Describing the Problem
In literacy, the dominant discourses limit recognition of the extent of violence and the effects of violence on learning. The impact of violence is traditionally seen as separate from education, and viewed as a matter for therapeutic interventions. As a result, though many literacy workers hear repeated accounts from students of current or past violence, there are few venues to talk about these issues and how best to respond. Although little is written or spoken about the links between violence and literacy, anecdotal accounts of literacy workers suggest that frequently all, or most, students in a class have experienced sexual or physical abuse as children and many have continued to experience violence as adults.
It is particularly important to look at the impact of violence on learning in the area of literacy. This is not simply because there may be extremely large numbers of adult literacy learners who have experienced trauma, but also because literacy learning is likely to work as a strong trigger for memories of violence. Literacy learners who have experienced violence in childhood, in the home or at school, can find that the horrors of their childhood are brought back to the present when they return to the classroom and try to improve their reading - something they first learnt in childhood. Literacy learning may be the first return to a school-like situation for many learners, and that, in itself, may be terrifying and lead to panic. As well as the direct impact on attempts to learn, literacy workers and counsellors talked about the importance of recognizing self-inflicted violence, threats of suicide, and suicide attempts as legacies of childhood violence which may be firmly intertwined with the terror of attempting to learn and change as an adult.
Literacy, But Not Only Literacy...
Although literacy learning is an acute example of problems that occur whenever people try to learn and teach, it is not the only learning where the experience of violence creates an impact. During an online seminar, Mary J. Breen described the demands:
Unless the everyday presence of violence is acknowledged, teachers can only question how to teach and respond adequately, as a university professor explained:
Not all instructors will experience disclosures in this way. Many may not be perceived as trustworthy or approachable and may never know why students do poorly in their course, leave a class with no explanation, miss classes frequently, or drop out entirely. One college librarian spoke of numerous students who tell her their stories when they retreat to the library fleeing a class that disturbs them and leaves them unable to stay. Another online participant, Kathryn Alexander, a university tutor, explained:
Unless education at all levels acknowledges the violence in the lives of women and children and its impact on learning, many students will not only fail to learn, but may also experience the educational setting as a silencing place, or another site of violence, where they are controlled, diminished and shamed by institutional structures or classroom interactions.
Adapted from: Horsman, J. (2004). “But Is It Education?” The Challenge of Creating Effective Learning for Survivors of Trauma. Women's Studies Quarterly, Special Issue on Women and Literacy, Spring
|Learning & Violence Home|
|BUILDING AN UNDERSTANDING: • The problem • Violence • Impact|
|EXPLORING POSSIBILITIES: • Learning processes • Helping yourself learn • Helping others learn • Learning to teach|
|CREATING CHANGE: • Changing education • Where in the world • Taking care of self|
|IMAGINING A FUTURE: • Dreams of a different world|