2. Exploring Learning and Identity
* * * * * * * * * * by Jenny Horsman * * * * * * * * * *
I HAVE BEEN working in literacy in some form or other since I was an undergraduate student in the early 1970s and volunteered for my local literacy program in England. Travel to Sierra Leone gave me the opportunity to teach EAL and volunteer in adult literacy. Volunteering fed to a job as the co-ordinator of a large literacy program in Sierra Leone and that experience drew me to Canada to study more about literacy and development issues. Since the early 1980s I have carried out a wide variety of projects in adult literacy and EAL in Canada. I have worked in a community literacy program, run a women's group, designed and led training courses, written curriculum, spoken at conferences, facilitated meetings and continued to study, research and write about literacy issues. For the last five years I have worked with a woman I will call Mary, whose experiences of abuse and illiteracy have influenced this chapter and much of my recent literacy writing and thinking. I have read Mary the material in this chapter and we have talked about her reactions to it and tried out sections together. Mary made many suggestions to strengthen the chapter. Earlier I did some research into women's experience of "illiteracy," which led to a doctorate in adult education and which was published by Women's Press in 1990 as Something in My Mind Besides the Everyday: Women and Literacy. This research, and my work with Mary, led to my current focus on the impact of abuse on literacy learning and what this means for literacy programming. I hope to carry out further research to explore the links between illiteracy and experiences of violence.
The idea of this series of exercises is to help students look at their past to explore how the messages they received from adults and peers in the family and outside, and experiences they had as children - especially those of learning - help and hinder them in their learning now. The hope is that this process will help women to see the common ground and differences between their stories and those of other women, and the social context which has formed these experiences. The intention is that this examination will strengthen women's positive images of them- selves and help them to build ways of approaching learning which are constructive for them.
These exercises may lead to women disclosing the abuse they experienced as children or as adults, but do not ask that women do so. These exercises, and the talk which happens around them, may allow trust to build. If a woman is ready to talk about her life, the space will be there for her to do so. The exercises are designed so that women can share only what they are comfortable with and will not feel pressured to disclose if it is not an appropriate time or place for them to do so. Nonetheless, if you build trust and invite disclosures, these will come. In "Responding to Disclosures of Abuse in Women's Lives" (page 15) you will find some suggestions about preparing yourself for such disclosures.
Materials needed for this chapter are assorted markers, paper, magazines to cut out and large sheets of plain paper.