Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines

Volume 23, Issue 1/2, Fall/Winter 2003/2004

Critical Thinking and Adult Literacy

Desi Larson, Peter Caron
Pages 11-20

Freire and Family Literacy
Promoting Critical Thinking with an Engaged and Critical Approach to Learning

The purpose of this paper is to present a Freirean perspective of family literacy education using the example of an Even Start family literacy program in Maine. This program, the Center and Home-based Instructional Program for Parents and Youth (CHIPPY) family literacy project, illuminates Freirean tenets and promotes critical thinking in its work serving at-risk families in the northernmost part of Maine in Fort Kent and surrounding towns that comprise Maine School Administrative District (MSAD) #27. Freire argued that education has the potential to promote transformation and liberation. He also argued that education could only be transformational if it includes components of critical thinking and reflection. A participatory action research (PAR) evaluation of the CHIPPY program was conducted during the 2001-2002 academic year. Interviews, observations and document reviews were conducted for the evaluation. Adults participating in the program completed a participant survey. This paper draws on findings from this evaluation, which found evidence of significant positive impacts and effects of program participation, for child and adult participants alike, in each of the components of family literacy: adult education, parenting education, intergenerational education, and childhood education. The evaluation revealed evidence of more than simply the improvement of basic literacy skills for adult participants in the CHIPPY program. From various evaluation sources, positive impacts were consistently reported tor adult participants, including: increased community involvement (volunteering), further education, and people going on to college, gaining educational and work skills, changed dispositions, participants and graduates appear to be more independent, and participants are reported to be more positive, assertive, and self-sufficient reflecting a Freirean humanizing pedagogy. Through the active promotion of critical thinking and critical reflection, educators in the CHIPPY program facilitated transformational and liberatory outcomes for program participants; “nurturing... self-directed empowered adults [who would] see themselves as proactive ... and not as reactive individuals, buffeted by uncontrollable forces of circumstance” (Brookfield, 1987, p. 48).

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