A Yankee Individualist in Dialogue and Confrontation with
the Progressive Literacy Left
In the summer of 1998, two colleagues and I signed up for the National
Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL) Teacher Research
Project on Learner Motivation, Retention, and Persistence. That project
although highly significant for me from the beginning of my participation.
Several factors intersected that created this "problem." These included
my understanding of teacher research, which differed somewhat from the
facilitator's and the impracticality of my initial topic. Lack of any compelling
attachment to the NCSALL project was the underlying motivational issue
that limited my participation. This essay mirrors the initial NCSALL objective
through an autobiographical study of one adult learner's struggle with
motivation, persistence, and retention through the course of the project.
Learners, as consumers of service, directly or indirectly assess the cost-benefit
ratio of their program participation every time they attend or do not attend
classes/tutoring sessions. They judge whether the program is (1) meeting
their expectations (realistic or unrealistic as their expectations may be);
(2) helping them learn, or (3) helping them attain a better quality of life.
When the costs of participation outweigh the benefits, [formal, or institutional]
education loses its priority in their lives (Tracy-Mumford, 1994, p.4).
It became obvious that in each of the novels and short stories, the protagonist's
resistance to school was more than just a rejection of school. It was a positive
quest for freedom that each protagonist undertook with absolute conviction
and, in some cases, with risk to reputation and even to life. In their eyes,
to school meant a determination to stay true to the beliefs and values of their
own culture, their own race, or their religious heritage. Instead of conforming
to what they saw as the spurious values promoted by schooling, they resisted
authority as they saw it. The protagonists were seeking to gain the liberty
to follow a culture, value system, or lifestyle that they held to be superior
that of school (Quigley, 1997, p. 201).
Throughout my adult life, I have persistently linked intellectual development
with my on-going quest for personal identity. Without the formal and informal
study of history, social theory, psychology, and religious studies, particularly,
as profound pathways to my life-project search for meaning, in all likelihood,
I would have merely personalized "adjustment" issues
without a vivid regard for their varied contexts. Circuitously or
directly, much of my intellectual activity has resonated with a desire
either to probe
a deeply rooted personal issue or to make an effective connection
between an object of study and my own subjective experience. This propensity
served as an inner guide to keep research areas stimulating and relevant.
has meshed well with the challenges and requirements of formal academic
institutions, although my relationship to them has proven characteristically
(Demetrion, 1995, pp. 94-95).
Inside/Outside: Teacher Research and Knowledge
My understanding of teacher research stems from Cochran-Smith and Lytle
(1993), Inside/Outside: Teacher Research and Knowledge. The primary assumption
that drives my understanding of this emerging field is the claim by
The unique feature of the questions that prompt teacher research is that
they emanate from neither theory nor practice alone but from critical reflection
on the two (Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1993, p. 15).