Get Real! Developing Curricula that Respond to Women's Lives
by Marie Barton
Three years ago, I was privileged to be a teacher of adults and the facilitator of a research project that changed my perception of education. Today, as vice-principal in an elementary school, I am in a position to share some of the insights I gained from my adult students. I can also implement recommendations formulated by these courageous women. Finding their voice empowered my students; listening to their message empowers all of us.
The story begins with a request from several of the women at our adult education centre that I organize a credit course on Personal Life Management that would acknowledge their experiences with violence. Only then, they insisted, would such a course be honest and meaningful for them. Only then would the skills taught by the standard course be "learnable" by women whose reality is defined by violence.
By reserving the centre for this class only, one night a week, I was able to create an environment that encouraged trust and sharing. I felt comfortable with the design we created for the program because my background includes social work training, work in crisis centers and personal counselling as well as teacher training. The students seemed to trust my ability to help them with their emotions. One woman said, "I know when I get unraveled, you're there to knit me back up before I go home." My professional caution, however, alerted me to the problems that might lie ahead for the group if I were not up to the task. I arranged for the support of a counsellor from the area's crisis centre. Initially this woman was a co-leader and gradually she withdrew to an on-call support role, available if needed.
The clear message my students gave me was that education and educators have required them as children growing up in violent homes, as teens involved in relationship abuse, as victims of incest, as child-viewers of pornography, as battered wives to deny their reality. For some participants, our course offered the first opportunity to make education truly meaningful. We began by addressing power imbalance and the vulnerability of children and women in our society; we moved through personal and political analyses and we grew into awareness, assertiveness and self-confidence.