A Memorial Tribute to Aretha Franklin: Meeting the Need for RESPECT with Adult Basic Skills Education

Tom Sticht, International Consultant in Adult Education (Ret.)


Aretha Franklin, the high school dropout who went on to become the “Queen of Soul” with honorary degrees from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, wrote a song about her need for RESPECT. She sang out, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T Find out what it means to me”. Aretha Franklin passed away today, August 16, 2018, aged 76, respected by millions of people around the world. Not only was Aretha Franklin an iconic songstress, during the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s she contributed extensively to the actions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others to bring literacy, civil, and voting rights to African Americans.

As a memorial tribute to Aretha Franklin, here is a brief note about what RESPECT means to adults seeking to improve their basic reading, writing, and numeracy skills.

In January of 2007, I went to Dublin, Ireland to present a speech at a conference of adult literacy tutors sponsored by the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA). The theme of the conference was Sustaining Motivation for Adult Literacy Learners. As I thought about this theme, and how I might frame remarks that would fit with it, I glanced at the bulletin board by my desk. There I noticed the photos of the grand, main building of the New York Public Library (NYPL) that I have tacked to the board. 

I have long admired the NYPL located on the south-west corner of the intersection of 42nd street and 5th avenue. I am particularly fond of the two massive sculptures of lions that guard the main entrance to the library. During the great depression of the 1930s, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia dubbed the two sculptures of lions with the names Patience and Fortitude. Mayor LaGuardia told the citizens of New York that patience and fortitude were the qualities they would require to survive the economic depression gripping the nation and New York City. 

This lead me to think that these great lions, Patience and Fortitude, also represent the qualities that adult literacy tutors require to persist in helping adult literacy learners maintain their motivation in what can often be a long and difficult struggle for literacy. In many ways, the adult literacy tutors are the Lions of Literacy. They help guide adult learners into the great library of books of the world which provide access to the collected knowledge of the ages. 

As I studied the photo of Patience and Fortitude, I came to the thought that there was something that bonded these two qualities and sustained them. Then I thought of Aretha Franklin and her hit song, RESPECT. It occurred to me that respect is what builds the bond between tutors and learners, a bond maintained by patience and fortitude on the part of both tutors and learners. 

For my presentation in Dublin, I built on these thoughts and developed the idea that the seven letters of the word R.E.S.P.E.C.T. that Aretha Franklin spelled out in her song could serve as a mnemonic for seven factors that taken together can help sustain motivation for the work of teaching and learning in adult literacy education. 


R: Relevance to the learner's lives 

E: Engagement with the learning experience 

S: Social capital development for learners 

P: Participation by learners in choosing goals, curriculum materials & 

E: Educational opportunities across the life span & across multiple
life cycles 

C: Community support for adult literacy education 

T: Teachers/tutors who care about adults, literacy, & learning 

Following a brief overview of these seven factors, I focused on R, for Relevance. I recounted the stories of three great adult literacy educators who focused on the relevance to the lives of their students of the materials they were using to teach adults to read. 

First, the story of Harriet Jacobs, the former slave girl of the mid-1800s who taught an old black man to read using the Bible, which was what he wanted to learn to read.

Next, an account of the work of Cora Wilson Stewart in 1911 to start the Moonlight Schools of Kentucky and the materials she wrote in books called the Country Life Readers. These books taught reading in the context of farming, home making, health for the family, community development and other topics of relevance to the lives of the country folks who came to class on moon lit nights. 

Finally, the Queen Mother of the civil rights movement in the United States during mid-20th century was identified as Septima Poinsette Clark. She started Citizenship Schools to teach African-Americans to read and write so they could vote. This was the relevant goal for these American citizens who were being denied voting rights and hence social justice because of illiteracy. Septima Clark knew the importance of developing literacy and power by making the materials of education relevant to the lives of her students. 

To sustain the motivation of adult students in the often arduous task of learning to read and write adult literacy tutors need both patience and fortitude. But above all, they need to have R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for their students. And the primary letter of that word, R, stands for Relevance. Over a century of professional wisdom by those on whose shoulders we stand confirms the importance of relevance in adult literacy education. 

Today's adult literacy teachers and tutors carry on the important work of respecting adult students and providing relevant literacy education sustained by both patience and fortitude. They are the Lions of Literacy in the 21st century. 

With R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for Aretha Franklin may she R.I.P.!

Congratulations to COABE's new Strand Partner Chair! Ms. Connie Rivera

Connie Rivera.jpg

Connie Rivera facilitates opportunities for adult learners and their teachers that enable them to learn in new environments, discover connections, and develop greater understanding of the subject matter. Connie is proud to have served as president of the Adult Numeracy Network and as the Numeracy Strand Partner to COABE during her presidency. During her time of service as strand partner, Connie suggested new and innovative ideas that helped systematize and streamline the conference experience for strand partners and conference attendees. Connie is, perhaps, best known for her dedication to the field and desire for a standard of excellence. 

Scott Stump Confirmed as New OCTAE Assistant Secretary

Scott Stump.png

Scott Stump was confirmed by a  vote of 85-0 to be the next Assistant Secretary for the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE). ACTE, a national partner of COABE, had  endorsed Stump's nomination, and following the confirmation, released a  joint statement with Advance CTE applauding the bipartisan support he received.  

In remarks prior to the vote, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee,  stated that "Mr. Stump's resume shows he is a nominee qualified for this position." Following the confirmation, HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN)  tweeted that Stump "is the right person to implement Perkins CTE at the national level."

Secretary DeVos also  tweeted that she was "thrilled to welcome Scott Stump to [the Department of Education]." Noting his "qualifications & wealth of experience," she said that "[his] leadership will be critical as we work to expand the ed pathways available to all students throughout their lifelong learning journeys."

The confirmation comes on the heels of proposals from the Department of Education (ED) to  consolidate OCTAE into a primarily postsecondary office. ACTE strongly opposes the proposal and helped circulate  a letter signed by 25 organizations opposing the move. The Trump Administration also recently proposed  merging ED with the Department of Labor.

Secretary DeVos: National Council for the American Worker Will Put America's Students First

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released the following statement: 

"With today's announcement, President Trump continues to make good on his promise to put America's students and workers first. This Administration understands that a dynamic and changing economy requires dynamic and changing approaches to education and workforce development. The partnerships announced today involve those who are best-positioned to identify ideas and drive solutions. The President's new initiative helps engage leaders across diverse sectors in an effort to open new pathways and opportunities for America's students who should be free to pursue successful careers and meaningful lives." 

Looking for more information from the Department of Education? Sign Up For Email Updates here.

Leadership Training Available

Leadership training available from the
nstitute for Educational Leadership.  


Apply today to participate in the Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP), a 10-month professional development program for emerging and mid-level leaders. EPFP combines regular meetings and activities specific to each of our 17 state-based site programs with events of national scope to provide an enriching experience for 300 Fellows each year. To apply, click here to find the EPFP site nearest you.

IEL and COABE, together with NASDAE are partners in the groundbreaking Minds that Move Us initiative.

Seeds of Literacy Request

Seeds of Literacy, an adult literacy nonprofit in Cleveland, Ohio, is helping a Cleveland Foundation Team who is participating in the Knight Foundation Community Information Lab, a national Human Design Project. The Cleveland Foundation Team is studying information gaps around adult literacy in Cleveland. 

Seeds of Literacy is searching for COABE members providing adult literacy services who have used innovative and successful ways to:

  • identify community ambassadors for student recruitment
  • efficiently use referral networks to increase enrollment
  • collect literacy data in neighborhoods or communities
  • or any other innovation that has improved your adult literacy services!

Please send your contact information and a brief description to Sharon Bonney, Executive Director of COABE, at sharonbonney@coabe.org. Thank you!

Adult Education Family Learning Specialist

The National Center for Families Learning, a private nonprofit organization located in Louisville, KY, is seeking a Family Learning Specialist to provide subject matter expertise in adult education and parent engagement for family literacy programs. Underlying expertise in effective family engagement practices and the ability to create and deliver high-quality professional development are requirements. Experience working with low income, culturally diverse, and/ or American Indian populations is highly desired.

Successful applicants will demonstrate a passion for NCFL's mission to address literacy challenges by engaging all family members in intergenerational learning, with a primary focus on parents and children living in poverty.

Congress Approves Career-Technical Education Bill

Thousands of COABE members responded to our previous calls to action to support Senator Reed's CTE for All Act included in the bill, which will help working-age adults build their job skills and advance, with an emphasis on high-demand jobs. We are pleased to share that your outreach and collective voice helped bring about successful results for our field! Keep up the great work! 

Please read the press release below posted by Senator Reed's office.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Yesterday, Congress passed a bipartisan overhaul of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act that includes key provisions authored by U.S. Senator Jack Reed to help working-age Americans build their skills and strengthen states' abilities to offer more career-technical or skills-based classes. 

The bipartisan package authorizes about $1.2 billion annually in federal funding for CTE related programs and will help give students at the secondary, adult, and postsecondary levels the skills they need to further their education and find good-paying, in-demand jobs. It will also help businesses find the skilled workers they need to compete in an evolving global economy.

"There is no 'one size fits all' pathway to a successful career. But education leads to opportunity, and programs that blend basic skills and occupational training can help adult learners maximize their potential and increase their earning power," said Senator Reed, the lead author of the Career and Technical Education for Adult Learners Act (S. 3349, also known as the "CTE for ALL Act"), which was largely incorporated into the final, bipartisan package. "This bill takes a results-oriented approach to better aligning our education and workforce training initiatives with high-demand sectors. Students of all ages can benefit from career and technical education opportunities. Enhancing adult education helps American workers learn new skills and improve their lives. It can help lift individuals, communities, and businesses together because the more skilled workers who are out there earning a paycheck, the more demand there is for the goods and services our businesses offer."

Reed's provisions in the legislation will:

  • Encourage programs funded under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act to align with adult education programs and industry sector partnerships authorized under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
  • Include the state director of adult education and adult education providers in the development of the state plan for career and technical education.
  • Enable adult education providers that also offer career and technical education programs to participate in consortia that are eligible to receive funds under the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. 
  • Expand the special populations to be served to include low-income, out-of-work, or underemployed adults.
  • Place a greater emphasis on work experiences as part of career and technical education programs.          

The full U.S. Senate passed the bill yesterday and it was passed by voice vote in the U.S. House of Representatives this evening. 

The bill now goes to President Trump's desk to be signed into law.

Raise Your Hand for $25 Million Additional Funding


You may recall that as a field we rallied together for additional WIOA Title II funding, and received $35 million additional funding (the first increase of its kind in many years). There is an additional $25 million under consideration, but legislators need to hear from you as there are many competing priorities under consideration. If you believe your work in adult education is important, we urge you to take action today. It takes just a few minutes of your time and the increased funding will significantly impact the field. You can do so when you click the "Take Action" button. 

Additionally, if you are a local program administrator, please consider joining us for a one hour special online convening on July 17, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. EST aimed at equipping local administrators with hands-on advocacy tools. Contact advocacy@coabe.org to register.  

Adult Learner Success Story

Sam Vega_2_.jpg

Adult Learner/COABE Ambassador, Sam Vega, Selected as One of Two Participants for the Allegany County Summer Fellowship Program!

On Thursday, Allegany County government announced the selection of students from Frostburg State University and Allegany College of Maryland as the first participants of the Commissioners' Fellowship Program.

Cranston Carter Imes and Samantha Vega will join county government during their summer break.  

"We are thrilled to have these two talented students join Allegany County government this summer," said Brandon Butler, county administrator. "This program is yet another way that the county commissioners are continuing to invest in workforce development."

The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the launch of the program, which provides summer internship opportunities for students at Frostburg State University and Allegany College of Maryland, during its March 22 meeting.

Imes is a senior at FSU majoring in political science and law and society.

Vega is a second-year human services student at Allegany College, and is a student ambassador with the Coalition on Adult Basic Education, a national organization dedicated to advancing adult education and literacy opportunities. She is also a part of the Peace Studies Club and Democracy Commitment at the college.

Google for Education

Quizzes in Google Forms
With six new features, we're leveraging the power of Machine Learning to introduce more intelligent features in Quizzes in Google Forms - bringing the paperless classroom to life and saving more time than ever before. Learn more and create a smarter quiz today!

National AfterSchool Toolkit Launch
While a majority of teachers increasingly assign homework that requires the internet, millions of students-primarily those from low-income and rural communities-don't have access at home. This is known as 'the homework gap' and it's causing too many students to fall behind. To help close this gap, the National AfterSchool Association, with support from Google, has created a free, online Afterschool Tech Toolkit that guides afterschool professionals through the effective integration of tech into their programs. The toolkit covers topics like how to identify technology needs, how to creatively gain access to devices and connectivity, and how to train afterschool staff. Become a digital learning champion by checking out the Afterschool Technology Toolkit today!

Brand New One-Hour Applied Digital Skills Lessons
If your students are on the hunt for summer jobs - or graduating and preparing to launch their careers - the newest Applied Digital Skillsvideo lesson will help them take that critical first step. The Create a Resume activity can be completed in under an hour - perfect for keeping high school students engaged during these last weeks of the school year and preparing them for their futures. 

Lessons from Teachers of the Year on YouTube
Looking for some mid-week inspiration? Check out the 'Lessons from Teachers of the Year' series and hear from state Teachers of the Year on topics like the future of education, partnerships in teaching, and their mentors.

Congresswoman Bonamici Honored by COABE Affiliate Oregon Adult Basic Skills Association


The Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) gave Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici its highest honor at Portland Community College.

On Tuesday, May 29, local members of COABE, which includes Portland, Chemeketa, Clatsop, and Mt. Hood community colleges, handed Bonamici the Champion of Adult Education Award in front of adult basic education and English Speakers of Other Languages students at the Rock Creek Campus (177705 NW Springville Road).

The organization honored the congresswoman for her work on the PARTNERS Act, which promotes registered apprenticeships and other work-based learning programs for small and medium-sized businesses within in-demand industry sectors. Along with the PROSPER Act (which prepares students through expanded access for careers and degree completion), adult basic education students are able to find pathways to living-wage jobs and degree completion.