I am not claiming that “growth” unfolded in any continuous evolutionary way, as the complex relationship between the Center, particularly on my reading of its long-term destination, and the broader goals of LVGH contained at times considerable conflict and often simply a divergence of goals. I wanted to probe the depths of the many “meanings” of the Reading Center experience, through an analysis of the various narrative voices of program participants (students and tutors), for example, while searching for ways to infuse such knowledge back into the core program. It would be through such a proliferation of insight, I hoped, that the “meaning” of literacy would become articulated and communicated throughout the Reading Center, the affiliate, and the broader LVA network. I realize now, better than at the time the various limitations of such a vision that relied principally upon the elucidation of consciousness, which did not include sufficient attention to the social contexts of the lives of adult literacy learners. This was clearly a non-Deweyan approach that spoke volumes about my own limitations, that, nonetheless was a pathway that drove my energies. Still, even with the limitations, in the “real world” dynamics in which I was enmeshed that vision represented my singular passion by which I felt I could make my most significant impact. I pursued its pathway unrelentingly, at least as an act of imagination, therefore as my internalization of the “literacy myth.” This vision tapped into the belief systems of many students and tutors, which, nonetheless, butted up against various “external” realities. Still, there was something enduring about the power of the “literacy myth” when mediated through Dewey’s concept of growth, which underlied something essential of how the program evolved.
On the broader affiliate front, as LVGH became increasingly sophisticated, as defined by significant agency players, increasing emphasis was placed on legitimacy and accountability expressed in a manner that would satisfy the interests of funders as well as other major social players in the greater Hartford community. This came home to me when a major power broker on the Board of Directors prevented me from pursuing a small grant to support a qualitative assessment project designed to articulate something of the phenomenology of the Reading Center experience. In impeding me, he reasoned that fiscal resources in the city were limited and that the affiliate should tap into granting support in more “primary” areas of need. My apprehension was that unless I found compelling ways to narrate the Center’s story in a manner that evoked something of its unique organizational and learning culture, I feared the program would become absorbed within the normalized ethos of “functional” literacy defined by the market realities of the “post-industrial” economy (Chisman, 1989, 1990). This story, I realized, would play quite well, in a milieu like Hartford, the one time “insurance capitol of the world.” Both this board member and I were operating out of the “literacy myth,” which we interpreted it in some markedly different ways.
The other major center of growth, the neighborhood-based family-community literacy program, also engendered significant organization energy in expanding the social environment of the affiliate to become increasingly responsive to the needs of the African-American and Latino groups in the city, the primary racial and ethnic constituencies of Hartford. This initiative played a major role in the transformation of the affiliate from a suburban ethos to a very conscious urban design, shaped in turn by a quest for greater cultural diversity and programmatic innovation. This, too, was a reflection of the “literacy myth” based on a complementary, but different vision than that which shaped the Reading Center, which focused primarily on pedagogy and the development of a rich body of student narratives.
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