We are concerned with emotions

The authors of the chapters in this book are at some pains to take into account the emotional needs of learners - validation of what they already know, safety, increased self-esteem and so on. In the activities outlined here, emotions are front and centre, acknowledged and analyzed. The acknowledgment and analysis of emotions, in western culture, have been the province of women; in institutions of learning, where for centuries women were banned, emotions were also banned. We put them back into the curriculum and say they are important.

Many men and some women may be reluctant to take part in such activities, and resist their inclusion in the classroom; they may say that such activities are not “real” school. If a curriculum were “man-centered,” we might dispense with or disguise exercises that, for instance, ask learners to remember what it was like to fail in school. In this curriculum, we say women are used to doing the emotional work in our society, it is important work and we will recognize it. In order to do good academic work, women need to have their feelings acknowledged, and their needs for physical and emotional safety met. In this curriculum women's need to deal with their emotions is given priority over some men's need to deny their feelings.

Of course, there are men in our classes who are ready and willing to take on emotional work, especially men who belong to Alcoholics Anonymous, or who have been in a treatment program for drug addiction. I once saw a student come away from a group of learners exchanging stories about what illiteracy had done to their lives. He was a tall, strong man, wearing a muscle shirt, upper body covered in tattoos, eyes red and teary, and reaching for his cigarettes. “Man,” he said to a group of us sitting outside, “That crying really takes it out of you.”

We try to tell the truth when the truth is hidden

We believe that the activities and the readings presented here encourage change.

Kate Nonesuch has been a literacy instructor for fourteen years and a feminist for much longer than that. She presently teaches at Malaspina University- College, Cowichan Campus, Duncan, BC. The women who contributed to Making Connections are from a variety of teaching situations across Canada in rural and urban areas. They are women of color, white women, lesbian and heterosexual women whose ages range from mid-twenties to 50 years old and who have a variety of hidden and not-so-hidden disabilities.

The chapter called “Women of Courage: Herstory” is a great example. First learners are invited to notice that some groups of people are not in the history books, then to suggest some reasons for the omission. Many activities ask them to supply the omission, and finally to go out into their communities to share their new knowledge. However, it is not just in the past that women are hidden; every one of these chapters tries to bring out hidden aspects of women's lives.

We try to tell the truth when the truth is difficult

The chapter called “Exploring Learning and Identity,” for example, deals with the pain and violence, both emotional and physical, that many learners experienced in early school lives. Since this early pain may well affect learning in adulthood, making it part of the curriculum may enable some learners to move on to a more fruitful learning experience at this time.

We encourage women to speak in their own voices

The activities in this book encourage women to state their opinions, recognize the truth about their lives, what is good in them and what is not so good; the activities encourage women to talk to each other about their experiences, to see similarities in spite of differences, to make alliances and to work for change at a personal and/or a political level.

What a feminist curriculum is not!

Finally, a feminist curriculum does not tell women what to think, how to live or what to do. It does not tell them they must change, or in what direction to move. Instead, it invites women to look at their lives and at the lives of others, to make connections between them and to think about issues of invisibility and power. A feminist curriculum does not tell women that everything is all right. It does not encourage women to change themselves in order to fit in better or to lie to themselves in order to feel better. A curriculum that suggests we change the women instead of changing the system is not a feminist curriculum.

What do you do with a feminist curriculum?

A feminist curriculum, of course, is more than a series of chapters, more than reading material for students. The instructor who chooses to offer such material to learners and the learners who agree to participate are the ones who animate the curriculum. We offer it to you, knowing that you will adapt it to the learners and the situations where you work. You will insert your favorite readings and activities into our chapters, and use parts of these chapters in programs you already have in place.


We offer this curriculum to you with some trepidation. We believe that the activities and the readings presented here encourage change and we know that change may be initially unwelcome, both to those doing the changing and to those around them. The more you work to encourage change, the more repercussions there may be. If you are a seasoned worker for change, you will already know that you can expect resistance or backlash, as well as more positive effects. If you have never worked with learners using material that encourages them to think about their lives and to make changes in them, you might want to reflect on the following ideas as you are getting started:

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