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Edited by Stephen P. Morris and Linda M. Phillips

Calgary, Detselig Enterprises, 1990. 278pp, paper, $19.95
ISBN 1-55059-020-0. CIP

Reviewed by Linda Hackett.

Volume 19 Number 5
1991 October

Those of us in the field of adult literacy are heartened that in the last few years there has been general public recognition of the problem of illiteracy in Canada. But this problem is com­plex. Literacy itself is difficult to define and this means the actual incidence of illiteracy is impossible to quantify exactly. Critical reflection is needed on the subject, but there has been little academic work in the field of adult literacy in Canada to date. So the release of this publication, which brings together recent work on literacy by leading Canadian education scholars, is welcome news.

Foundations of Literacy Policy in Canada is a collection of fourteen individual papers on literacy that range from discourse analysis to qualitative and quantitative research. Although the editors give the context of adult literacy to the collection, only one study actually used adult subjects. Apart from Pagan's study ("Socioaffective Factors in Literacy Development"), the papers either discuss literacy broadly to include all society, or report findings from population samples of youngsters in public school systems.

The papers are grouped into sections according to three perspectives on literacy: philosophical, historical and social. In the first section — philosophi­cal perspectives — it is worth noting that separate papers by David Olson and James Heap both question the validity of the famous 1987 study of illiteracy in Canada by the Southam Newspaper Group, which has created the widely held notion that 1 in 4 Canadians is illiterate. Both Olson and Heap suggest that the Southam study is not a measure of the purported func­tions of its literacy tasks.

The historical perspectives section is recommended for the insight each chapter gives into the ever changing context for literacy. For example, in the area of mathematical literacy, Carolyn Kieran describes how, since the nine­teenth century, math instruction in public schools in Canada, the U.S. and England has alternated between a broad, practical curriculum and a curriculum influenced by the particulars of professional mathematics.

In the social perspectives section one paper is very timely, given the increas­ing numbers of immigrants entering Canada with neither of our official languages. Merrill Swain, Sharon Lapkin, Norman Rowen and Doug Hart undertook an experimental study of the role of native language literacy in third language learning among immigrant children in French Immersion classes in Metropolitan Toronto. Their research "strongly supports the claim that literacy in one's native language enhances third language learning."

The findings and opinions expressed in this collection may well have some influence on literacy policy in Canada and so could be of interest to anyone in the literacy field or the public school system. However, Foundations is intended for a particular audience — that of "educational policy-makers" such as literacy and educational re­searchers and administrators.

Linda Hackett, Adult Literacy Contact Centre, Vancouver, B.C.
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