A woman who starts and stops a program several times may be terrified at thinking she has a right to do something for herself.
As the discourses of literacy practice (our frameworks, concepts and language) do not generally take up issues of violence, many possible impacts of abuse may be missed because they are described within other discursive frames. For example, it may be that a woman who starts and stops a program several times does so because, having lived with abuse, she is terrified that by simply attending the program she implies that she thinks she has a right to do something for herself. She also risks failure and thus proving to herself that she really is as stupid as she has been told. This might not be observed by a literacy worker as an impact of violence, instead it might be described within the discourse of "motivation". Such a learner might be seen as not sufficiently motivated to stay in school. In order to further explore the impacts of violence on learning and program participation, beyond the scenarios the workers already recognize, I have been prompting literacy workers with information gained from interviews with therapists and the study of psychological literature on the impacts of trauma. In this way I hope we can add more depth to the exploration of the impacts of abuse. I hope to explore how the information framed in discourses outside the literacy field can offer alternatives to the prevalent discourses of literacy, and reframe the observations of impacts.
I am just at the early stages of trying to look at what I am learning from the first round of interviews. An example might help to make my approach clearer. One possible shift of discourse is from the concept of "daydreaming" or "spacing out", often used by literacy workers, to the discourse of "dissociating", used in the therapeutic field to describe a central characteristic of people who have experienced trauma. I am not trying to suggest that one discourse is "right" or better, rather that the discourse from the therapeutic field might help us to look differently at something that occurs within literacy classrooms, and begin to find new approaches that we might not have consider previously.
One therapist suggested that a student could be supported in learning both to value dissociation as a survival skill, and to learn how to stay present for increasing lengths time when she chooses. If an instructor makes it clear that spacing out/dissociating is a perfectly normal thing that many people do and not something to be denied or ashamed of, learners might be encouraged to stay present. Learners can then begin to recognize what triggers them into spacing out/dissociating, look at what might be changed in their environment, and begin to learn what works best for them. It might also help if the door is kept open, generally making it easier for learners to actually get up and leave the room when something triggers them, rather than leaving in mind only. Teaching in small snippets, so that learners are only trying to stay present for short time, might also be helpful.
As literacy workers think through the idea of helping learners stay present and learn, many more ideas might be generated. One literacy worker I talked to recognized that her students were often spacing out/dissociating in class and so never got the "whole" of something they were learning. Consequently they couldn't understand why they just couldn't "get it" and often decided the only explanation was their own stupidity. Literacy workers might perhaps think that spacing out means learners are bored, and seek to make the lesson more interesting. Or, they might be critical of what they judge to be a learner's lack of motivation, thinking they should pay more attention. An approach which helps learners become aware of their spacing out/dissociation, to value it and learn to stay present, might reduce the frustration for learner and workers thus leading to a learner acquiring skills which might enable her to stay present more often, and consequently, learn more.