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Reasons for Resistance to Attending Adult Basic Literacy

Author: B. Allan Quigley

Source: Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy, Pennsylvania State University

Purpose: The purpose of the study was to determine why adults do not attend Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs; to investigate alternative delivery systems, instructional models, and program materials; and to investigate marketing strategies that could be more effective for recruiting nonparticipants.

Participants: Twenty adults in the Pittsburgh area, predominantly African-American, were interviewed, 8 male and 12 female. Total number of years in school averaged 10.72, and the highest grade levels achieved ranged from grade 7 to grade 11. Participants had been out of school an average of 17 years. Participants refused to attend ABE sessions, although they knew about programs and their own eligibility.

Method: Two professional African-American interviewers, one male and one female, conducted two-part interviews. The first part was designed to collect basic demographic data, and the second to provide information related to resistance. Resulting data were examined for consistent response patterns, which were analyzed and cross-referenced to discover themes.

Results: Those interviewed said they quit school because of insensitive teachers, pressure from peer groups, irrelevant subject matter, boredom, racism, and problems with school rules. Most valued life-relevant learning, including reading and math. None wanted "schooling."

The three major reasons for resisting ABE classes were: 1) personal/emotive; 2) cultural/ideological; and 3) age related, those who felt themselves "too old to learn." All felt that ABE was irrelevant for them. Most saw education in the abstract as having great social/economic value for their children and for others, but believed that personally, education had failed them.

Participants felt that ABE classes could be improved with smaller classrooms and sensitive, considerate, culturally-aware teachers who respected learners as adults. Moreover, they indicated an interest in attending such classes. Finally, they recommended television, mailings, and advertising through churches and housing projects as preferred means of marketing ABE programs.

Conclusions: In addition to personal and situational barriers, such as child care, transportation, and scheduling, there are deeper reasons why nonparticipants avoid ABE programs. Previous experiences in school combined with skepticism that ABE would be anything other than another type of school plays a major part. Resisters were of three types: 1) those who felt embittered and reluctant to return; 2) those who felt that school had been irrelevant and insulting; 3) those who felt too old to return to school, students who were 50+ years of age.

Condensed by: Karen Sturm

This study is included in the document titled, Understanding and Overcoming Resistance to Adult Literacy Education. A copy may be obtained from the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy, Pennsylvania State University, College of Education, 204 Calder Way, Suite 209, University Park, PA 16801. Telephone number, 814-863-3777, or FAX 814-863-6108. The price is $35.00 and includes shipping and handling.

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