Get Real! Developing Curricula that Respond to Women's Lives

by Marie Barton
To have a voice is to be human. To have something to say is to be a person.
(Carol Gilligan, 1993)

Education and
have required
women and
children living
with violence
to deny their

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.

Un peu de sérieux! Élaborons des programmes d'études qui tiennent compte de la violence
par Marie Barton

Il y a trois ans, à la demande de quelques femmes qui fréquentaient un centre d'éducation aux adultes, j'ai organisé un cours sur la dynamique de la vie, qui tenait compte de la violence. À partir de ce cours, nous avons élaboré à l'intention du personnel enseignant et du système d'éducation une liste de stratégies relative au problème de la violence faite aux enfants.

Nous traitons dans cet article trois des recommandations faites. La première: avoir des cours obligatoires dans le cadre de la formation des enseignants et enseignantes sur la façon de reconnaître la douleur des enfants qui viennent d'un milieu violent. L'éducation, si elle veut être éloquente et habilitant, doit admettre que tous les enfants souffrent quelquefois, mais beaucoup trop souffrent tout le temps. La deuxième: avoir des contacts réguliers avec le personnel pendant toute la scolarité. En vertu du système actuel, les enfants sont obligés de changer de salle ou d'enseignant, au moment même où ils commencent à se sentir peut-être un peu plus en confiance. La troisième: inclure des cours d'études féminines au cycle secondaire. Les femmes qui assistaient à mon cours n'avaient pas jusque-là eu l'occasion d'analyser ou de découvrir ce qui leur était arrivé, pas plus qu'elles n'avaient eu la chance de se sentir bien en tant que femmes ou jeunes filles. Les femmes et les enfants doivent suivre des programmes d'études qui correspondent à leur existence. En ma qualité d'éducatrice, j'estime que nous leur devons au moins ça.

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