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Describing the ProblemMeasuring the ProblemConnecting Illiteracy to Violence
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The Problem

Connect Illiteracy to Violence

Anecdotal evidence from women in literacy programs reveals that violence frequently played a role in their inability to participate in or complete schooling, or to learn successfully. This suggests that statistics of childhood experiences of violence may be far higher for students in adult literacy programs than in the general population. Although many women who experienced severe violence in childhood may have too little belief in their ability to get themselves into a literacy program, it is not uncommon for all the students in a women’s literacy group to disclose stories of violent experiences (Horsman, 2000). In Canada, in spite of compulsory schooling, I interviewed women who had rarely attended school, having been pulled out of school by abusive fathers arguing that taking care of children and the household was the only education a girl needed. Many others who experienced violence in the home during childhood spoke of getting little from school because they were too "shy" to ask for help, too disturbed to be able to stay present and pay attention, too busy acting out and getting into trouble (Horsman, 1990).

Horsman, J. (2000). Too scared to learn: Women, violence and education. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Horsman, J. (1990). Something in my mind besides the everyday: Women and literacy. Toronto: Women's Press.

(Excerpt from: Horsman, J. (2006). Moving Beyond "Stupid": Taking Account of the Impact of Violence on Women’s Learning The International Journal of Educational Development Gender Equality in Adult Education Gender Equity in Adult Education, Volume 26, Issue 2, Pages 135-242 (March)

New Understandings about Literacy

  • Literacy is best described as a set of social practices, rather than simply a skill
    If we think of literacy only as a skill then it is easy to slide into seeing the person as simply lacking something she should have, and needing remediation to counteract the deficit. If we see it as a set of social practices then it is easier to see that some societies have chosen to privilege literacy and that using print is only one way to obtain knowledge or to communicate.

  • Illiteracy is a social problem not an individual problem
    Although society's practices and policies construct illiteracy, individuals who fail to learn to read well are judged lazy, unmotivated, stupid, and an economic drain on the rest of "us."

  • Illiteracy does not cause other social problems
    Many social problems - such as poverty, violence, racism and ableism - are interconnected with illiteracy. They are not caused by illiteracy. In a society shaped by inequality and oppression, illiteracy is one factor that can lead to marginalization and mistreatment.

  • Violence contributes to learning difficulties
    When children are hurt, abused, or put down they learn that they are stupid and worthless. When they are humiliated or discriminated against because of their class, race, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, or some other aspect of their selves, learning is made harder.

  • Illiteracy is created through the education system
    Because schools share societal assumptions they teach and validate the forms of literacy practised and taught within white, middle-class families, and devalue and even obscure awareness of the diverse literacy practices and multitude of different ways of knowing, practised within other cultures and communities. Students who fit, learn.

  • People who have difficulties with literacy are not childlike
    Nor are they stupid, helpless, imprisoned, "poor souls" or abnormal. They have strengths and weaknesses and "read" many things well. These stereotypes lead people who do not easily understand print or professional language to avoid professionals, or to conceal their difficulties, for fear of being judged.

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