Here is an excerpt from a blog post by Tannis that will show those of you unfamiliar with her work why it is so important to literacy learners and workers. Read more of Tannis' writing here: http://utoronto.academia.edu/TannisAtkinson
My dissertation examined how IALS (the International Adult Literacy Survey) -informed policies are changing what it is possible for educators to do when they meet adults who want to improve their reading and writing. I’ve become convinced that it is vital to consider the historical and political contexts in which statistical accounts of literacy have come to dominance.
What happens when we turn our attention away from the calculations and statistics, and focus instead on the moments in which the numbers were developed? We notice that calculative practices have been introduced as mechanisms for governing a host of other social realms, as discussed by post-realist scholars such as Higgins and Larner (2010). We observe that the psychometric framing at the heart of IALS, despite its claim to be reliable “across cultures and languages”, carries forward a troubling history of efforts to rank people and justify inequalities at the heart of liberal democracies (Baum 2012, Fendler & Muzaffar 2008). And we remember that the IALS statistics were developed to address concerns about shifts in the global economy. The explicit aim of these surveys was not to measure the relative access to information in print-saturated societies. Rather its goal was to inform a range of policies which would bolster the competitive advantage of OECD member nations. The relative wealth and political dominance of these same geopolitical regions, we would do well do remember, was itself historically produced in and through colonial relations. That position was not substantially altered when colonialism formally ended (Duara 2004).
Perhaps it is possible for me to make these larger connections because I live in Canada. This settler-colonial state is in the midst of a process of truth and reconciliation about the devastating effects of residential schools designed to force indigenous children to adopt European culture and values. These schools were part of a broader strategy to construct Canada as a nation by dispossessing indigenous peoples of their land. Although there have been formal apologies for this history, the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission faces daily battles over access to records, information and resources. The legacies of residential schools, and the ongoing colonial relations in Canada, get erased each time someone repeats the decontextualized ‘fact’ that literacy levels are “consistently lower” for indigenous people compared to non-indigenous people (Human Resources and Skills Development Canada). Such larger questions are not the focus of my research, but do provide essential context for my investigation. They remind me that it is imperative to continue to question what we take for granted about literacy. One powerful way to do so is to investigate the historical, political and economic contexts in which ideas—including the idea that literacy can and should be counted—have developed.