselves" (Stinson O'Gorman, 1996, p. 179). These personal characteristics were seen as more important than any particular qualifications or experience; indeed, when I worked i n H E U - B E S T and L E A P programs, we found that individuals with past formal teaching experience did not make good tutors, as their tendency was sometimes to reproduce the structured unequal power relations o f the traditional student-teacher relationship and the prescriptive model o f education proposed by the dominant discourse. A s well, these individuals often had more privilege than the learners we were trying to reach, so there was a real class-based aspect to their relationship to the learners and to teaching. W e also argued, as Stinson O ' G o r m a n does about the W E S T program, that "requiring a previous commitment to the trade union movement as a necessary criterion for prospective course leaders might actually limit some o f the most liberating potentialities o f this approach" (p. 180). The peer tutor model was not intended to replace the hierarchy o f the classroom or the workplace with that o f the union, but to open a space for a shift i n relations and interpersonal, relationship-based experiences o f empowerment.  A s a result, it is possible to argue, as Stinson O ' G o r m a n (1996) does, that the principle and ongoing struggle for all those taking part in the daily activities o f the B E S T and L E A P programs is "to avoid mimicking the educational practices o f the dominant society" (p. 183). Stinson O'Gorman's reference to Felix Cadena's "three models o f social intervention" is a useful tool for examining the potential o f peer model to disrupt "the destructive tendencies o f alienation and commodification" o f the modern capitalist economy. In  "vanguard intervention, the educator would assume the formal function o f  120  leader to promote his ideology. In the  paternalistic model, the educator assumes a  'benevolent' position o f superiority" (p. 182). Neither o f these educational approaches is truly liberatory, since these actions, although they may be "motivated by compassion," actually "result in dependency rather than self-affirmation" (ibid.). Only in "the  participatory model o f intervention" is there "a recognition of the educator as part of the group" only by "taking responsibility for their own learning and consciousness w i l l participants overcome dependency and transcend existing social relations" (ibid.). This latter approach is clearly what Freire (1968/1972) has in mind in his liberatory model o f education in which the students have opportunities to understand that they educate the teacher (p. 59). In keeping with the  participatory model o f intervention, B E S T and offer  an approach to learning i n which no one person is the keeper o f the knowledge, and all participants are encouraged to define their own learning agendas. These programs aim to use an active approach to learning i n which knowledge is created through dialogue, as Freire and Horton (1991) discuss in  We make the road by walking.  The difference between this approach and the more traditional, learner-centred participatory models is that here the learner and tutors are peers and, i n principle at least, share power equally throughout the learning endeavour. The implication is also that the sense o f equality and collectivity that is nurtured in the space the classroom opens up w i l l suffuse outwards into the workplace as well, disrupting the hierarchies according to which worker's lives are structured, and creating a culture o f solidarity.  The three programs I am examining address the use o f peers differently. The O F L - B E S T program was entirely delivered by peers. There were some professional educators who worked as Regional Coordinators and designed and implemented the peer instructor training, but they had no function in the classrooms in which the program was delivered.  In B C , various forms o f a 'hybrid' model, combining peer and professional instruction, were developed. H E U - B E S T peers worked with college instructors in the classroom. Sylvia explains that this choice was, at first, a response to lack o f funding and the  121  inability to do what the O F L - B E S T program had done with the peer model. However, the use o f a college instructor later became a conscious choice on the part of the H E U :  We didn't have the infrastructure in BC [to go ahead on our own], so we decided to work with a community college. But then I realized the value of that, because you 're trying... to connect people. I mean some people are going into the program and that's an end in itself. They '11 just go and that's all they wanted and that's great. But for others, they get the bug and then they want more. Well, you know, if you 're not connecting them to the place where they 're going to get the more... then you 're not doing them any favours because you haven't demystified that whole system that they were never part of right? Because they've never done post-secondary and that's for other people, it's not for them. You know? So by bringing the college to the workplace... they [may] say, 'Oh yeah, that's for me. I had a college instructor in my class!'... 'I did a college class'... And so you really start to connect them. Sylvia understood that for many working people, a college education is a distant ideal or is simply something that's not for them. A college education is a form of "institutional" capital that many working class people do not possess. She felt that having an actual college instructor in the classroom was a way o f demystifying college education, making it something that learners could consider for themselves (Bourdieu's "embodied" capital). In a practical sense, the instructor would also be able to help interested learners figure out how to navigate the systems o f post-secondary education (an act of systemic analysis and information-sharing similar to Bourdieu's "cultural" capital).  L E A P takes the 'workers-helping-workers' approach one step further, by having no professional educators in the classroom at all. The college instructor facilitates the peer tutor training, interviews learners and helps with initial setting o f goals, and sometimes visits the program part o f the way through to revisit and adjust learner goals. Otherwise, the instructor is available by phone or email to provide support from North Vancouver to the programs elsewhere in the province. Jim explains that, from his perspective, having an exclusively peer-lead program is crucial. He feels there is some reason to mistrust professional educators, who too-often bring a skills- and abilities-based focus to literacy work, and do not relate to the empowerment perspective. Too often, professional instructors are unsure  "about how to reconcile the turning over of the power to the  individual learners."  122  The terminology is illustrative o f the differences in these approaches. In the O F L - B E S T program, peers were called 'peer instructors', i n recognition o f their greater role in the classroom and o f the focus on collective rather than individualized learning. O f O F L B E S T volunteers, Tamara says:  We called them 'instructors'. We... never used the term 'tutors'.... To me tutor implies one-on-one. In fact, in Nova Scotia do you know what they 're calling it?... They 're calling them 'peer learning guides'.... And in Saskatchewan they call them 'course leaders' which is another interesting term. These instructors receive substantial initial and in-service training, and are tasked with trying to implement the more critical, popular-education based approach o f that program, including engaging i n collective systemic analysis with program participants, a project that requires some talent and training to facilitate.  B y contrast, in both H E U - B E S T and L E A P programs, the volunteers are called 'peer tutors', a term which seems consistent with the more individualistic, skills-based, one-onone approach employed i n those programs. However, it seems clear in all cases, the program planners shared Jim's belief that peers would not only be familiar faces who made the program more comfortable and accessible, but also would engage in social relations o f equality in opposition to the structured hierarchies o f the traditional classroom, the surrounding workplace and, even, the union itself.  There are problems and unexplored issues inherent i n the peer-based approach to program delivery, not the least o f which is the potential for 'lateral oppression'. There is a kind o f assumption behind the peer-based delivery model that peers, as long as they are from the same class background as the learners, w i l l readily overcome their own, internalized experiences with the dominant education systems, and with social relations mediated by unequal power. Yet, as Stinson O ' G o r m a n (1996) argues, "Trying to avoid the trap o f vanguard or benevolent patterns o f social intervention becomes a continuous practical and theoretical struggle for all involved," and often both tutors and learners unconsciously  expect and enact a more traditional, hierarchal set o f classroom  123  relationships (pp. 183-184). A s Razack (1999) points out, in privileging the voices o f the 'oppressed', we run the risk o f glossing over the multidimensionality o f the voices within the group, and seeing unity where there is, i n fact, diversity. This is not an argument against peer-based programs. Rather, it is a point for activists to consider when engaging in program development.  This study has focused on the perspectives o f labour literacy activists, and has not investigated the experiences o f the learners and tutors who participated in these literacy programs. It is, therefore, beyond this study's scope to analyze the actual social relations that were formed in these peer-based literacy classrooms. Some work has been done to document the outcomes for peer tutors/instructors o f participation in these programs, for example Connon Unda and Clifford (1997). Further study would also be needed to determine what impact participation i n these programs on participant self-concept, agency and ensuing actions. I can conclude, however, that worker-centred literacy programs are established with the goal o f creating a space o f possibility for participants to experience human relations and shifts in power within the context o f dehumanizing, hierarchical workplaces. This approach represents a sharp departure from the prescriptive intent o f the dominant discourse o f workplace literacy.  5.6.2  Coming to Voice  The transformational impact o f the peer-based approach can also be understood not through the lens o f popular education at all, but rather through the concept o f 'voice'. B e l l hooks (1989) describes the feminist focus on voice as a movement from silence into speech. She calls this "a revolutionary gesture" and "a metaphor for self-transformation" (p. 12). hooks is writing about her own the experiences, and those o f other women o f colour. However, her words can be read with special resonance i n relation to literacy learners. She argues that 'coming to voice' is a particularly transformational event for people "who have previously never had a public voice... [and] who are speaking and  writing for the first time" (ibid.; italics mine). Marginalized and disempowered groups, such as working people and the working class, are frequently silenced by external forces, or by themselves as learn not to speak "for fear our voices w i l l not be heard nor  124  welcomed" (Audre Lorde, as cited in hooks, ibid.)- Marginalized groups have so few opportunities to speak their/our own truths in their/our own "multi-dimensional" voices, that coming to voice is "an act o f resistance" (hooks, ibid.). Then, "[s]peaking becomes both a way to engage in active self-transformation and a rite o f passage where one moves from being object to being subject" (hooks, ibid.). Echoing Freire (1968/1972), hooks explains the political implications o f this personal, inner shift: "Only as subjects can we speak. A s objects, we remain voiceless - our beings defined and interpreted by others" (ibid.).  Collective social action does not necessarily have to be the result o f the personal transformation that is catalyzed by experiences o f speaking one's own truth, hooks (1989) maintains that this kind o f conscious, shared speech is already a form o f resistance with powerful political implications. To illustrate, hooks cites Mariana Romo-Carmona: The stages o f increasing awareness become clear when we begin to recount the story o f our lives to someone else, someone who has experienced the same changes. When we write or speak about these changes, we establish our experiences as valid and real, we begin to analyze and that analysis gives us the necessary perspectives to place our lives in a context where we know what to do next (p. 13). hooks' (1989) notion o f 'coming to voice' is related to both Freire's concept o f praxis, and to the developmental paradigm shifts and growing sense o f agency that Mezirow describes.  4  Before the cycle o f action and reflection can start, and before any collective  social action can be planned or carried out, there needs to be a sense o f coming to voice, o f speaking to an audience who understands, shares and validates one's experiences. Coming to voice is the act that links the personal with the political, and precedes agency or collective action. A s hooks explains, "Awareness o f the need to speak, to give voice to the varied dimensions o f our lives, is one way women o f colour begin the process o f education for critical consciousness" (hooks, p. 13; italics mine). Speaking from the position o f subject, as opposed to object, not only brings the speaker "face-to-face with this question o f power," it also forces her "to resolve this question, to act, to find a voice" which is itself a transformational, political act (hooks, p. 15). Whereas dominant  hooks articulates her intellectual and spiritual ties to the former in her essay Freire (1994).  125  discourses continuously write (of) her as an object, the act o f speaking forces the speaker "to become that subject who could place herself and those like her at the center o f [the] discourse" (ibid.). O f her own experience, hooks is clear: "I was transformed in consciousness and being" (ibid.).  Worker-centred literacy programs create opportunities for such transformations, and I believe this is what the 'empowerment' model intends. The programs carve out physical time and space for working people to meet and talk, they welcome and engage the workers/learners as whole people and they support shifts in relationship and community building. Even without an engagement in praxis, this approach to learning creates a space where personal and community transformation and empowerment are at least a possibility.  These external and internal spaces o f possibility exist i n opposition to what Jim calls "the  psychology of capitalism." Alexander (2001) uses the term "dislocation" to describe the negative psychological effects o f capitalism on people and communities. Reflecting Polanyi's theories, Alexander argues that healthy communities are inconsistent with the free market rules that guide and promote the expansion o f global capitalism. He explains, "In order for 'free markets' to be 'free'.... [they] must not be encumbered by elements o f psychosocial integration such as clan loyalties, village responsibilities, guild or union rights, charity, family obligations, social roles, or religious values" (p. 1).  Alexander's work focuses on the rise o f addiction in market societies, but it is equally relevant here. H e argues current market-based social (and educational) policies undermine our ability to care for one another, and to build sustainable, healthy communities. A s a result, Alexander argues, "we have become dislocated from the myriad intimate ties between people and groups... that are essential for every person in every type o f society" and for society i t s e l f (ibid.). Or, as Ehrenreich (2001) discovers in  Nickel and Dimed, her scathing investigation of working class life in America, "there  is no we" in contemporary capitalist workplace culture (p. 23).  126  B y creating spaces where caring, connection and integration are possible, worker-centred literacy focuses on building community and giving learners an opportunity to experience an I and a we (Connon U n d a & Clifford, 1997). Sometimes this is as simple as hearing a co-worker speak your name, and knowing your co-worker's name i n return. Having entered for a year to explore the (to her) 'parallel universe' o f low-wage jobs, Ehrenreich (2001) is surprised at how she disappears: " N o one notices my face or my name, which goes unnoticed and for the most part unuttered. Here... I am 'baby,' 'honey,' 'blondie,' and, most commonly, ' g i r l ' " (p. 11). Similarly, i n his story about W i l l i e , Hugh speaks o f the transformational effect o f personal naming within the workplace:  "Andjust that  alone is — it makes the hospital an incredibly pleasant place to work. You know, when people talk to one another and not afraid of each other. " Hugh is the only peer tutor I interviewed, and so his take on the impact o f the program on participants is more firsthand and intimate than that o f the other labour literacy activists. In my own experience, workplace literacy programs, especially those that incorporate a focus on writing and discussion, give participants an opportunity to tell and reclaim their stories, and this can in and o f itself be liberating. In recognition o f the deafening silence that all too commonly characterizes current work places, Ehrenreich (2001) dedicates her study to "all those people... w h o ' d had so much more to say than anyone ever got to hear" (p. 2). Thus, even i f the programs fall short o f the development o f a working-class consciousness, they may create moments o f 'coming to voice'. These counteract the alienation o f capitalism, under which the "individual is atomized to the point where no one can understand - and therefore no one can assist i n ending - the oppression o f another" (Stinson O'Gorman, 1996, p. 168).  5.7  Constraints to Worker-Centred Literacy  5.7.1  Program Planning Context: Collaborating With and Subverting Capital.  There are serious structural limitations to the ability o f unions to engage i n critical literacy i n the workplace, and these undoubtedly have some impact on the way these particular programs were developed and implemented. In many ways, even the liberal and humanistic approach to education that worker-centred literacy offers is hard to  127  achieve and sustain given the structured hierarchies within which literacy program planning in the workplace must take place.  When it started i n 1987-88, the O F L - B E S T program had the benefit o f full government funding from the Ontario Ministry o f Skills Development. This gave program planners the freedom to develop the programs that they wanted, and to train peer facilitators in popular education approaches. Since then, however, government funding for workplace literacy programs has become almost non-existent. The National Literacy Secretariat w i l l fund some workplace literacy pilots and research projects, but funding for program delivery is always left up to provincial governments, who largely choose to neglect this area.  Thus, i n B C at least, our experience has been to work for and within joint union and employer support for programs, which is reflected i n the L E A P principle that "the Workplace Education Program is planned, implemented, and coordinated i n a collaborative manner which involves all partners i n an active role" (Evans, Twiss and Wedel, n.d., p. 3). Both H E U - B E S T and L E A P were run jointly by the employer and the union through a local coordinating committee that included the community college partner. From the perspective o f Capilano College, the educational provider partner on most o f the H E U - B E S T and L E A P programs and my employer in the programs, one o f the program goals is clear: " T o provide a framework for a joint union-employer approach to basic education in the workplace" (Twiss, 2003, p. 7). The joint committees at each site are responsible for the recruitment and selection o f participants and tutors, the logistics o f the class, as well as ensuring on-going co-ordination and support. This is an essential aspect o f the program, as without the support and involvement o f management and supervisors, the inconveniences o f re-scheduling may hinder a potential learner's participation. In many cases, the programs relied on the employer to fund full or partial release time for the employees to attend the program. Further, as government funding though Forestry Renewal B C and the Healthcare Labour Adjustment Agency dried up, the architects o f these programs looked to the employer to pay for the college instructor as well. When this was not forthcoming, the H E U - B E S T program folded. L E A P  128  continued on for a few years with the financial contribution o f Canfor, but that eventually ended, and there are currently no L E A P or B E S T programs running in B C - although one L E A P site has negotiated for basic skills money as part o f its Collective Agreement, so their program may start up again.  A s a result o f these funding issues, H E U - B E S T and L E A P assumed a posture o f cooperation and collaboration with the employer, rather than being a union-driven program like O F L - B E S T . We needed the employers to be allies and could not afford to exercise the autonomy o f the O F L . (Stinson O'Gorman, 1996, makes the same argument of the Saskatchewan Federation o f Labour's W E S T program, p. 176). Given that unequal power relations in the workplace translate to unequal power relations i n the program planning process (Wilson and Cervero, 1996), the joint union management approach means that many o f the more radical goals o f worker-centred literacy are not on the overt agenda, and all committee members, including the union representatives, start to adopt aspects o f the dominant, productivity-oriented discourse around workplace literacy. Thus, for example, while Tamara says that the people who set up O F L - B E S T consciously rejected the productivity arguments:  One of the rules at the very outset was, we will not, we will not promote this program on the basis ofproductivity [repetition and emphasis original]. We will not promote this program on the basis of 'your workplace accidents will decrease'. We can't do that because if we do that we 're putting low productivity, we 're putting workplace accidents on the backs of workers. We can't do that. And so we didn't promote it on that basis. In stark contrast, the architects o f the L E A P program shamelessly used both productivity arguments and all kinds o f graphs and charts in an attempt to make their program appealing to management. One o f the program volunteers presented some o f their tactics at a training session: • • •  •  The company expects pay-back. B e prepared to answer, 'What do we get out o f this?' Use the 'safety' angle Show the return on investment. The company w i l l save on the bottom line because o f things like less numerous Worker's Compensation Board claims. Y o u have to talk dollars and cents when you are talking to management Explain they get more confident employees who are pro-active at work  129  • •  •  Say employees are apt to take action to prevent big problems Explain about how learners put something back into company programs through such means as the Employee Family Assistance program, the safety program, the environmental program, etc. Explain that learners are more apt to fill out equipment repair memos, log sheets, log books, etc. (T. Dawson, personal communication, Oct. 10, 2003)  In this context, true worker-centred liberatory literacy becomes a subversive activity, where systemic analysis around workplace issues is addressed in secret and as an aside within the broader context o f the program, and without the knowledge o f the management players on the joint committee. I saw elements o f this subversive approach happening in B E S T and L E A P programs in B C . For example, issues like understanding the Collective Agreement were a regular part o f the curriculum, but were never shared with the management 'partners' on the coordinating committee.  Here are two other examples o f social action literacy education that come from a college instructor in the B E S T program. First, in one local hospital, a Manager in the kitchen had a practice o f ordering employees into the office and intimidating them into working harder. The Steward i n that area told the employees, who were mostly South East A s i a n women, that they did not have to talk to the Manager without another union member or Steward present. However, this situation kept occurring. This Steward happened to be a tutor i n the B E S T program, and many o f the learners in the B E S T program came from these same kitchen areas. One day, the Steward/tutor came into the B E S T classroom with a stack o f laminated cards on hot pink paper that she had created. O n one side, these cards were printed with a dialogue that captured the language and tone o f this Manager: "I want to see you in my office right n o w . . . " etc. However, this dialogue also included a possible response from the women. The dialogue "gave them language to use in response." O n the back, the cards also cited the relevant article from the Collective Agreement, both directly from the Agreement and in a clear language version that the Steward/tutor had written. That day, the participants in the B E S T class read and discussed these cards, explained the clause, and then went back to the workplace and distributed them to others. They carried these hot pink cards in their pockets. (D. Twiss, personal communication, N o v . 2005)  130  The second example concerns the 2004 H E U strike i n B C . In 2004, the Liberal government in British Columbia, under Premier Gordon Campbell, introduced B i l l 29, which "altered signed collective agreements between health care employers and unions, and cleared the way for private corporations to take over the management and delivery o f health care support services in hospitals and long-term care facilities" (Griffin Cohen, March 2003, p. 2). The H E U went on strike. Later that year, Honourable Graham Bruce, Minister o f Skills Development and Labour, introduced B i l l 37, which upheld the revisions to the Health Sector Collective Agreement Act.  Among other things, Section 6  of the B i l l declared: Immediately after this A c t comes into force and despite the  Labour Relations  Code... (b) a trade union and the employees represented by that trade union must not strike or declare a strike and must terminate any strike, (c) every employee must resume his or her duties and work schedules o f employment with the employer, (d) any declaration, authorization or direction to go on strike given before or after the coming into force o f this A c t becomes invalid, (e) an officer or representative o f a trade union must not in any manner impede or prevent, or attempt to impede or prevent, any person to whom paragraphs (a) to (c) apply from complying with those paragraphs (http://www.legis.gov.bc.ca/37th5th/lst_read/gov37-l.htm). Thus, B i l l 37 ended the strike by health sector employees and made the rewritten collective agreement binding; it also made further collective action illegal. Further, the B i l l contained an automatic and retroactive hourly wage rate reduction o f 11% effective in 14 days (D. Twiss, personal communication, N o v . 2005).  In the B E S T class, rumours swirled around about this B i l l and its implications. A tutor noticed that her co-workers had been getting their information from the media. O n the spot, she went to the Internet and printed the B i l l . The class read it and talked about it. According to the Instructor, " Y o u could not incite them to anger when they were just hearing it on the radio or reading the papers, but when they had it in their hands and saw it right there they realized the extent o f the betrayal and it was an incredibly powerful  131  transformation.'' She adds, " M a n y o f the women in the H E U are passive; they were not activists." (D. Twiss, personal communication, N o v . 2005)  These examples o f collective systemic analysis are closer to popular education than my analysis o f the available program material has so far indicated. In both o f these examples, the activities were not the instructor's ideas. Because the program created the kind environment where the learners and, in these cases, the tutors were creating the curriculum and the instructor was a support person, they were able to act on these moments. If there had been a set curriculum, such as in most competency-based workplace literacy programs, nothing would have happened. Moreover, these examples indicate that, operating within the ideological, structural, and political-economic constraints o f global capitalism, advocates o f a worker-centred approach to literacy may speak about their project i n terms o f liberal education that are palatable to their employers and the government, and then subversively pursue a more radical agenda. Despite their overall liberal, learner-centred approach, in fleeting moments like these, B E S T and L E A P programs did engage praxis aimed at facilitating the development o f "working class consciousness" (Stinson O'Gorman, 1996, p. 167).  5.7.2  The Trade Union Context: Resisting and Reproducing Capital  Thus, the 'watering down' or subversion o f the more radical goals o f worker-centred literacy is partially a result o f the unequal power relations i n the program-planning context. However, the contradictions i n worker-centred literacy are also linked to the ambiguously non-hegemonic position occupied by trade unions themselves, through both their complicity and their resistance, unions define and maintain the total social system (Althusser, 1971).  While organized labour opposes and works to mitigate some o f the worst excesses o f unfettered capitalism, it may also seek the growth o f capitalism - as long as that includes gains for their membership. In terms o f worker-centred literacy, this means that unions might sometimes espouse popular education principles, but sometimes they and their members may simply seek access to the dominant education system, and the  132  qualifications, credentials and high-paying jobs that system promises and gate-keeps. A s Stinson O ' G o r m a n (1996) argues: Taken alone, the educational goals o f worker-centred literacy could easily do nothing more than attempt to ensure accessibility to the dominant education system, rather than providing a meaningful alternative. [Worker-centred literacy] is not necessarily committed to disrupting the status quo; rather it is, as part o f the trade union movement, committed to improving the position o f workers within the context o f present social relations (p. 167). Stinson O ' G o r m a n (1996) argues that popular education in the context o f worker-centred literacy is not overtly defined as a part o f a "larger popular strategy" for social change, as were the revolutionary popular education projects in the South, from which popular pedagogy has been borrowed (p. 168). Worker-centred literacy is part o f the trade union movement, and these organizations, while they might be ideologically opposed to capitalism, are nevertheless immediately and practically engaged in helping their members to a bigger piece o f the capitalist pie.  To draw on W o l f f s (n.d.) discussion o f the ideological state apparatus, it can be said that by advocating for worker-centred literacy programs for their members (which is, on the surface, unions taking a stance o f resistance to global capitalism), unions are nevertheless enabling and supporting capitalism by seeking compensation for workers for (and thereby allowing) rising rates o f exploitation and their negative social effects. It may be that unions only embrace the ideology o f competitiveness strategically and i n order to lobby for this compensation for their members. However, it has also been argued that the weakness o f the Left (in labour unions, parties, and movements) stems in part from its having endorsed this competitiveness rather than undermining it within the framework o f an anti-capitalist politics (ibid., abstract). In some ways, then, worker-centred literacy is ambiguously non-hegemonic and both resisting and reproducing (even by means o f resistance) the total social system.  In the same vein, the workers/learners i n these literacy programs also occupy, in various ways and to varying degrees, positions that are socially, economically and otherwise differentially and ambiguously non-hegemonic. Speaking o f the 'North Americanization  133  of popular education', Razack (1999) reminds us that it is important to trouble the use o f the term'oppressed'. She argues: Paulo Freire's pioneering work on the fostering o f critical consciousness in oppressed groups continues to be applied relatively straightforwardly in North America, for instance in ways that often stop short o f interrogating the category o f oppressed for the North American context, as opposed to the Latin American context, i n which Freire's work originated (pp. 43-44; italics mine). In order to talk about this i n a way that is grounded, I ' l l use my own experience and identity as a yardstick. In the B E S T and L E A P programs where I worked, there was a fair amount o f difference among the learners. In the pulp and paper sector programs, there were some learners who worked in jobs that were relatively highly-regarded, highly-skilled, highly-paid jobs, and who, for example, made more money than I do ( i f that is any measure o f degree o f oppression) and were studying advanced applied math that was well beyond the reach o f my education. They were also predominantly white men. In contrast, in the hospital-based programs I met many learners with significantly lower levels o f formal education than I have. A glaring exception were the learners, mostly women from South East A s i a , who had obtained Masters degrees or the equivalent from their country o f origin, and who were working in food or building services at the hospital for a variety o f reasons, including language barriers and the fact that their non-Canadian credentials were not recognized here. A l l the hospital workers I met made less money than I did working as a College instructor.  I don't want to oversimplify. The influences o f various experiences o f oppression and entitlement on the social construction o f both opportunity and subjectivity are more complex and layered than this discussion implies. M y goal here is simply to illustrate Razack's point that the notions o f oppressed and oppressor in Freire's work do not translate seamlessly into the contexts i n which these worker-centred literacy programs take place. This point has profound implications for the potential for critical literacy education to take place in the classroom. Quite simply, the learners themselves might not necessarily be committed to disrupting the status quo; rather for them, as for their overall union organization, a central goal o f participating in education might be, in part, to improve their position o f within the present structures.  134  I also do not want to imply that there is anything morally wrong with the desire for personal or collective advancement and gain, or the efforts on the part o f union officials and organizers to work for more o f these benefits for themselves and their members. M y point here is simply to spell out some o f the ways that the position o f trade unions i n the context o f capitalism defines and limits the ability o f worker-centred literacy to create personal and collective social change. Indeed, it is perhaps arguable that the ambiguous positioning o f labour in relation to the dominant hegemony is a more fundamental source of these contradictions than the structured power imbalances discussed in the last section. These complexities result in, and are the result of, an ambiguously non-hegemonic educational project. Therefore, in addition to identifying the external constraints to its project, it is perhaps also useful for labour to trace this 'other' in themselves (Spivak, as cited i n Razack, 1999, p. 55).  5.8  Chapter Conclusions - and New Questions  In these examples, worker-centred literacy does not always seem to be critical literacy or popular education i n the strict sense o f the terms. While H E U - B E S T and L E A P clearly base their curriculum in the individual and group interests o f the learners, and envision education as a tool for social change, they do not exclusively use generative themes as their content, nor do they adhere to the action-reflection-action cycle known as praxis. Even in the O F L - B E S T program, there is a sense that the elements o f a critical approach in the philosophy and principles o f worker-centred literacy, was enacted only i n moments throughout the program. There are indications that labour literacy activists are aware o f the methodological limitations o f their approach in terms o f critical literacy education, and that these programmatic choices may be a deliberately pragmatic or subversive response to structured power hierarchies in the program-planning model. Certainly, both BC-based programs came to rely for funding and permission on a cooperative, joint venture with employers, which meant that any radical goals were pushed off the acknowledged agenda, and a more liberal, learner-centred and even productivity orientation was adopted, at least on the surface. True critical worker-centred literacy education became fleeting - a hope and a dream.  135  However, although the educational methodologies o f H E U - B E S T and L E A P , and, to a certain extent, O F L - B E S T , had more in common with learner-centred approaches than with critical or popular education, the types o f social relationships they sought to develop in the classroom through their delivery mechanisms had clearer liberating and emancipatory potential. In some ways, it may be that one o f the biggest outcomes o f B E S T and L E A P was simply to carve out a space at work where workers could be together away from the eyes o f supervisors and managers and where they might, on occasion, start to bring other aspects o f their selves into the workplace, and to relate with their co-workers on a different footing than is allowed on the shop floor.  5  Where  corporate culture creates isolation, invisible people and alienating workplaces, workercentred literacy programs create community. Relations o f dominance may indeed persist and return in these spaces, but as Stinson O ' G o r m a n (1996) argues, "worker-centred literacy and programs like it continue to pose alternatives as long as capitalist social relations are not imposed^ (p. 186; italics mine).  Moreover, building on an underlying understanding o f the structured nature o f social inequality across class lines and o f education system's role in perpetuating this inequality, these programs aim to create quality, meaningful and accessible educational opportunities for working people. In a sense, this aspect o f their project seeks to address what Bourdieu (1986) calls cultural and institutional capital. Perhaps more crucially, they bring workers together and aim to give workers not only the skills and confidence to speak i n their own voices and to make those voices heard, but an audience to validate what they say. This aspect o f the worker-centred literacy project seems to address those issues internal to an individual's self-concept, such as our self-confidence, our notions o f what we are capable or worthy of, and what we dare to dream o f for ourselves. These concepts recall Bourdieu's notions o f embodied capital and Foucault's notions o f the socially constructed nature o f subjectivity.  Ehrenreich (ibid.) illustrates dramatically how, in the workplaces she studied, social interaction of any kind between employees was discouraged, made impossible and punished. It is important not to underestimate how challenging it is simply to get a space where workers can gather without management supervision. 5  136  Finally, worker-centred literacy achieve these goals in the face o f a dominant discourse around workplace literacy that prescribes, at best, narrow-minded and ineffectual learning for workers and, at worst, the incursion o f the productivity agenda into the hearts and minds o f workers. Drawing on the conclusions o f two writers who have each produced significant analysis o f the programs I am investigating, I too w i l l conclude that workercentred literacy poses a challenge to the dominant agenda that has political, psychological and even spiritual dimensions. Where the dominant agenda is to use "control over knowledge production systems, the dissemination and use o f knowledge, and people's access to knowledge to perpetuate systems o f domination o f the few over the many, to preserve the  status quo, and to undermine the forces o f social transformation," worker-  centred literacy seeks, i f not to reverse the dominant agenda, then at least to "reverse patterns o f oppression" and to "generate patterns o f freedom" (Stinson O'Gorman, 1996, p. 169; p. 170). A s such, these programs represent "attempt[s] to intervene in the destructive tendencies o f alienation and commodification" and, even when they fall short o f systemic analysis, "to create a place where the seed o f working class consciousness might [at least] be fertilized" (Stinson O ' G o r m a n , p. 182). Where dominant agenda promotes the "splitting off and compartmentalization o f essential aspects o f our humanity, a destructive process through which we are divided, first against ourselves, and then against each other," worker-centred literacy treats the learner as a whole person and promotes unity o f body, mind and spirit (Connon Unda & Clifford, 1997, p. 150). A s such, these programs connect "self-actualization with wholeness and the quest for a union o f mind, body and spirit" (ibid.) In short, worker-centred literacy programs offer a grassroots agenda for change and hold out the possibility for small revolutions to happen every day. In so doing, these worker-centred literacy programs upset the social and political apple cart - which is, I suggest i n closing, perhaps one reason why it is so challenging to secure sustainable funding for these projects.  However, I don't want to fall into the trap o f romanticizing or sentimentalizing the voices of the oppressed (Razack, 1999, p. 37). Razack contends that, while the act o f storytelling for social change - what hooks calls, 'coming to voice' - which central to the methodology o f critical pedagogy, may be personally liberating for anyone overcoming  137  the silence o f oppression, it is not enough, on its own, to create systemic change. Unless we learn to examine not only how we 'hear' the stories o f others, but also what we ' k n o w ' and how we know it, w e ' l l never be capable o f successfully defining "what it is we want to change about the world and w h y " (pp. 54-55; p. 46).  The history o f the Hospital Employees' Union in B C is a case in point. B i l l 37 forced H E U to end the strike and go back to work. Shortly afterwards, the Government o f British Columbia, acting under the terms o f the revised Collective Agreement, proceeded to contract out a number o f jobs. A private company, Sodexho, now has contracts with the Fraser Health Authority to provide cleaning services and with the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority to provide patient and retail food services. Some individuals, who had been support workers for years in local hospitals, got their jobs back with the new employer - but these were now jobs with reduced wages, benefits and rights. Many o f the individuals who had participated in the B E S T program were affected by this change. The H E U has since re-unionized some o f these workplaces, and i n 2005, Sodexho employees in hospitals throughout the Lower Mainland went on strike again. Their dispute was sent to the Labour Relations Board on November 4, 2005 - the 51st day o f a strike that had expanded to include more than 1400 Sodexho workers (http://www.heu.org).  This example illustrates Razack's (1999) point that simply hearing the stories o f oppressed people, or, I would add, creating situations were moments o f transformation or shifts in relation can take place, is not enough to bring about an external shift in structures o f oppression. Indeed, Razack cites Richard Broscio's reminder that, i n the end, education may simply not be "the leading route to social change" (as cited, p. 51). Once we have 'heard' marginalized voices, it is crucial to then ask: "To what uses w i l l these stories be put? (Razack, p. 37). This is the topic o f the next chapter.  138  C H A P T E R SIX: T A K I N G IT  6.1  H O M E  Introduction  This chapter w i l l argue that labour literacy activists are engaged in building union capacity to carry out the true, reforming aspects o f their vision for worker-centred literacy. The resistance that labour literacy activists encounter to their agenda within the labour camp suggests that labour as a whole may yet be reticent to reposition its relationship with capital, at least as far as its most marginal members are concerned. These activists are seeking out opportunities within the ideology o f labour itself to harness the political w i l l to create a learning society in the true sense o f the word. This is not an easy task, not only because labour advocates o f a worker-centred approach operate within the structured constraints and limitations o f existing workplaces and the dominant discourse, but also because they are constrained by the current position o f organized labour i n relation to capital and its own grassroots members.  What directions for labour education and the labour movement in general do labour literacy activists propose? Whose interests does the emerging, alternative and/or oppositional discourse o f worker-centred literacy serve? The act o f asking these questions is important, since "posing for discourse the question o f power means basically to ask whom does the discourse serve?" (Foucault, 1972, p. 115). According to Foucault, power is "not an institution," such as the labour movement, nor "a structure," such as a union, but "a complex strategic situation" (1990, p. 93). "Labour" means many things: the union, its public figureheads, its discourse, the membership, and the movement, to name just a few. Worker-centred literacy is positioned, then, at the intersection o f "a complex and heterogeneous configuration o f elements (including ideologies that are residual or emergent, as well as the currently dominant)" (Ball, 1990, p. 3). To look at this situation, I w i l l examine the location o f different interests' interactions with the project o f worker-centred literacy, which is the complex nexus o f interests, ideologies, compromises and strategies that make up this moment in union development. M y intention here is not simply to point out that there are, o f course, "ruling relations" within the house o f labour, but more importantly, to start to outline "the limits o f the possible"  139  for worker-centred literacy and for labour at this moment in its relationship with capital and with its membership (Ball, 1990; Smith, 1999).  Problematizing the notion o f subjectivity inherent in critical approaches to adult education, Razack (1999) points out that there is a general tendency i n the practice o f critical pedagogy "to discourage critical reflection o f various hierarchical differences within oppressed groups" (p. 44). The same may be said o f labour. The result is that efforts to come to consensus around what actions to take in the face o f oppression may be complicated, in part because, rather than engaging in a collective critical reflection, labour remains caught in the histories o f its members, who are unable to 'hear' one another. Thus, "unless we want to fall into the trap o f demanding that the oppressed speak with one voice before we w i l l believe them, we are still left with the difficult task o f negotiating our way through our various ways o f knowing and toward political action" (p. 50).  What Spivak calls "unlearning privilege" w i l l involve a critical self-examination on the part o f all labour o f how labour 'hears' the stories o f workers/learners, what labour 'knows' and ' h o w ' labour knows it (as cited in Razack, p. 54; p. 55).  Using this framework, I w i l l argue that labour literacy activists, through the project o f worker-centred literacy, encourage labour to '"trace the other i n s e l f " (Spivak, as cited in Razack, p. 55). The result, they hope, is that labour w i l l be more able to successfully define "what it is we want to change about the world and w h y " - and how (Razack, p. 46).  Using data from my interviews, I w i l l argue that worker-centred literacy presents an alternative view o f what unions could be, one that may find increasing importance in the context o f labour's role i n the expansion o f global capitalism. Worker-centred literacy brings an emphasis on 'grassroots members', and extending the union 'learning community' far beyond those who have traditionally participated i n labour-sponsored education and training, and these are important ways o f growing and strengthening both  140  local unions and the labour movement as a whole (Forrester, 1995, p. 143). However, worker-centred literacy is not just about the union acknowledging and reaching out to or accommodating the 'other,' the marginalized, silent and increasingly diverse and nontraditional members in their ranks. It is also, fundamentally, about tracing 'the other in s e l f . Thus, labour literacy activists engage in a form o f praxis o f their own by turning their gaze back on the union itself, looking for ways that unions structure and perpetuate internal inequality, and strategizing around alternate ways that unions could engage in more inclusive, collective and democratic practices. A t issue here is not simply what kind o f teaching method w i l l be used in the workplace classroom, or whether labour definitions o f learning w i l l be expanded to include 'working life education,' but also whether or not unions w i l l be willing to embrace the diversity within their ranks, engage in more participatory practices in their own decision-making and reflect on its relationship with capital. Thus worker-centred literacy presents "an argument for renewal within trade union life and, more urgently, in democratic understandings and practices" (Forrester, 1995, p. 169). Labour literacy activists argue, as Stinson O'Gorman (1996) does, that "by adapting the practices o f popular education and extending our notions o f knowledge, we can begin to revitalize and again revolutionize" not only our classrooms, but also "our movements" (p. 168).  6.2  Union Education in the Knowledge Society  The position o f labour i n relation to capital is far from fixed; rather, labour is in flux or, some argue, in crisis. A s Forrester (1995; 2002) argues, " G i v e n the intimacy with which trade unions are historically woven into their socio-economic environment," any "analysis o f trade union activity, as it emerges into the 2 1 century, is likely to be situated st  within a framework that lists the problems and difficulties confronting organized labour" (p. 138). While he does not talk about globalization per se, Forrester implies it by the scope o f the changes he has i n mind - they are industrial, political, cultural, and societal in nature (2002, p. 138). Writing from a British context in the 1990's, he identifies "a number o f important and significant changes" i n the contemporary "economic and industrial relations environment" (1995, p. 171). These include "the impact o f anti-union legislation, two economic recessions, a hostile ideological onslaught and mass  141  unemployment" (1995, p. 171). To this list, he adds "fundamental changes i n the labour market," "upheavals resulting from... privatization and deregulation," and "continuing membership decline" (1995, p. 172; 2002, p. 138). Moreover, Forrester argues that  "[collective confidence  in a series o f earlier relationships, with the state, the Labour  Party and the membership, are... seen as problematic and i n need o f renewal and reformulating" (1995, p. 171). To make this point with a specific recent and local example, similar issues can be seen in the heated debate around changes to the way labour unions are affiliated with the British Columbia N e w Democratic Party. This move was an explicit attempt to "modernize the relationship" between the Party and organized labour  (The Vancouver Sun, N o v 2, 2005, A 3 ) . These ongoing challenges have: resulted i n a certain loss o f nerve and sense o f purpose and an undermining o f collective confidence and direction. The weakening o f a collective identity and sense o f solidarity, expressed and reinforced i n the culture and communal relationship o f many sections o f the working class, has instead been increasingly replaced by a receptiveness to individualism and to claims on behalf o f 'the national interest'... (1995, p. 171).  In some ways, this crisis has been brewing since the 1970's, with the collapse o f the welfare state and the changing role o f unions within the new social contract (Pierson, 1998). A s B l o c k (cited i n Forrester, 2002) argues, labour's crisis has links to overarching socio-economic changes, as "the 'master concept' that o f industrial society - is not longer 'persuasive' for 'making sense o f our own society'" (as cited, Forrester, p. 138).  The revised rules o f post-Fordist, globalized capitalism present new challenges and opportunities for organized labour. Forrester (1995; 2003) presents trade union education, in which category he includes workplace learning and basic skills, as one way that labour can answer positively, not just defensively, to the increasing hegemony o f productivity-oriented discourses around education, and the underlying economicorientation o f current social policy in general, with its emphasis on accountability, outcomes and the corporate bottom line. Further, he proposes education as a way that labour can renew and modernize itself in the face o f the challenges o f the 2 1 century. st  "Trade union education," he writes "has an enhanced importance and centrality within [this] context o f 'the weakening o f a collective identity and sense o f solidarity'" (1995, p.  142  171). While acknowledging that there is to date still little substantial evidence and evaluative data about union contributions to workplace learning, Forrester provides examples o f British unions "attempting, through their educational and training activities, to explore more inclusive activities that begin to address a more 'modernized' agenda (2003, p. 138).  Unions have generally endorsed the current discourse around 'lifelong learning', and sometimes use the same terms as government and employer groups. For example, Jackson and Jordon (2000) demonstrate an "apparent consensus" among stakeholders over the new training policies - although also showing how policies actually favour business (p. 1). Castleton's (1999) research shows the labour movement as a whole plays along with other key stakeholders, such as government, practitioners and management, in endorsing the dominant productivity-oriented, skills-deficit views on literacy. Therefore, it can be argued, as Forrester (2002) suggests, that labour as a whole has adopted a tacit agreement with the mainstream arguments for workplace literacy and learning. This is a pragmatic and problematic stance. A s Holland et al. (2003) point out, in reference to the impact o f shifts in the global economy: In all these developments [changes i n the global economy], trade unions have gradually come to have less and less influence on traditional workplace issues. N o w training, as much as pay and conditions, is a key bargaining issue. While the involvement and endorsement o f workplace training and education is considered vital by many practitioners, concerns are expressed that unions' sanctioning o f the N e w W o r k Order stifles critical debate (p. 22). Forrester (1995; 2002) argues that unions must embrace the lifelong learning and access to education agenda, without buying into the mistaken and simplistic linking o f skills shortages to reforms i n education and training. He argues: "The nature and direction o f this workplace learning agenda is an agenda still to be contested and detailed" and workplace learning is simply "too important to be left to the employers of to narrowly focus on job-specific learning" (1995, p. 176; p. 177). Unions must "steer a delicate and often frustrating course" through the rhetoric that surrounds lifelong learning (2002, p. 141). For example, while "strongly agreeing with the need for workplace accredited learning by employees and the development o f transferable core skills," unions must at  143  the same time put forward "strong misgivings over the competency model o f learning" that underpins much o f the skills and learning agenda (1995, p. 177). While learning at work is "generally designed to improve task- and job-related performance" it is also "much more than this" and it is highly "unlikely that any workplace or sector w i l l achieve its task- or job-related goals without providing a much wider learning environment" (ibid.). While accepting, on the surface, the human capital paradigm and the consequent opening for increased investment i n learning at the workplace, unions must also continue to argue not only for investment in workplace learning but also "for increased investment in ourselves as working people" (ibid.). In short, unions are arguing "for social justice as much as economic growth" (ibid.). This is a task not to be undertaken lightly, as a "successful eventual outcome to this 'contested agenda' o f workplace learning by the trade unions could transform the learning experience and aspirations for millions o f trade unionists at work" (ibid.).  In part, this embrace o f education represents a move on the part o f labour to respond to the dominant human capital paradigm, the emergence o f lifelong learning as a dominant policy framework, and the resulting emphasis on the learning organization and human resource management. Tied as it is to capital, labour must engage in these changes, and seek to steer a course for their members between some o f the more exploitative aspects o f this new framework, which utilize workplace learning as a strategy to harness intellectual capital and align people with their business interests, and some o f the opportunities that nevertheless exist for labour to share in this new form o f wealth creation. Labour may even take advantage this moment in policy formation to seek the creation o f a real learning society.  However, it is not just about reacting to changes in the new workplace and new forms o f wealth creation. It is also a reforming vision o f labour education, "offers the possibility of a wider membership engaging more systematically with the harsher and, often, bewildering circumstances" o f the current era (Forrester, 1995, p. 170). Forrester calls this 'working life education," by which he means a "more varied and conceptual learning experience" that moves away from traditional union courses material with its central  144  focus on "the increasing difficulties o f immediate workplace concerns" and towards courses that provide the basis to engage with, and make sense of, the contemporary processes o f profound economic and political change (ibid., p. 170; p. 174). He argues that this shift in educational priorities is all the more important given the extent o f the socio-economic transformations o f recent years, and the fact that: "For many millions o f citizens, it is only through their trade unions that there is a chance o f educationally making sense o f the bewildering and often painful dislocations and aspirations characterizing the [contemporary] 'free market' society" (ibid.).  A s part o f his project, Forrester (1995) calls for "membership learning experiences" (p. 178). He points out that "The targets cannot be achieved without extending the 'learning community' far beyond those who have traditionally participated in education and training" (p. 176). In particular, by operating out o f the bounds o f traditional union education, labour w i l l be able to connect with a wide variety o f members who, because they did not fit the traditional model o f the white, male, full-time worker, have hitherto been excluded from most union activities. Forrester (1995) is clear: [A] weakness that has characterized trade union education over the last 20 or so years has been the absence o f any serious focus on 'missing audiences'. While priority for any union must be given to education o f its present and future lay officials, the absence o f learning strategies designed to involve, for example, particular trade union communities or the general membership remained a strategic shortcoming (p. 172). The mass-model delivery systems o f most labour education programs have simply not been effective for reaching out to the vast majority o f the membership. There are, however, other possibilities, and chief among these are 'return to learn' schemes which have been successful i n reaching out to non-traditional members, including those who "have never attended a union meeting and know little or nothing about their union" (Forrester, 1995, p. 178). In the programs Forrester (1995) refers to, these were mostly part-time women workers. Forrester encourages unions to exploit new delivery systems for educational programs, including evening and weekend classes, and open and distance learning programs (p. 178). The initiatives Forrester describes are mostly literacy and basic skills programs. He encourages unions to shift the way they approach learning, and  145  to view membership-learning strategies not as an add-on, but the centre o f their activities (p. 178).  However, this vision o f workplace learning represents a departure from traditional union education, which has been "dominated by a collective bargaining agenda" (Forrester, 1995, p. 179). For example, here i n British Columbia, the mainstays o f the Harrison Winter School for labour education are courses on collective bargaining training, shop steward training, union communications, union counselling, facing management etc.: While the labour market... provides the backdrop for the learning outcomes, the immediate objectives are driven by wider social, political and educational priorities. Issues o f inequality, o f democratization and o f learning progression, for example, are evident as strong themes in the provision. A n explicitly [small 'p'] political consideration... informs and shapes the agreed learning agendas, at a pace and at a level determined by the student (Forrester, 1995, p. 179). Building on Forrester's points, and incorporating data from my interviews, I w i l l argue that worker-centred literacy presents an alternative view o f what unions can be, one that may find increasing importance and resonance in the context o f the need for a renewed vision for labour, while also encountering resistance to the challenges this makes to labour's traditional ways o f doing business. In essence, their approach aims to make human capital arguments work all for all labour members. They present an argument for social justice as well as economic growth, and see worker-centred literacy as a tool for achieving these aims within labour. A s Levine (2005) asks: What is literacy work? Is it only about organizing literacy programs for adult learners? Or is it also about looking at the organizations and systems we are part o f to see who is included and who is left out? Can literacy play a role, beyond skill development, that could foster greater inclusion and participation? Some unions and central labour bodies believe it can. We are beginning to rethink our approach to literacy and its companion, clear language. We are moving away from the project-based, grant-dependent approach i n which literacy is appended to the regular work o f the union, the 'caboose' at the end o f the train. Instead, we are emphasizing how literacy and clear language can be 'part o f everything we do' (p. 14). With Levine, I would like to discuss what can be learned from this shift.  146  6.3 6.3.1  The Contributions and Challenges of Worker-Centred Literacy Growing and Changing the Union  Workplace literacy is a tool for growing and strengthening the union because it brings to the table not only new activists, but different activists. Through literacy programs, unions can reach out to and engage members who were previously marginalized within their own union, excluded due to lack o f skills, confidence or interest, or because they did not fit the profile o f the typical (white, male, Anglo-Saxon, full-time) worker. Forrester (1995) has pointed out that through "return to learn" schemes and other forms o f "membership learning experiences" and "working life education," unions can start to address the weakness, hitherto characteristic o f trade union education, o f "the absence o f any serious focus on the 'missing audiences'" (p. 172). These initiatives extend the '"learning community' far beyond those who have traditionally participated in [union] education and training" and, indeed, create a bridge to groups o f members who have never attended a union meeting and "know little or nothing about their union" (p. 176; p. 178). Specifically, these groups include women, part-time workers and ethnic minority communities (ibid.).  M y interviewees also spoke about the benefits to the union from literacy programming. Sylvia:  Ifyou are designing your program really in the context of access and equity, then you can't help but activate members, and that's what really builds the union. The union is only as strong as its members. And you know, the more members that are involved, the stronger that you are going to be. And that are informed and that are willing to get informed and take part in union activities, then the stronger that you will be. So that's a real benefd to the locals. Members who were simply disinterested or unwilling to get involved in traditional labour education, with its collective bargaining agenda, can also find a place for themselves in the literacy program as learners or tutors, or on the literacy committee. Sylvia:  [IJt's not the regular folks that are part of [literacy] committees at labour. It makes a difference... [The] literacy working group... is not a committee of the [union]. If it were an official committee, then different people... would be there. But because it's a working group, you can have the people who are actually involved with literacy be there and that makes a huge difference.  147  6.3.2  Clear Language  To these activists, clear language means many things. N o t only do individual members need to have greater opportunity and ability, including communication ability, to participate in the union, but the union's systems o f communication need to become more open and transparent. This perspective takes into account the fact that language is also shaped by relations o f oppression and dominance, and can be used to include and to exclude. To avoid reproducing class and other inequities, unions need to use both a language and communication strategies that speak to, include and listen to all their members. Clear language is, therefore, the other side o f the literacy coin; it speaks directly to opening up the way that unions communicate with their members.  These trade unionists "understand the politics o f class" and that clear language is a way "to counter the power o f elites and their language o f exclusion" (Levine, 2005, p. 16). Moreover, they see clear language as a way o f building support for worker-centred literacy, and also as a way o f achieving their aims o f increasing and diversifying union participation. These two goals are interlocked within their definition o f 'literacy'. A s Levine says, "It was becoming clear that the way to get literacy into the 'innards' o f the labour movement was going to be through clear language" (p. 16). Moreover, for these activists, clear language is part o f an agenda for literacy that includes individual and collective transformation, and this involves the union 'looking at' itself. Literacy is thus posited as a "two-way street," a path that invites labour into a "paradigm shift" (ibid.). Ultimately, clear language starts to involve critical self-reflection on the part o f the union. A s cited i n Levine (2002; 2005), Barb Byers, C L C Vice-President says, "Clear language offers us a great opportunity. W e wonder why our members aren't involved. Rather than assume it's because they're apathetic, why don't we take the opportunity to look at ourselves?" (as cited, p. 29; p. 16)  Tamara:  And clear language has been a big help. It's the other piece. It's the flipside of the literacy coin. So when we talk about literacy having an impact on the larger labour movement, I think clear language is the key to that. It's the touchstone that people can resonate with, because we are all negatively affected by unclear  148 language, we all have an opportunity to improve how we communicate in various ways and if we get that piece, then I think we 're on our way to integration of a real understanding of inclusion. Tamara is clear that 'walking the talk' is not just about including the so-called vulnerable or marginalized groups within labour:  Well, at one time it was only about, or at least mostly about, a group of people who hadn't had a chance to go very far in school, who were at the bottom of the workplace hierarchy, who were immigrants and who didn't have the language or didn't have literacy in their original language, etc. That it was about that vulnerable group, for want of a better word. And that will always be there. Here, labour literacy activists engage is a systems analysis o f their own. They recognize that language by itself is only a tool, and clear communication means not only a careful selection o f the words and terms we use, but also unpacking the communication systems that structure and give meaning to language use. It is also about changing the way unions do business. Tamara:  But [literacy has] become much more for all of us, for me. That it's about looking at how we do business, for want of a better word - at how we run our programs, at how we run our schools and our courses, and [at] our publications and our conventions and everything that we 're a part of. Sylvia offers some concrete examples:  [W]e are looking at literacy and clear language, and again in the context of access and equity, what we say is that... we also need to look at what we can do as a union to make ourselves more accessible. And that's the piece of clear language. And that's more inclusive as well, right? [IJt's not just how you write your newsletter and that, but how you run your meetings. You know, our Conventions have a long, long ways to go to be accessible. If you look at the material that's distributed, the literacy skills that you would need to fully participate in a Convention, not only do you need to know, need to understand what's written, but you need to understand the politics of it. And, you know, you can't just get up to the mic and speak. There's a whole technique as to who goes and what each person is going to say and all of that. So... on the surface very democratic, like many of the structures that we have in North American society on the surface look democratic, but in practice they 're not, because they are not accessible and they are not equitable. However, while the notion of an inclusive language and transparent, equitable systems of communication aims at upsetting structured hierarchies, it also risks minimizing or  149  'whitewashing' the differences in language use among different groups and individuals within the union, and overlooking the fact that minority groups have historically developed dialects that define their difference and carve out areas of resistance to the dominant linguistic norms and ways o f knowing. For example, Gowan (1992) draws on the work of Baldwin and other to provide an articulate summary of how Black English was developed "so that slaves could communicate with one another in a way that the master could not understand," and was, thus "an act of resistance against White dominant culture" (p. 55). Seen from this perspective, language, like literacy itself, is not a neutral concept, but can reflect relations of domination - or of resistance. It is therefore important for unions and labour literacy activists to question where their concepts of clarity come from, and whether the use o f language that they promote emphasizes inclusion and transparency over recognition o f linguistic and epistemological differences within their membership.  6.3.3  Strategic Planning and Cooperation  Labour literacy activists also envision trade unions adopting to their own strategic planning processes the kind o f action-reflection cycle that is part o f the popular education methodology. A s Levine (2005) notes, "[sjtrategic planning and integration" is a key component o f the agenda o f worker-centred literacy, "at least among some members of the C L C Literacy Working Group," and is an approach they hope w i l l catch on throughout their organization and movement (p. 16). Tamara:  [AJnother piece of it is that part of the kind of literacy work that we do involves action and reflection - that's implicit in how we learn and how we instruct... [W]e need to do, and then we need to look at what we've done, and then we need to revise andfigure out how to do it next time... I think that's such a valuable way to work... [ajnd I don't think we do that often enough generally in the labour movement. I think we have some shared values and visions and we sort of march towards those values and visions, but we don't take stock nearly enough. We don't say, you know, 'Well, okay, so we ran this campaign, or we taught this course, or we had this conference. What did we learn from it? What did we do well? What could we have done better? What was the feedback? What changes will we make next time?' Whereas... with literacy, even though we could do better in that area, I think it is part of what we do... [TJhe labour movement could well benefit from that way of doing things....  150  For Jim, the key to sustainable and effective labour movements is for unions to engage in strategic planning. This is where the gap lies:  See, to me it's about how do we facilitate those discussions take place in labour? They simply don't organically take place now. If we stay with the traditional set of 'Here's what we've done and here's what we should do' then there's no room for that conversation to take place. Even without engaging in systemic analysis, labour literacy activists believe that labour could benefit from a more collaborative, community-development style o f operating, modeled on literacy programming. Central to this notion is the idea that unions need to share power and cooperate amongst themselves. Sylvia:  I mean part of the interesting thing about literacy, when you look at how labour has worked on the issue, is the amazing cooperation that has happened around the issue of literacy amongst the unions. You think we are all a big happy family in the house of labour, but there's lots of competition, right? ...[UJnions are still raiding each other and going after the same membership and crazy stuff like that. So unions... each want to have the best training program, say education program, or services or whatever that they deliver. They want to have the best website. Like we don't really coordinate on a lot of things. We've started, and through the CLC in terms of unions education people are working together a lot more and it's great. There's a bit less of that competition and ownership of the material. But in literacy it's like it never existed. 6.3.4  Shifts in Power  In my interviews, the more we talked about the challenges of embracing a notion of literacy as individual and collective transformation, and the more I read and re-read the data, the more it became obvious that these activists have concluded unions may indeed be systemically resistant to the notions o f literacy they are bringing forth, and in particular to the notion that implementing a social justice agenda around literacy starts with changing the union itself. This approach to literacy means embracing a more radical vision o f collectivism and democracy than most unions currently follow, and this involves a fundamental change in the way unions operate. Engaging in their own forms of praxis, these activists take their analysis home, and look at the ways in which labour organizations, which are their chosen vehicles for social change, also structure and perpetuate marginalization even as they claim to fight against it.  151  Sylvia believes that a democratic union is a strong union, but she acknowledges that not all organizers may feel the same way:  [W]hen you 're looking at the original definitions or objectives of the BEST program, you know, 'To empower working people to speak with their own voices and make their voices heard,' that's about democracy, right? It's more democratic workplaces, but also more democratic unions. So I guess if one believes that a truly democratic union is a stronger union, then you have to say that it definitely strengthens the union. But there are obviously - not everybody's going to support that notion. For labour literacy activists, power-sharing underpins the literacy/clear language agenda. This is not just about giving people the opportunity and the 'know-how' to speak; it is also about who is listening and what they hear. Sylvia:  "[Y]ou need to be in a certain position... like if you are higher up in the hierarchy and you 're speaking, then it has more of an impact than if you 're Joe Somebody, first-time delegate and you get up at the microphone. " A s mentioned, this recalls Razack's (1999) work on storytelling for social change, where she writes: "When we depend on storytelling, either to reach each other across differences or to resist patriarchal and racist constructs, we must overcome at least one difficulty: the difference in position between the teller and the listener, between telling the tale and hearing it" (p. 36). I f storytelling is to be at all useful as a tool for social change, we must pay attention not only to what is said, but also "to the interpretive structures that underpin how we hear and how we take up the stories o f oppressed groups" (Razack, 1999, p. 37). Doing so across difference requires an engagement with 'unlearning privilege'.  For Jim, social change is always about shifts in power, and positive social change is, to him, about a power shift from those that have more to those that have less:  My belief is honestly that within the human condition... if you are in a position to give power away - for whatever reason you have some power - if you 're generous enough and wise enough to give it away, there's a neat thing that happens - is you get more way more power! By giving power away. And I think if organizations start to understand that, and [my union 'sj starting to understand that as we give more and more power to our members, we become, as an organization, way more powerful. And then we have more to give away. And it's a never-ending cycle.  152  And it's about expanding the pot - that the more powerful our members feel, the more powerful we are. The more we give ofpower, the more powerful we 're going to feel, the more powerful we become. And it's a cycle. And if they do that in communities - to me, that's the human condition - [and] that has definitely defeated all the different regimes - whether it's South Africa with Apartheid. And just go on and on . The simple fact is that when people finally believe that they can make a difference - it's empowerment.... And so... until organizations understand that ifyou 're gathering power, that means you are disempowering. If you 're disempowering, your organization's becoming weaker. Corporate organizations never last, because they do that. They suck all the power out of the organization. And then they burn bright. And then they 're out. Then someone else buys the power. Interestingly, as noted previously, Jim's words carry the traces o f the very same structured power hierarchies he is passionately speaking against. People can unlearn privilege and 'put down their power,' but cannot really 'give power away'. The 'oppressor' cannot be the one to 'liberate' the oppressed; "it is the latter who must, from their stifled humanity, wage for both the struggle for a fuller humanity" (Freire, 1968/1973, p. 32). Nevertheless, J i m presents a powerful and hopeful modality for organizational development, one that takes as central premises shifts in relations o f power and the overturning o f structures o f oppression.  In the previous chapter, I concluded that worker-centred literacy holds out the potential for personal transformation and shifts in relations, but falls short o f being truly liberatory pedagogy due to its inability to fully engage i n dialectical analysis and action. In this chapter, I have argued that labour literacy activists engage i n a form o f praxis o f their own by moving their focus away from what kind o f literacy programs to provide to their members, and into systemic analysis o f the limits and possibilities for liberation within their own, trade union context. Rather than evaluating the learner as a victim o f oppression, they are evaluating their own context and strategizing ways o f moving their emancipatory agenda forward within that context. Rather than continuing to focus, from a position o f compassionate superiority, on what kinds o f programs they can create to empower the learners, they are now strategizing around ways to democratize the union. The site o f the 'problem' and its potential 'solution' has shifted from the members to the union collective. To reference Levine (2005), labour literacy activists have become  153  aware o f "the inherent dangers o f the charitable model o f 'us' taking care o f ' t h e m ' " (p. 15). Under that model: literacy was not one o f the union's traditional priorities.... It was deemed worthwhile i f external or negotiated funding was available. If not, literacy usually 'didn't make it' on to the union's agenda and was thus generally, though regrettably, expendable (ibid.). However, "the new consciousness has to do with understanding that union literacy is also about us" (ibid.)  6.3.5  Taking it H o m e  Despite many efforts and successes, some o f which are documented in this study, workercentred literacy remains a marginal endeavour within most union contexts. None o f the activists I interviewed started off understanding or embracing literacy as a tool for change, and they still face an uphill battle i n trying to convince others in the labour movement o f the needs and opportunities presented by literacy. Jim says that it was, at first, he had difficulty getting the concept o f literacy across to the other J U M P Coordinators, and convincing them to support it. Jim:  enough, management had seen the needfor a literacy program long before the union side did. All the obstacles we had were from the union side, predominantly.... I think it's because they honestly didn't believe there was a need. [Interesting  Similarly, Tamara describes how getting B E S T started was a huge job, and convincing unions o f the need for literacy was no small part o f that difficulty:  And because there was no track record anywhere for anybody doing this stuff, and because unions had no track record, it was a huge job, you know, convincing the unions this was a good idea - let alone convincing the employers that this was a good idea. We were selling snake oil. Indeed, o f her experience o f working with the local union and bringing them on side, Tamara recollects that,  "sometimes that was as big a struggle as getting the employer on  side. In fact, in some cases we had the employers and the unions were reluctantly there. "  154  It is still not easy to convince unions to support this kind of an approach. A t the end of the day, literacy takes a back seat to other pressing concerns that vie for limited union resources. Hugh recounts a story about a time shortly after the B E S T program has been shut down, and the H E U was headed into a bitter strike over B i l l 37. He and some fellow-members from the Hospital Employee's Union tried to get a motion passed at Convention that money be allowed for worker-centred literacy programs like B E S T . I asked him how it went:  Hugh: I think it was passed.... But whether they'll go ahead with it, it's hard to say. S E : Do you think it's a priority for union executives?  Hugh: Priority, no. [pause] No, I don't think it's a big priority. But I can see that some of them realized that there is a need. But there's so many other needs too, I suppose. S E : D o you think it's a priority in this [inaudible]?  HUGH: I think it's even more. Even more of a need now. But I think the union has decided to go a different route with the peer counselling. But Vm going to go and see what they have in mind with the peer counselling. S E : D o you think training is more necessary than counselling?  HUGH: [pause] Well, it's kind of like a band-aid solution, right? S E : W h i c h is? Counselling?  HUGH: Counselling. Yeah. S E : Yeah. Whereas training is not?  HUGH: Training, would be, I would think, more beneficial. S E : Why?  HUGH: Why would training be more? Because it gives people - well, it's hard to say because I mean, with counselling, maybe you 're dealing more with a holistic approach to things. But with training you could get somebody ready and maybe confident enough to go out there and see that there are options. You know, find other work. Most people know nothing other than the hospital. Most people in the hospital have been there, you know, for eons.  155  Perhaps one o f the reasons that worker-centred literacy remains a marginal endeavour within most union contexts is because the people it targets, for example, those that have been in the hospital 'for eons', are not the regular labour activists.  Similarly, the outcomes o f worker-centred literacy do not speak to the usual labour agenda. I asked Hugh i f people who went through B E S T "became more active i n the union." He replied, "There However, Hugh concludes,  were a few, yes, there were a few. Not a great many. "  "But people were taking more assertive steps in demanding  what was rightfully theirs" Thus, worker-centred literacy offers unions a chance and a path for renewal and reformation, but, perhaps because the needs o f literacy learners do not correspond with a traditional union agenda, they are often overlooked.  Perhaps another reason why literacy is a difficult concept to advance within labour is that it has the potential to challenge the existing power structures within the union. A s Stinson O ' G o r m a n (1996) argues, " W i t h the notable exceptions o f the popular struggles o f the labour movement's formative days and o f individual members' participation in projects outside the official sanctions o f the labour movement (which such organizations as Highlander), the North American labour movement has not indicated, until very recently, any degree o f support for, or interest in, the methods o f popular education or in popular participation in decision-making" (p. 171). Ultimately, labour literacy activists ask whether or not unions w i l l be willing to listen to the diversity o f their membership and to adopt participatory practices in their own decision-making. These activists end up turning their gaze onto their own union organizations and "posing... the question o f power" by asking, whom does the union serve? (Foucault, 1972, p. 115)  6.4  Chapter Conclusions  I have argued that one o f the key ways labour literacy activists use literacy as a tool for creating social change - how they 'walk the talk' - is by engaging in a form o f praxis o f their own: by turning the discussion o f literacy and change away from the learners and the classroom, and back towards their efforts to change the union itself and the way the union movement traditionally does business.  156  Claus Offe (as cited in Stinson O ' G o r m a n , 1996) offers a five-stage model o f the development o f trade unions that proposes "new possibilities for collective action and democratization" (p. 171). According to Offe, trade union development moves from the "dialogical pattern o f collective action" through "three successive stages o f increasing bureaucratization and oligarchic decision-making driven by the need to ensure the survival and success o f the organization i t s e l f (as cited, p. 171). In the last, fifth stage o f its development: The trade union's survival depends on a renewed sense o f mobilization and activation. This return to collective action ' i n which members' willingness to act is o f paramount importance' is generally equivalent to the first stage, but differs in two ways: it is likely to be based on only a faction or division within the already existing institution, and it tends to be based on a 'much broader range o f political, legal and institutional arrangements' (p. 172). Stinson O ' G o r m a n (1996) argues, "there is growing evidence that many North American labour organizations are rapidly moving into this fifth stage o f organizational development" (p. 172). The movement for worker-centred literacy can be seen as ' a faction or division' within the existing institution o f labour. L i k e the factions described above, the movement for worker-centred literacy includes "increased rank-and-file participation i n decision-making, an end to hierarchical 'leadership' structures, and an 'alternative' view o f what unions can be" (ibid.).  Offe's analysis, as cited by Stinson O ' G o r m a n above, is a structural one. However, the stages o f trade union development that he seems to be talking about take place within a broader context. There are political-economic forces that drive 'the need to ensure the survival and success o f the organization itself and which threaten 'the trade union's survival'. Ultimately, I have indicated that the agenda o f worker-centred literacy is not simply to democratize union governance or expand union membership; it is fundamentally about 'posing the question to power' i n terms o f labour's relationship with capital. I w i l l address this further i n my conclusions, which are my own, not necessarily those o f my interviewees.  157  CHAPTER SEVEN: CONCLUSIONS  Workplace literacy is situated on the front line in the war o f position between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic forces.  6  The dominant, capitalist discourse only recognizes the  value o f workplace literacy i n purely economic terms, i f at all. In this discourse, workplace literacy is reduced to essential skills-based training. However, within the dominant discourse there are residual liberal notions o f literacy and learning that are about democracy and citizenship. The ideal o f a just society still has resonance in Canadian society. When engaging with workplace literacy discourse, both labour and employer groups compromise their ideological imperatives, while covertly attempting to advance their true desired aims within the broader historical context.  Union organizations, by which I mean their public face, their leadership, act in their role as the democratic representatives o f the organized working class with a mandate to increase its collective power. Standing  with their exploiters, unions may sometimes  'speak' the economic rationalization for workplace learning, thereby echoing the employer's call to upgrade the skills o f the labour force i n order to adjust to changing economic circumstances. In this sense, unions may be using the language o f the dominant discourse in order to secure the resources they need to deliver and sustain programs, or simply i n order to secure more resources. Unions may also be simply unaware o f the issue o f workplace literacy and learning, or may place it, and the members it would engage, low on the list o f action items. In these ways, unions inevitably help ensure the continued success o f the dominant discourse and, by extension, the capitalist system.  Labour literacy activists, however, strive to ensure that the potential for worker-centred literacy to create progressive change is not entirely lost. Looked at from the perspective of the labour movement as a whole, it could be said that the movement positions the need for workplace literacy safely within the dominant liberal discourse, using rationalizations that fit with the ideology o f the dominant, free-market discourse, while at the same time I am indebted for my analysis in this section to many conversations with Nathan Allen.  158  mobilizing labour literacy activists to seize any opportunity to use literacy's potential for social change.  Currently, the detente between labour and capital, as seen i n their apparent rhetorical "consensus" on the value o f a skilled workforce, gives some hope that the project o f workplace literacy w i l l continue, at least in the near future (Jackson & Jordan, 2000, p. 1). However, should the tension that labour brings to the discourse o f workplace literacy and learning disappear, the public discourse would be moved still further i n a marketdriven direction. Labour's vigilance is therefore required to maintain workplace literacy programs that truly benefit the membership, and to insert into the dominant discourse the value o f workers not solely as human resources, but also i n all their humanity.  In this, labour is not faced with an easy task, and it w i l l become more challenging with the pace o f change. Capitalism relies on permanent structural unemployment, and the consequent competition among workers, to bring down labour costs. Moreover, as information becomes more accessible, and workplaces more technologized, the notion o f a knowledge society (i.e., economy) is becoming more significant. The landscape may shift still more as access to information and technology become limitless to some, yet denied completely to others. This change may deepen the class divide between 'haves' and 'have-nots', and differentially affect the ability o f social groups and classes to participate in society and i n employment. The rate o f technological advancement may also lead to a radical redefinition o f the nature o f work.  Labour occupies an ambiguously non-hegemonic position i n relation to capital and, thus, to the ongoing changes and expansion o f global capitalism. Labour has a role in aiding economic and cultural hegemony through its engagement with the very structures and processes supporting capital, such as by mediating the relationship between employer and employee. O n the other hand, while, labour leaders shake hands with industry representatives on television, they still sing with members about their true ideological goal to "create a new world from the ashes o f the old, as the union keeps them strong" (Chaplin, 1915). While this may be a reasonable state o f affairs, it cannot be taken for  159 granted, as it is hard-won. In many ways, it was only the threat of revolution that originally made this relationship necessary and possible. This revolutionary threat is still part of the ethos, if not the practice, of labour culture. If labour is to maintain its role as an advocate for progressive change, and to continue working towards its goal of 'solidarity forever', persistent action is required. Otherwise, labour runs the risk of becoming weaker and even irrelevant, opening up the possibility for capital to return to a more cost effective, and more coercive, means of maintaining control (Gramsci, 1971). Such 'persistent action' includes the labour movement's self-examination of its own ambiguously non-hegemonic position. As expanding economic globalization continues to contribute to a decline in the numbers of union members, labour's power is diminished. Further, many union members no longer identify with notions of the working class, and do not perceive labour as an oppositional movement, but view the union's role as one of protecting of their personal interests. The rise in the number of 'white collar' unions may further contribute to this loss of purpose, if these unionists then use their privilege to create of labour a tool for protecting their interests. These 7  developments limit labour's larger role in creating progressive social change. Thus, faced with the challenges of the new, global capitalist agenda, the trade union movement's survival may depend on creating 'a renewed sense of mobilization and activation'. To achieve this, trade unions must 'trace the other within themselves'. This means renewing their responsibility to enfranchise workers by becoming more inclusive and by involving more marginalized members in the union's democratic process, and in deciding our collective fates. The current context therefore presents labour with new challenges and new opportunities. Within this context, labour's influence on the discourse of workplace literacy and learning will become more important. As industries demand (some) skilled workers, labour will have more opportunities to affect how workers will obtain those skills. This 7  Offe (as cited in Stinson O'Gorman, 1996) claims that most of labour's efforts of renewal are aimed at rebuilding "the bridge between leftist intellectuals and ideas and working-class activists that had been destroyed by the end of the 1940s" (p. 172).  160  increases the opportunities for labour literacy activists to create progressive change through worker-centred literacy. A t the same time, labour needs to be vigilant in ensuring that the rest o f the membership is not left out o f this new agenda for learning and work.  To ensure this, labour must take lead i n framing the discussion on how to deliver the new program o f education. The purely economic rationalization for training could lead to union members back further into a cave o f subjugation and alienation, that place where "we are divided, first against ourselves, and then against each other" (Connon-Unda & Clifford, 1997, p. 150).  Workplace literacy's public mandate o f improving workers opportunities for advancement through greater skills is valuable in and o f itself, yet it is in the larger potential to empower members to become activists that labour can really gain ground towards the creation o f a more egalitarian society. In this sense, skills upgrading becomes a means o f supporting greater participation by currently marginalized members in democratically deciding their future. Worker-centred literacy can help make these members aware o f their rights and o f their capacity, when united, to 'read the world' and change it.  The role o f literacy activists is vital to maintaining labour's role i n advancing democracy and equality, and forcing a negotiation not only on the new terms o f work and learning, but also on who labour represents i n these negotiations, and how. Worker-centred literacy is thus a catalyst for necessary institutional self-reflection and for the labour movement to reconcile its place as both a part of, and critic of, the dominant culture. In this sense, the struggle o f labour literacy activists to provide a critical, transformational pedagogy for marginalized union members mirrors the struggle faced by the labour movement as a whole to achieve its ideological objectives. The labour movement needs to reconcile its own inherent contradictions, and worker-centred literacy is one way this could be accomplished.  161  Therefore, union leaders need to recognize that they and their organizations are also, indeed, a component o f the ideological state apparatus, and so help to maintain the current dominant culture responsible for creating the economic and social conditions that continue to exploit their memberships. Unions need to take the lead from labour literacy activists in striving to hold their ground i n the hegemonic discourse by appealing to liberal sentiments currently residual i n the dominant discourse. Indeed, in this sense the task o f unions is to ensure that mainstream culture continues to value literacy for reasons other than those that simply advance capitalism.  162  BIBLIOGRAPHY  Union Literacy References Clear language for union communications:  Canadian Labour Congress. (2004).  instructor's manual. 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I would like to interview you about what matters in  workplace literacy programs, why you have chosen workplace programs as an effective site for action and how you work strategically to achieve your objectives. The research project is for my M A degree i n Adult Education at the University o f British Columbia For the first part o f this study, I w i l l review the policy context o f workplace literacy i n Canada. In particular, I w i l l take a look at the key themes in the current talk about workplace literacy program outcomes. I w i l l look at policy documents and statements from federal and provincial governments, trade unions, business, and the broader literacy movement. I w i l l look for differing ideas about what outcomes are valid i n a workplace literacy program, and what different interests and ideological agendas inform different definitions o f outcomes. The second phase o f my study involves interviewing approximately eight labour literacy activists. These are people who are active within the trade union movement, who may or may not work for a union organization, and who are working to promote literacy and lifelong learning within a union context. I want to know how activists define literacy and  why they think literacy is important for their members or for the labour movement. I also want to know what kinds ofprogram results or outcomes you value, and if you are looking for ways to put your version of outcomes on the policy agenda. What is the point o f this study? First, the labour literacy movement is relatively new, and efforts are being made to put literacy on labour's agenda, and to put labour perspectives on literacy onto provincial and national policy agendas. Through this research, I hope to document some o f the principles, perspectives and strategies o f labour literacy activists. Second, I also hope that this research w i l l add to our understanding o f the type o f work activists do when they are trying to influence policy development. The study o f how activists strategize to influence policy is relatively new and I hope that this research can add to the growing body o f knowledge about this important work.  179  Next step I w i l l be contacting you in about two weeks time to discuss this project, answer any questions, and determine i f you are willing to be interviewed. Thanks for taking the time to read this information letter. Sincerely,  Sarah Evans, M A Candidate, Department o f Educational Studies, U B C  180  APPENDIX B: LETTER OF CONSENT  L E T T E R OF C O N S E N T  Title of Project: Date: To: From:  Whose Knowledge Matters? Analysis of the Discourse of Workplace Literacy Program Evaluation [add date consent is sent] [name of participant] Sarah Evans, MA Candidate, Adult Education Program, Department of Educational Studies  This letter is to formally request your consent to be interviewed as part o f a research project that is for my M A degree i n Adult Education at the University o f British Columbia Purpose o f Study: The subject o f this study is workplace literacy evaluation. This study has three broad purposes. First, this study w i l l review and analyze the current policy context o f workplace literacy evaluation. I w i l l look at what types o f evaluation are on the policy agenda at the moment, as well as how evaluation, outcomes, and accountability are 'talked about' i n policies and by policy-makers. In this first section, this study w i l l both paint a clear picture o f the policy context o f workplace literacy evaluation, and also draw out and analyze some o f the main themes that characterize this 'evaluation talk.' Second, this study w i l l document and describe the perspectives that labour literacy activists hold towards the issue o f evaluation. I hope to find out more about how activists define literacy, what it means to them and why they think literacy is important for their members or for the labour movement. I am particularly interested i n what labour literacy activists think about the current trend towards outcomes-based evaluation. Third, this study w i l l compare and contrast these labour-based perspectives to some o f the main themes that run through mainstream evaluation policies. This study w i l l also discuss the question o f how labour literacy activists plan or strategize to influence the policy agenda so that it reflects their values. Procedures: Y o u w i l l be participating in a semi-structured interview which, i f you agree, w i l l be tape recorded. If you do not wish to have the interview recorded, detailed notes w i l l be taken. These interviews w i l l last approximately one hour and the time, location and length o f the interview w i l l be negotiated prior. I may interview you over the phone i f it is not possible to meet with y o u face-to-face. Transcripts o f the interview w i l l be sent to you, and follow-up phone calls w i l l be made to discuss the interview process and the issues raised. A l l i n all, I anticipate that participating in this research w i l l take 2 to 4 hours o f your time. I have included a list o f key issues and questions I hope to cover in the interview. I really welcome your feedback on the effectiveness and appropriateness o f the interview  182  APPENDIX C: INTERVIEW QUESTIONS Introduction/Demographics: D o y o u have any questions about yourself before we begin our conversation? Please tell me a little bit about yourself, you 'background' (e.g. age, ancestry, birthplace), your education and work history.  Workplace and Labour Literacy Involvement: When, where, and how did you begin working i n the area o f workplace/labour literacy? Tell me about your involvement: what kinds o f things did you do (e.g. teaching, developing programs and policy, advocacy)? What labour organizations have you been involved with? H o w have they approached workplace literacy?  Workplace Literacy Evaluation: In your experience, what have been the outcomes or results o f workplace literacy policies and programs? H o w have learners/workers benefited? What difference does workplace literacy make to participants? What role have organized labour/unions played in determining outcomes o f workplace literacy programs? What kind o f role have you had i n relation to evaluating/measuring and identifying outcomes o f workplace literacy programs?  Working Strategically: What have been your experiences i n advocating and influencing workplace literacy programs and policy? Can you think o f an example o f an advocacy effort that was successful and one that was not so successful? What do you think contributed to these results? What role, i n your opinion, have and should unions play i n influencing workplace literacy policy and programs? Given these experiences, how do you think your organization (and other labour organizations) should be involved in the current discussion about workplace literacy evaluation? What needs to be i n place i n order for unions/labour organizations to participate effectively i n these debates about outcomes?  Suggestions/Feedback: Can you think o f other individuals that I should invite to participate in this study? A r e there some issues, areas or questions that I need to include or pay more attention to?  


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