Crossing Critical Thresholds
at the Bob Steele Reading Center: Transforming
Potentiality Into Actuality
We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only
by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience
are we prepared for
doing the same thing in the future. This is the only preparation which in the
long run amounts to anything (Dewey, 1938/1963, p. 49).
The Deweyan quote points to a key factor in the development of the Bob
Steele Reading Center as it grew from a germ of an idea in the mid-1980s
of the more cutting edge literacy sites in the LVA network a decade
later. That factor is the
unleashing of potentiality as the underlying force that undergirded the
transformation of the program through several critical incarnations.
I linked such
felt sense of potentiality
formally with Dewey's (1916/1944, pp. 41-53) concept of growth defined as the
enhancement of experience through the exercise of critical intelligence as a compelling
heuristic to both grasp and shape the Reading Center's organizational culture.
Growth on Dewey's interpretation contains two dimensions, a productive
component through the "extraction" of maximum potential within a given situation, and
an aesthetic component in the "consummation" of experience into art (Dewey,
1934/1989; Alexander, 1987). Such a self-realization ethic reflected some of the most
profound aspirations of students and tutors at the Bob Steele Reading Center, which
enabled many program participants to enact the "literacy myth" (Graff, 1979). The
following conversation between a student and myself provides an apt illustration
(Demetrion and Gruner, 1995, p. 58):
George: How strong is your motivation to continue?
Elaine: It's very strong.
George: What is the source that drives it?
Elaine: I want something. I want to do something; to have a goal. That's the
motive. I want to go up in life.
George: You want to go up?
Elaine: To the top.
George: Where's the top?
Elaine: To be a nurse.