Literacy and identity: Reflections of six African American males in an adult literacy program

Open Access
Drayton, Brendaly Elizabeth
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 03, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Esther Susana Prins, Dissertation Advisor
  • Esther Susana Prins, Committee Chair
  • Ian E Baptiste, Committee Member
  • Gail Louise Boldt, Committee Member
  • Patrick Willard Shannon, Committee Member
  • Ronald Ward Jackson, Special Member
  • Adult literacy
  • Adult basic education
  • African American males
  • Gender
  • Identity
  • Narrative analysis
ABSTRACT This multiple case study explored how the literate experiences of six African American men influenced their perceptions of and engagement with a community-based adult basic education and literacy (ABEL) program in a large northeastern city. The theoretical framework included a social practices view of literacy and a constructivist view of identity. Narrative analysis, specifically Riessman’s (2008) dialogic/performance approach, served as the analytic and interpretive lens. This study presents a socio-historical view of the men’s literacy experiences beginning with early schooling and concluding with their presence in the ABEL program. The findings indicate the men’s literacy experiences in early schooling, society, and the ABEL program influenced their perceptions of and engagement with the program. First, their early schooling and ABEL program experiences show that the social context greatly influenced the choices they made about academic literacy and learning. Second, the men participated in the program to fulfill social roles, to be considered qualified for unemployment, and to negate the deficit construction of their literate identities formed in early schooling. Third, their positive experiences in the program enhanced their self-concepts and encouraged them to believe in their abilities to succeed, thereby encouraging them to stay with the program. This research project contributes to adult basic education and literacy, literacy and identity, and K-12 scholarship by demonstrating the significant role identity played in the men’s literacy experiences and the choices they made about literacy development. It also adds to the nascent research on African American men, provides a nuanced view of their reasons for joining ABEL programs, demonstrates how literacy can inform the perception and enactment of gendered identities, and presents a counter-narrative to theories of African American men’s resistance to learning. The men’s narratives tell stories not only about themselves and their communities, but the society in which we live.