The literacy myth continues: Adapting Graff's thesis to contemporary policy discourses on adult 'foundation skills' in Australia

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Critical Studies in Education, 2014, 55 (2), pp. 213 - 228
Issue Date:
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Harvey Graff in his 1979 study of literacy taught in common schools in mid-nineteenth century Canada, demonstrated that beliefs in the acquisition of literacy for upward mobility and economic success were a myth. Moreover, literacy instruction was promoted by educational reformers and manufacturers as a means of controlling the working class masses and instilling in them the traits, including thrift, order, and punctuality required for employment in factories. In this paper, we consider how this thesis can be adapted to describe contemporary national adult literacy policy discourse in Australia. The main drivers of Australia's national policy are peak industry associations and skills agencies, and the human capital rationale for their promotion of literacy is derived largely from the powerful influence of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). We critique this discourse on literacy through reference to studies which conceptualise literacy as social practices, including one recent Australian study of three manufacturing companies. We reinforce the claim that the literacy myth in relation to economic development continues in contemporary adult literacy policy, and we explain how the social control function of adult literacy education continues in the interests of industry elites and the capitalist relations of production. © 2014 Taylor & Francis.
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