EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is being reprinted with permission from the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network (CLLN).
By Patricia Ashie
The values and goals of the individual are strongly influenced by personal circumstances and I do not believe we can truly deal with literacy until we overcome barriers to involving learners.
Adult learners are an under-utilized asset in the promotion of adult learning and literacy. Often, the perspective of adult learners is not sought. We are spoken for, thought for and done for. Our participation is limited to storytelling and mere presence.
Positioning of birth and circumstance has nothing to do with individual aptitude but it can prevent self-sufficiency. How can a child who is consumed by overwhelming challenges in the home understand that education is the means of escape?
Education was never a priority in my life. I was the abused child of an abused mother with mental illness and a father who dealt with the trauma by withdrawing. I was separated from my family while in foster care. I believe this emotional drama was the primary reason for the lack of awareness of my challenges in school.
I left home when I was 15 and went to work in a hospital kitchen. At 17, I married and had my first child. I had no vision or desire to change my life. All I ever wanted was a home and family.
Parental responsibilities and a failed marriage made me recognize my problems: a Grade 9 education, learning challenges and the fear of revealing my weaknesses when applying for a job. How was I going to support my children?
On mother’s allowance, embarrassed, and getting nowhere, I bit the bullet and decided to go back to school. A counsellor at St Lawrence College told me to upgrade my math skills. I looked through the text book and remember very clearly: panic!
That same counsellor told me I shouldn’t waste my time with school as I could make plenty of money as a cocktail waitress. He even gave me his friend’s business card. Again, panic! I knew this job would not be good for me or my children. Fear of the unknown meant I ran back to the comfort of the familiar. I didn’t take the math course or a job as a cocktail waitress!
A few years later I married my best friend and became a farmer. Making ends meet was a struggle but I was able to stay at home with my children and I was reasonably content. What was never part of my vision was the value of me.
My ability to create a successful business was not recognized. I felt submissive to the wishes of others. It wasn’t until I finally enrolled in a college preparatory program to upgrade my skills that I discovered my potential and the value of me. Literacy upgrading allowed me to discover who I am and recognize my potential.
Adult learners are often not included in the design of their own futures. I believe adult learners will only be recognized and valued when organizations have learner-involvement strategies.
Literacy and education is not a consumer product or a social program. It is a human right.
Patricia Ashie is Vice-Chair of the Canadian Literacy and Learning Network’s Committee of Adult Literacy Learners, and sits on the Board of CLLN. Patricia is also a member of the Toronto Adult Student Association. She is part of the international movement advancing education, human rights and fundamental freedoms with the Global Learners Network and the International Council of Adult Education Academy of Lifelong Learning Advocacy.
Source: Literacy.ca Express newsletter – December 2010