COO, OneLight International, Inc (Emeritus)
Research at LCHC
Alonzo Anderson and Bill Teale were developing what would become important and influential work on early literacy, documenting pre-schoolers “literacy events” in everyday family and community settings among low-income Mexican, Anglo, and Black families (Anderson, Teale & Estrada, 1980). In particular, they documented the life experiences and the variations that lead to the development of early literacy, and challenged the common assumption that the cultural factors of these low-income groups are deleterious to the development of literacy (Anderson & Stokes, 1984).
- Low-Income Children’s Preschool Literacy Experiences: Some Naturalistic Observances (Anderson, Teale & Estrada, 1980)
- The Role of Literacy in the Non-School and School Environment of Lower Class Children (Anderson, 1981)
- The Community Based Research Practicum of the Third College Community Literacy Project ( Anderson, 1983)
- Social and Institutional Influences on the Development and Practice of Literacy (Anderson & Stokes, in Awakening to Literacy, 1984)
- Third College and CERRC: A university-community system for promoting academic excellence (Moll, Anderson, & Diaz, 1985)
- La lecto-escritura como práctica cultural (Anderson & Teale, 1986)
Alonzo “Lonnie” Anderson was born, raised and educated in Los Angeles California. He received his Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Michigan State University in 1974. His minor area of study was Organizational Behavior and Human performance. He spent his early years studying group processes especially factors effecting group cohesion and group decision-making. He discovered his passion, families in communities, after joining the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition in 1979.
Anderson led a team that included Rosalie Bennett, Elette Estrada, Joseph Martinez, Shelly Stokes, Billy Vaughn, Linda Forrest and Bill Teale that were developing what would become important and influential work on early literacy. They documented preschoolers “literacy events” in everyday family and community settings among low-income Mexican, Anglo, and Black families (Anderson, Teale & Estrada, 1980). In particular, they documented the life experiences and the variations that lead to the development of early literacy, and challenged the common assumption that the cultural factors of these low-income groups are deleterious to the development of literacy (Anderson & Stokes, 1984).
The home literacy research later broadened into his effort to understand the interaction between families in community contexts and the situational influences they exert one on the other in the formal K-12 education process. Specifically the home literacy study made Lonnie wonder could activities be artificially created that would mimic some of the features of the naturally occurring activities that so engaged the attention and interest of the preschoolers. In particular, the question that began to fascinate Lonnie was could whole educational activity systems be created that would engage the interest and attention of students working in the formal setting of a classroom and, at the same time, embed opportunities for teaching and learning a range of academic skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, math and social studies.
Indeed, the home literacy study revealed that the teaching and learning of literacy skills was often naturally embedded in the ongoing activities of life in the family and the life of family members in the community. But this was quite a bit different from creating these same types of engaging opportunities in ways that seemed natural but that were indeed artificial. Could activities be created, without extensive computer mediation that would require the emergence of both teacher-student and student-student zones of proximal development in order to complete the task. This was a slightly different question from the one that others in the lab were working on. Anderson’s question led him to move theory and research, particularly Leontiev’s ideas on the structure of human activity as well as Vygotsky’s ideas regarding activity and cognition, into everyday practice.
Inspired both by the work on home literacy and the CERRC model developed in collaboration with Moll and Diaz at LCHC Lonnie focused on the design and implementation of educational activity systems that involved institutional collaboration and resource integration. After leaving the lab he founded the Institute for Collaboration in Education (ICE) in the Hyde Park community of south central Los Angeles California Los Angeles California. ICE was a community development program of OneLight International, a Los Angeles faith based community Development Corporation. Through this program Anderson led the establishment of YouthSpeak. This was the first attempt to mimic the structure of activity observed in the home setting in a setting outside of the home. The hope was that this would be the starting point for answering the leading question. The program involved grades 5-10 students in the development of their literacy skills learned through participation in activity systems that embedded literacy instruction and practice within larger activities such as community newspaper publication and community event catering (culinary arts training). During this same period of time Anderson carried out two important investigations that informed later work performed by ICE in Pomona.
First Anderson spent time investigating the relationship and efforts at collaboration between a small semi rural community of Cheney Washington, its unified school district and the school of education at the nearby university. After studying that relationship another opportunity presented itself. This time Lonnie was able to investigate the collaboration between Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Education and the LA County Board of Education. Working together these institutions created International Polytechnic High School on the university’s campus. The partner’s were interested in delivering a high school curriculum using a Project Based Learning (PBL) methodology. This created the opportunity to go beyond the nature and quality of institutional collaboration to also explore the efficacy of the systematic development of larger scale educational activity systems that would integrate and embed academic content.
The convergence of things learned in south central Los Angeles, the semi rural Cheney Washing ton and urban Pomona California served as the foundation for the development of and successful implementation of large scale activity systems that would accommodate the integration of California state standards based social science, language arts, math and science curriculums in a project based framework delivered at the high school level. In collaboration with the California State Board of Education, a dedicated group of high school administrators and teachers along with segments of the Pomona business and arts communities Anderson co-founded the School of Arts and Enterprise, a California Charter High School in a low income area near downtown Pomona. The school featured robust parent involvement and an integrated curriculum Project Based Learning (PBL) instructional methodology.
One of the most important takeaways (lessons I learned) from my years working at this is that engaging activity systems can be designed, implemented and experience success at both the community institutional levels. There can even be successful collaboration between families, communities and institutions. However, sustaining a successful collaboration, one that produces desired educational outcomes over time, even 5-10 years, becomes quite a challenge. The challenges seem to arise out of the different “personal histories” and the accompanying “personal needs” each individual brings to the enterprise. Some of these personal histories include personal needs or motives that are culturally organized and some arise out of the dynamics of the individual’s family of birth. But it was my experience that whatever the source these motives, they clash and conflict and eventually undermine the collaborative enterprise, leading to implosion. It seems that in order for the collaborative enterprise to be sustained a certain level of “selflessness” (i.e. selfless and active support of the motive/mission of the enterprise) is required. Max Weber would probably agree that there is a need for a level of selflessness and humility that so many of us don’t seem able or willing to achieve. It seem that this idea of selflessness flies in the face of our culturally agreed upon right to “individual freedom.”
Anderson is now retired and working on a book that partially draws on his experiences at LCHC and his work in low income areas of Pomona and Los Angeles California. Regrettably, his unfinished work includes the establishment of an urban boarding school for inner city youth in Los Angeles California.
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