Interrupting institutional discourse: circulating themes within the Adult Basic Education/Literacy system
The Adult Basic Education/Literacy (ABEL) system in America can suffer critique. In a system that is staffed mostly by volunteers and plagued by funding woes, the experience of adult learners as participants within the institutional structure can be easily overlooked. Adult students are described as transient and difficult to track. Even so, and maybe because of this characterization, leaders within the local ABEL discourse make it their mission to reach these students in order to assist them to a better quality of life. However, there is more than one discourse circulating within the system. A discourse of outreach and intervention is one strand. The complex relationships education centers engage with more powerful government institutions causes another, more strident political discourse that constrains and influences the discourse within ABEL education centers, down to the classroom level. Within the vortex of motivations and needs created by institutional discourse, an institutional critique may give voice to those who experience the discourse in a way that hinders their education. This paper pursues critique, not through direct reconstruction, but through the encouragement of alternative discourses as additional institutions enter the system. AmeriCorps is presented as an institution that allows for more democratic participation through its distinct organizational features. The features that emerge in AmeriCorps projects offer hope for alternative models of participation within the highly politicized ABEL discourse.