Why I Write

There are a couple of reasons why I started this blog. For example, I wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to write about the policy-oriented topics I was interested in (mainly adult literacy, but not just that) with some modest degree of intelligence and depth, but in a non-wonky way—and to put the issue of adult literacy and adult basic skills in context for those who might be more wonkish, but who may not know much about the issue or how it fits (or might better fit) with other more prominent policy concerns.

Another thing I try to do—on occasion—is to be deliberately provocative, with the goal of spurring people to action—or at least to get a response. (It’s also related to goal number one above—trying to make things less boring.) In those instances I try to be fair, but I’ll sacrifice nuance for drama—although, to be honest, I hold back a lot more than I’d like, because professionally I’m just not in a secure enough position to risk completely alienating everyone I need to work with. (I’m starting—finally—to think about how to expand this site and add more voices here—from people who may not be under such constraints—but that’s a discussion for another day.)

One other challenge with this is that I can only write about information that is more-or-less public knowledge. Sometimes, because of my actual paying work, I know about things that are not public knowledge, and I’m occasionally at meetings or having conversations with people that are off the record. Not very often (I am about as non-insidery as you can possibly be and still get away with calling yourself a policy person in D.C. with a straight face), but it does happen. And sometimes things people say in public are the product of a lot of internal advocacy and back-and-forth that you never hear about, and a lot of the nuanced conversation that goes on behind the scenes is lost.

Having said all that, public pronouncements and actual actions are important. In the end it’s all you can really hold public officials accountable for. So when I call attention to the fact that adult literacy doesn’t show up as a priority in public pronouncements made by prominent public officials, I think that’s a valid thing to do, because no matter what I might be hearing behind closed doors, adult literacy advocates are going to have a lot more leverage with the President or Congress or the Department of Education when those officials actually start talking about this issue with regularity.

I’ll close by saying this: with a budget deal now in place (assuming it clears the Senate—not, apparently, a foregone conclusion), and with new data out on the need to address adult skills in the U.S., the next few months are probably as good a time as any in recent years for adult education advocates to be pressing the administration for increasing the U.S. investment in adult skills in the FY 2015 budget. The fact that the President didn’t mention it in his speech on inequality and the economy the other day was disappointing—I think it fits right into that discussion—but it’s not the case that this issue never comes up behind closed doors. If lots and lots of people noted they were disappointed not to hear anything about it in that speech last week—and hope to hear about it in his next major speech—it might get some attention.

2 thoughts on “Why I Write

  1. Jeff,
    Keep up the good work. You provide a vital voice for the adult literacy community.

    Anne Spear, Literacy Council of Northern VA volunteer tutor and board member

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