Sometimes current violence, or the aftermath of violence, leads to various crises for women in literacy programs.
Research Project on Women, Violence and Literacy Learningby Jenny Horsman
Most of us who are involved in literacy work know that many women literacy learners have experienced violence as children or adults. We hear the stories when women write or talk about their lives. Sometimes current violence, or the aftermath of violence, leads to various crises for women in literacy programs. We often feel stretched to the limit even before these issues come up. We are trying everything we can to help women to improve their literacy skills, and we don't usually have the time or energy to look at whether experiences of violence might create barriers for literacy learning.
Many workers have told me that they are not therapists, so they can't or perhaps shouldn't try addressing issues of violence. They want to focus on helping women improve their literacy skills. 1 have begun to wonder whether we have to look at the issues of violence if we are going to be successful in helping women who are survivors of violence improve their skills. I am carrying out a research project to examine these issues. 1 am interviewing literacy workers, learners, therapists and counsellors to explore the impacts of violence on literacy learning as well as possible ways literacy programming might address these impacts. I hope to be able to talk to literacy workers, learners, therapists and counsellors -alone or in small groups - in many locations across the country.
The project is sponsored by CCLOW (the Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women) and has been partially funded by the National Literacy Secretariat. I have done all sorts of previous
research, thinking, writing and workshops on women and literacy issues. More and more this has led me to ask questions about women's experiences of violence. This research project is my chance to focus on those questions and ask others to participate in this process. I hope this will lead to information that will strengthen literacy work with women. (Although I am focusing on women's experiences in this study, I don't want to imply that men are not also survivors of abuse; I think exploring men's experiences needs a separate study.) In this research, I am focusing on three central questions:
1. What impacts of abuse are instructors (and other literacy workers) observing in literacy programs?
I am listening to how literacy workers, who think that violence is an important issue to examine, describe the impacts of violence they observe in their programs. My aim is to uncover the kinds of problem scenarios workers are aware of. I am prompting for a broad range and detail of observation. My experience in literacy work makes me think it would be useful to question the impact of abuse on: the individual learning process - the processes of deciphering and creating text; the attitudes and behavior brought to the individual learning process, to the class or group learning situation; and to participation in the structures and processes which are in place to run the program. So far, I have carried out interviews in British Columbia and the Prairies and am now setting up interviews in central Canada and the Atlantic provinces. I also hope that I will be able to get up North. I want to talk to a range of experienced literacy workers in a wide variety of settings and regions, who are interested in the issues of violence.