Survivors may have learned that change comes from heroic effort rather than daily repetitions.
2. How can literacy workers address issues of violence in literacy programs?
I hope that data from interviews with literacy workers, learners, counsellors and therapists will help answer this question. An analysis of the psychological literature on the commonly recognized impacts of abuse may also lead to further ideas for how issues might be addressed. This can then be offered back to literacy workers and learners in order to explore what they see as being possible within the limitations of literacy programs, the skills and experience of literacy workers, the community context, and the supports available. The examples already mentioned begin to indicate some possible shifts in approaches.
I will explore both the limitations of the current literacy work discourses, and the value of alternative discourses to open up possibilities for new approaches in addressing the impacts of abuse. For example, I have speculated whether the discourse that focuses on the idea that the learner can do anything (which leads a worker to simply reassure a learner who is struggling, saying that she can do the work and not to worry about making mistakes), may not be useful for a survivor, and may actually work against her learning. A discourse which opens up reflection and self-knowledge may be part of an entirely different approach needed to support a survivor in unlearning the lessons learned well in childhood - that she is stupid, that she should not trust what she knows, that mistakes put her in danger.
One therapist told me that a chaotic, violent childhood and the survival of unbearable violence may have led a woman to believe that what is required to survive is supreme effort, rather than small efforts carried out on a daily basis. A chaotic household may not have had any dailiness, ordinary things done every day in the same way. When I introduced that idea to one group of literacy workers there was a lot of recognition. They all remembered learners who arrived at the beginning of a course with incredible energy and sense that they were just going to "do it" this time. The workers knew from experience that those learners often gave up soon after. But these workers did not often know what to do to help learners to settle in to steady work over a long period. The understanding from the therapeutic field, based on the idea that survivors may have learned to expect change from heroic effort rather than daily repetitions, may be useful to help literacy workers think of new approaches to help these learners stay in for the long haul and see changes in their skill level.
As I travelled across the country I have been looking for, and learning about, any model of literacy programming which seeks to explicitly address the impact of women's experiences of violence. For instance, I have been interested in programs with counsellors on staff, or with links to women's shelters, or seeking to support women's bridging from a violent relationship to employment or further education. I wanted to explore a broad range of possibilities that might be tried to address the impact of abuse on literacy learning and participation in programs. Some possible approaches might include: the concept of collaborative work with counsellors or other services, training for literacy workers, specific curricula to address particular impacts, as well as many different detailed ways that literacy teaching might be carried out to address the specific impacts literacy workers identify.
For each possibility I plan to explore many subsequent questions. For example, the question of collaboration would require examination of the feasibility of this approach. What sorts of collaborative links already exist in programs? What kinds of resources would collaboration require? What possible organizations/services could literacy programs potentially collaborate with? What might collaboration look like? What barriers are there, such as the isolation of the literacy field, the unique discourses of the field, and financial constraints? For each possibility identified through the first stage of the research, I plan to identify another series of questions to explore each possibility further and set the stage for future research.