The Pitfalls of Perceptions

There are pitfalls and perceptions we should be cognizant of in the opening days and weeks of a learner’s enrollment, and beyond.

In Section Five, we will see more about the nurturing phase that I believe is needed in the early days and weeks. But we may encounter what is called a teaching/administrative “deficit perspective” in our work (Quigley, 2006). This is where co-workers or administrators may see our learners as being “in a state of deficit.” This means seeing our learners as stereotypically “dependant”; not only in academic respects but in virtually all other aspects of their lives. This perception is often due to the literacy classism, as identified in Section One, that we have inherited through history, as described in Section Two.

Consider, for instance, the 1953 Encyclopedia Britannica that defined adult education as: “A phrase originally meaning the education of adults who have not been properly educated as children.” Sadly, as Hannah Fingeret once put it: “For most of our society, it is difficult to conceptualize life without reading and writing as anything other than a limited, dull, dependent existence” (cited in Quigley, 2017, p. 44).

This stereotype, and the deficit perspective that supports it, needs to be discussed and challenged by our field. Nevertheless, simply being able to recognize the deficit perspective in ourselves is, perhaps, the first step.

The discussion in Section Four: Motivating Learners to Stay and Succeed will take this point further and, hopefully, will be of some practical help to deal with this “pitfall area.” But, for the moment, let us look at some general characteristics of our adult learners and some practical points that might prove useful.