The Impact of Domestic Violence on Adult Education
Discussion Announcement | Guest Facilitators
From March 28th through April 1, 2011, Andres Muro and Erika Mein hosted a discussion on the impact of domestic violence on adult education programs through the Diversity & Literacy Discussion List. The focus of their discussion was their recently published article on this topic. We were very fortunate to have them volunteer to lead our discussion. Their study focused on the results of a domestic violence survey of 187 female students in a GED program mostly serving Mexican immigrants in Texas. Andres Muro is the Director of the Community Education Program at El Paso Community College. Erika Mein is an Assistant Professor of literacy education in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Texas at El Paso.
This study was made possible by an incentive grant from the Commission on Adult Basic Education.
Thanks to Chris Miller, a graduate student at Georgia State University, the following represents a compilation of the various topics discussed by discussion list members and the guest facilitators. Each topic contains one or more discussion threads arranged by questions and answers. All of Andres and Erika’s questions and comments are labeled with their names, while questions and comments from listserv members are labeled with their first and last initials. Most of the postings were copied and pasted verbatim, with a few words edited here and there to facilitate reading. For complete postings, along with author information, go to the Diversity & Literacy Archives and look at postings between March 28 and April 1, 2011.
Andres: We are honored to have been invited to lead a discussion about the impact of domestic violence in adult education programs. We believe that this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, little attention has been paid to domestic violence in the adult education system. This has been of concern to us because many women enrolled in adult education are living with domestic violence. To address this issue, we need to understand the extent to which women in adult education experience domestic violence. Our research involved a pilot study with 187 Hispanic women enrolled in the Community Education Program at El Paso Community College. The results suggested the prevalence of domestic trauma among women in this particular program. We hope that documenting the extent that this is a problem should lead to efforts to address this problem in a comprehensive manner. The way we would like this discussion to go is for participants to take the lead on it and run with it. Our research combined with your own experiences should provide enough content for a good discussion to flow. In the meantime, here are some questions about our study and the subject of domestic violence (dv) to consider:
What is your reaction to those questions?
How do you feel that they relate to your program?
What strategies, if any have you developed to address some of these issues?
What questions, comments, do you have about the survey, the research, the responses?
What do you think should be the next steps?
Do you have any questions for us?
Erika: This is a sensitive topic, one that you may or may not have dealt with first-hand in your work. We presented some preliminary numbers about the presence of domestic violence in one adult education program (this one happens to be on the Mexico-U.S. border). While statistics are helpful for giving an overview of how prevalent domestic violence may be, it is perhaps even more valuable to hear about people's experiences with students who may be victims of domestic violence. Have you ever had any experiences with students disclosing incidents of domestic violence? What are some of the issues that arose in coping with such disclosures? It would also be helpful to hear if you have not had any first-hand experiences with student disclosures but suspect domestic violence or family violence could be an issue among students in your program.
The Research Study
RH: I have just finished reading through your study, and I think that it is an extremely valuable contribution to the field of adult literacy and I hope that there will be more studies like this one that try to get at the number of students who are currently experiencing domestic trauma or have in the past and are still affected by it.
So often it is difficult for students who attend programs to do much talking at all, especially when they first start coming to a program. So, I am wondering if you could talk a bit about the participants' interviews. How difficult was it, if at all, to get these women to answer the
questionnaires? Were the interviews done one-on-one or in a group setting? Were the questions read aloud to the students, or did they read them silently to themselves? Did you offer the instructors any specific training on how to deal if any of the women were upset by the questions? What precautions, other than having a counselor onsite, did you take?
Andres: They were students enrolled in our program and we did this towards the middle of a class session, so they were already comfortable with the staff. We also told them that the questionnaire was anonymous and that they could stop answering questions or leave at any time. The questionnaires were in Spanish. All the students answered the questionnaires and the majority completed the questions. The study was done in a group setting. It is a written questionnaire, in Spanish. There was a group of people who administered the surveys. They all supervised the Instructors and the Instructors were present. We also had a Counselor ready to respond to emergencies. I remember that she had to intervene in one case. She is well connected with the hospitals and other support groups. In our program, the Instructors talk with students about domestic violence, they are aware that this is a problem, and the Center against Family Violence makes visits to most of our classes. So, this survey was not on a topic that students were unaccustomed to.
Aside from telling all our staff that this is a problem that needs attention, to be sensitive to this and to have a counselor available, I don't think that we did anything else. However, part of our staff training has to do with informing them of the various problems that we all face and to be ready to create spaces to discuss them, to make referrals and to contact their Supervisors immediately if a problem emerges. Domestic violence is a problem that emerges and we address it in almost all classes. Another thing that we did is to have informal and voluntary discussions after the survey was administered. The majority of the students were eager to talk about the survey and felt that the survey was something very important.
Note that this was only a pilot study and the instruments have not been validated. We are planning to do another study probably using the Conflict Tactic Scale, the Wife Abuse Inventory, or another validated instrument.
KO: I am also wondering how the interviews were conducted because I believe that students I have tutored may have found it difficult to answer the questions.
Andres: In our program, many students are ready to discuss the issue and this opens the door for others to participate. Students approach the issue voluntarily and because the Center against Family Violence makes presentations in our classes. Most students don't want to leave their violent relationships right away. There are various reasons. One is that the shelters are not ideal places for their children and many don't have a place to go to. Others fear deportation. However, many students learn to function with violence a lot better than I would expect. We've had students that went on to get the GED developing all kinds of strategies and accommodations so that spouses would not know of their studying. Of course we work to accommodate them by loaning them books, allowing them to come to class on their own terms, and being there to support them without making demands. The GED certificate seems to be a catalyst from many women to leave violent households and continue with school.
KO: Thanks for your response. I should have clarified that I believe women I have tutored would have had a difficult time responding because they didn't comprehend the questions. At what reading level were the women in your study? As a trained Domestic Violence victim advocate, health professional, and literacy tutor, I am so grateful for this discussion! It is critical that domestic violence information be included in health literacy curriculum.
Andres: Our students generally read above a 4th grade level in Spanish. On average they read at a 6th grade level, but we have students with college level reading skills. It is all in Spanish. We have had very limited literacy skills.
Andres: I would like everyone to look at the survey if you may. I would like to hear what you all think about it.
1. Do you believe that the questions are appropriate and related to the needs and circumstances of ABE and literacy students?
2. Do you feel that this is an important survey that would be useful to the field?
3. Are there questions that you find inappropriate or that you would change? Why, why not?
4. What do you like or dislike about it?
5. How would you change it?
One of the reasons for the survey is to try to document the prevalence in a more quantitative way. There is more qualitative evidence, but I think that it would be important to determine the prevalence in our field.
Please comment as much as possible about this. It would justify further research using this instrument.
VY: Thank you for the survey. My comments are that the adult literacy students that I had would have had difficulty reading many of the questions, and above all they would have disliked answering so many, even if the questions were read to them. I think I would have had five very simple introductory questions to establish the prevalence, and then if they did not answer any more, it would matter less.
KO: I have to agree with VY and believe many of our students would have problems answering the questions. Also maybe 10 questions max addressing financial, emotional, physical abuse? I understand your need for quantitative analysis but in our experience with evaluation/testing- too many questions overwhelm the students so they don't reply or fail to read the question before responding. A simple survey and then if needed, refer the student to the appropriate resources as "Teachers are not therapists."
CM:I enjoyed reading about your study of this important topic. From a socio-cultural perspective, did you find these women to be comfortable and/or open in talking about such a personal topic? In your introduction, you mentioned that research suggests that domestic violence is particularly high for Hispanics; do you have any theories or ideas about why this may be? Did you track the persistence of the women who participated in your survey? In additional studies, would you use instruments to measure self-esteem, depression, well-being, etc? It would be particularly interesting to see how women would respond in open-ended interviews that touched on attitudes about gender roles, education and work, domestic violence, motivation, persistence, etc.
Andres: Here are some responses to your very thoughtful and tough questions. Students participating in the survey had been in class for a while and felt comfortable with the program staff. Overall, they did not appear uncomfortable with the issue, and during the discussion after answering the survey, they were not only ready to talk, but they were happy that the conversation took place. I asked only women to administer the survey. And they asked all the men if they could leave the classroom during the instrument administration and discussion. Some women stated that they would have liked men to have participated in the discussion. Our program is very non-traditional. Most of our instructors are women from similar backgrounds as the students. Classes are very friendly and they are open entry and open exit. Usually there is a good camaraderie between students and they are often willing to disclose and converse. We are not by any means a perfect program and we have lots of crises and problems too. But I can state with confidence that there is a high level of comfort among the students. Also, most of our classes are community based.
As for the domestic violence and Hispanics, this is a debatable issue. It's not clear. Some studies suggest this; others say there is no difference. So the following is speculation. Possibly there is more violence among Hispanic women but they don't report it as much because of their immigration status, values, etc. Or, I could go the other way. Some Hispanic families are closer and more united so violence may be less common. These claims need to be examined carefully. They are guesses or theories as you say. I can articulate some of the reasons for the presence of violence in Hispanic families based on research by Rockhill and Anzaldua, but I cannot say if it's more or less. Rockhill and Anzaldua speak about immigration as creating cultural conflicts to the traditional values of immigrant families tied to role of women in the house, employment, economic needs, education, the politics of literacy and bi-literacy, etc. In many cases these conflicts appear to lead to violence. This in itself is a very long discussion.
For example some people argue that school is the cause of violence for many women. Others argue that those who report violence while at school experienced it all along. For women from traditional (women belong in the private realm) households, going to school creates conflict with the values of the family. In our non-validated preliminary study, many of the responses suggest that school introduces, at least, emotional conflict all the way up to battery. It was not clear if those who reported violence experienced violence prior to coming to school. Certainly, both Rockhill and Anzaldua would argue that the border introduces lots of violence in the lives of immigrants. We did not track the persistence of the women who participated in the survey.
In additional studies, would you use instruments to measure self-esteem, depression, well-being, etc? It would be particularly interesting to see how women would respond in open-ended interviews that touched on attitudes about gender roles, education and work, domestic violence, motivation, persistence, etc. We have some data from a focus group with several educators about this issue. I am hoping that this fall we can code the data and come up with some sort of narrative.
In the spring of 2012, I will hopefully start writing my dissertation. Right now I am planning to look at two validated instruments to collect more data. The instruments are the Conflict Tactic Scale (CTS) and the Spouse Abuse Inventory. I want to see how appropriate they are for our population and what kind of data these instruments produce, and draw comparisons to the data already collected. The other piece will be open ended focus group discussions with students in the program. Of course, I am more open to looking at other stuff. Especially, if someone has any tools (quantitative or qualitative) that has been validated or has good theoretical support. If you have any ideas, please send them.
CM: Thanks for your answers. It sounds as though you are interested in exploring this issue both quantitatively and qualitatively. There are a lot of possibilities. I am a grad student (masters) in Educational Psychology. I am interested in literacy and struggling adult students. In adult education, it seems as though it is really difficult to gauge persistence because enrollment is usually open, your students have "real" adult lives (i.e. a lot of commitments), there may be external barriers to access (i.e. time and money), etc. Trying to isolate and measure the variable of dv is tricky. In your dissertation, are you going to be looking at whether there is a correlation between dv and persistence, or, are you interested in looking at interventions which might mediate the impact of dv to persistence?
A couple discussants have touched on the impact of dv to memory and anxiety in the classroom. What are your views? For everybody else, do you think about memory strategies and alleviating anxiety in your classrooms? What are some ways that you try to foster positive learning experiences with your adult students?
Andres: I’m not sure. I don't even have a valid instrument to document how much of a problem domestic violence is. On the qualitative part there is already evidence that DV is a problem directly affecting persistent. I am still thinking about these questions. I am caught in trying to validate what I have or using an existing instrument not directly tied to adult education. Any ideas on existing instruments let me know.
BM: I've been quietly reading the very interesting discussion. I'm a medical anthropologist from San Francisco working in Canada. Part of my work is with women who have experienced domestic violence. My experience is that women from almost every country and ethno-racial group have experienced domestic violence. Perhaps your sample was skewed toward Hispanics some how.
Andres: It definitely was. That's who we serve. I'd be interested to do a similar survey with other populations enrolled in adult education. I have a sense that they will all have similar outcomes, but that is just my sense. There is logic and a consistency in the responses. Emotional violence prevailed; there was a lesser degree of spousal emotional abuse. And there was less physical violence. When we developed the survey in 2000, we anticipated this sort of distribution. However, to do a larger scale comparative study, I'd have to validate the instrument. If anyone is interested in trying to validate, by all means, let me know.
In the Classroom
Andres: Some have asked us what is our procedure for training teachers, talking to students, when, how, where, etc. I actually don't think that those are the best questions to ask me/us. The reason that I say this is because I have no idea of how to truly address these issues. By no means am I an expert on the subject. What I do know is that it is a prevalent problem that needs to be addressed, that we are all involved in this, and that we need to figure ways to approach the issue.
Another thing that I want to clarify is that we have a very non-traditional program. We are not funded by WIA/NRS Adult and Vocational Education money as many of you are. We get other grants. So, our ways to create spaces for students and staff will be very different.
Of course, I will share how we do things in our program. But it does not mean that our ways are either the correct ways, or the only way to do things. Everyone must find their strategies that fit their habitude, which is their particular context from their particular perspectives, dispositions and beliefs.
Unfortunately, in an era of standardization, the prevalent belief is that we can create formulas for addressing and evaluating issues. That takes the power away from educators and places the power on formulas and instruments developed by corporations. What we are essentially doing is de-training ourselves from thinking creatively and acting. We expect to get the formula from the textbook; the trainer, etc.
KO: We are a small, all volunteer literacy organization in Florida trying to include health literacy into our curriculum. The Florida Literacy Coalition has produced some excellent materials that include domestic violence information and resources. We've encouraged our tutors to use these materials as a teaching tool and I encourage them to contact me with questions/concerns.
As a domestic violence victim advocate, I've experienced well-meaning people giving bad advice or making inappropriate comments. Yes, domestic violence is a dangerous topic and educators need to use caution. But we also need to be aware of the available resources in our local community so we can appropriately refer our students.
TC: It is very easy to give "bad" advice on this issue. Some think it is easy to leave a bad situation while others believe it is easy to stay and work it out. People must make that choice themselves and that is difficult.
CM: I haven't had experience in the classroom with dv, but I have had experience with some friends over the years. My experience was that for these women, they didn't see what was happening in the relationship as abusive until it had been going on for a while because it started off as just manipulative and controlling which, in the first blush of love can easily be reframed as caring, interested, devoted, needed, etc., for someone who wants to be in love and wants to believe that they have chosen someone worthy. For my friends, I noticed that it takes a while and a lot of beating down before they start to recognize the relationship for what it is. It takes even longer and a lot of false starts before they realize that you can't "fix" these kinds of relationships and that you just need to leave in order to be safe and heal.
Do you think that talk about relationships should somehow be incorporated into the curriculum? For many of these women, the classroom may be part of an exit strategy or it may be the beginning of a consciousness about their situation. In either case, it probably would not be safe to carry these new ideas home to the partner. What are your ideas about how to safely help these Students? For the other discussion participants, how do you handle this? In your interviews, did you find variations in denial, awareness, ability to articulate?
Erika: These are great questions. In terms of how to handle the topic of dv in class, the idea is not so much to make discussions of relationships (or even the topic of dv) part of the curriculum; rather, the idea is for adult educators to be aware of the possibility that their students might be victims of dv - and many educators already have this awareness based on experience. Some research has shown that students who are victims of dv or trauma tend to be more sensitive to the learning environment and have a higher stress response to certain conditions (basically, these students are constantly operating in a 'low-level fear' mode). Certain classroom conditions, i.e. exams or having to speak in front of the class, could trigger this stress response, which in turn creates less-than-optimal conditions for learning. If teachers are aware that certain students have experienced (or may presently be experiencing) trauma, they can work to ensure that their classroom is a safe space - again, not so much for sharing about dv, but for learning generally. And teachers (should) often work to create safe spaces in the classroom anyway regardless of whether they know students are victims or not. In terms of how to safely help students who may in fact be victims, Andres may have some good ideas - but the first thing that comes to mind is for adult education programs to have a strong partnership with a local counseling program or organization to be able to easily (and confidentially) refer students.
Andres: The Center Against Family Violence defines violence as: emotional, financial, sexual and physical. So, manipulation and control are forms of violence that fall into the larger categories. Criticizing, insulting, making people feel embarrassed, putting people down, etc are all forms of emotional violence.
Financial violence has to do with restricting resources that someone may need to access desired things such as classes, going out, visiting friends, going to the doctor, etc. So, hiding car key, disconnecting the telephone or taking away the cell phone, preventing people from going to school, preventing access to transportation, money, credit cards or checking accounts may be forms of violence.
Of course, forcing partners to have sex either by physical or emotional means are examples of violence. Finally we have physical abuse. Violence that can be damaging to people does not necessarily have to leave physical scars. We know that bullying can easily lead to tremendous emotional suffering and suicide. Partner bullying is not uncommon.
One of the first things that I leaned from advocate and author, Jenny Horsman, is that violence is not a problem of the "other". We tend to normalize violence and make it someone else's problem that needs to be cured by the social worker, psychologist, etc. This is a very medical approach that creates tremendous social stigma.
In truth, since violence is such a common problem it must be because we are a society that condones violence by ignoring and even encouraging it through our social institutions? Normalizing violence doesn't mean condoning it. This means looking at ourselves and understanding how we are all involved in it and find ways to address it.
So, to answer your question, talking about family issues, relationships, etc are legitimate things that can be approached in class. This is in fact encouraged by much pedagogy from leading educators. Education is not about transmitting something in a textbook, but rather about collectively engaging in dialoguing and solving problems using language. Of course this is radically different from the transmission model encouraged by the traditional classroom models where students have to repeat what the book says in a multiple choice test. In fact, there is no evidence that I can find in the literature saying that all the standardized testing that we do leads to any learning.
Having said this, opening the door for discussions about relationships is not an easy task. The most important thing is to create the safest possible space for the educator and the students. Having access to services that can intervene in times of crisis is a first step. Other steps include listening carefully to what students bring up in class rather than the teacher bringing up topics. Once the topics emerge, teachers can lead the flow of the discussions. One of the popular ways to create safe spaces is the use of (private) journal writing and allowing the possibility of students to share if they so desire. This approach often opens the door for all kinds of sensitive issue to emerge right away. When this happens, teachers need to be ready to lead the discussion in constructive way, end the discussion if issues get to sensitive and have community support available whenever possible. This approach is not just about violence, but about health, family, schooling, legal issues, housing, finances, and anything else that students may be involved in.
Many teachers don't feel comfortable with this since it is unpredictable. They may prefer the safety of the workbook and the multiple choice tests. This is directly related to the issue of professional development.
JI: Andres, your last statement oversimplifies things in ways that I hope others will explore this week. It's not a simple matter of preference. I hope that the conversation will delve into this complex set of circumstances and possibilities. Professional development is surely part of the equation, but it's not fair to flatten avoidance of the topic to a simple issue of preference.
KN: JI, I've been thinking … about what you wrote, complex. People come to our programs with behaviors that interfere with their learning, for example: come late, have poor attendance, and spacing out are three that have been mentioned here this week. These behaviors may arise from experiences of violence, past or present, and students may disclose these experiences to us. There are some specific teaching strategies that may help such students, but some instructors "prefer" not to use them.
If a student comes in with a diagnosis of Learning Disabilities, is it legitimate for a practitioner to say, "I'm not an LD specialist, so I can't do anything for you"? If a student comes in with a physical disability is it legitimate for a practitioner to say, "I'm not a doctor or a physiotherapist, so I can't accommodate your disability in the classroom"? I'm wondering if one aspect of the issue is that students who disclose experiences of violence don't have a "documented" disability. Students with documented disabilities come in for a range of common or mandated accommodations, which leave little room for practitioners to "prefer" not to change the way they teach.
What else makes it possible for practitioners to avoid the issue of violence and learning?
CM: You bring up some valid points. Domestic violence is a dangerous issue. I read somewhere that more police are injured or killed in domestic disputes than any other way. From what I have seen, the dynamic between the victim and abuser is complicated and unstable. I read in another source that women attempt to leave an average of four times before they finally leave for good. Starting this conversation in the classroom and attempting to intervene can lead to all kinds of consequences. Instructors also have their own stories and comfort levels.
Essentially, what are the responsibilities of Educators? Is it enough to offer access to education which can provide a path out of a bad situation? If you are going to get personal, how do you draw boundaries so that you still accomplish the main goal, education?
KT: GREAT point CM. We are here to focus on educational gains. I think in the classroom if we open the door to discussions about relationships, personal safety, and domestic violence - we can be giving our students access to such powerful information. When the topics are introduced in a safe manner in the classroom - such as reading passages from women who are survivors of abuse - our students can feel as though they are not alone and can seek out resources and services. However - I do feel that, as educators, we need to have clearly defined objectives tied to the instruction and we need to make sure these objective are tied to the overall intention of the classroom.
For example, students need to learn how to read non-fiction text and read / write expository essays. This goal can be achieved when covering the topic of violence. Also - when this topic is covered, it is important for teachers to have resources from local programs and shelters to provide to women who need / seek out assistance. We can be a strong referral source.
Beyond that - how we structure our class is critical. If we are looking at the implication of violence on learning, we know the following classroom management strategies will have the strongest impact:
- Have a 'safe' area / room. Students often feel overwhelmed with everything that is going on. They need to know that if a topic gets to intense, they can 'leave'. In my classroom - we had a small library room. My students were told that they could quietly leave the room and go to the library if they felt overwhelmed. There were prepared activities / books that the student could then use. This wasn't free time to get out of class - but a way to respect their need for space.
- Have a clear agenda. - Nothing will put a student who has experienced trauma over the edge that not knowing what to expect. (Clearly defined orientations to class also fit here) Having an agenda posted on your board and following the agenda gives students a heads up on what is coming. This helps the entire learning process.
- Have clear transitions between activities - The transition time between one topic and the next can cause a great deal of anxiety. Providing closure to one activity and then introducing the next (following the agenda) really keeps students on task.
VY: It is shocking that there is so much domestic violence today - in line with the escalation of violence in so much else in their lives. I observe the families of disadvantaged people, including my students, get too many ideas of human behavior from TV, and copy it the next day at home. If we could include in TV programs how to behave in problem situations I think it would help a lot.
Andres: One thing that I share with my staff often. Domestic Violence is to many an invisible barrier that students and people in general often don't disclose. Students, both kids and adults will not likely come to school and say, "Teacher, sorry that I didn't study for the test/complete the assignment/missed class because my dad/spouse/boyfriend got drunk and beat me up".
Institutions often have policies that conflict with this issue, and teachers will often confront kids and adults, when they missed class/did not study or didn't complete an assignment. So, it is not just an issue of making accommodations to people in violent relationships. It is about to go a step further and making accommodations for the possibility that this violence exists.
KN: What makes practitioners resistant to learning and implementing appropriate responses to students who have experienced violence? What can we do to bring about a field in which everyone understands the impact of violence on learning, and takes that into account in their work with students? Those questions arise from my own experience and interest in working with practitioners for many years to raise awareness and invite people to change their practice. Perhaps this is a discussion for another time and place.
RH: Andres, you mentioned that, as one of your precautions, you discuss domestic violence in your regular staff trainings, "informing them of the various problems that we all face and to be ready to create spaces to discuss them, to make referrals and to contact their supervisors immediately if a problem emerges". Can you share with us a bit about those trainings? What information that you share in your regular staff trainings? How often do you do this training? Who all attends the trainings that include information about dealing with issues of domestic trauma- only teachers or all staff who may come in contact with students, such as registrar, office admin staff, etc.? How do you start the conversation with your staff, and what are their reactions to this type of training? Does anyone else offer staff training on how to deal with issues of domestic trauma with adult literacy students?
KT: I coordinate the GED-i project which helps learners prepare to take the GED online. In 2003, I completed my graduate degree in adult education and my research focused on Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and the implication on learning. I was very specifically looking at the issues of women and violence. During my research, I began to read the works of Jenny Horseman. (Her book - Too Scared to Learn) is one that I often recommend to new adult education instructors and administrators.
My desire to learn more about adult learners began when teaching in the adult education classroom and a student turned in an essay about an important person in her life. She wrote about her husband and the final words were, "Sometimes he beats me but I just let it pass." What a powerful statement. However - as educators, we are not therapists nor are we trained in dealing with the extreme emotional impact of violence. So what does our role become and how do we address this issue in a safe manner? (Safe meaning that the women feel secure in sharing and our teachers have access to resources to assist the women).
Andres: You are posing a question that was answered to me directly by advocate and author Jenny Horseman many years ago. We tend to look at the world from a medical stand point. That is that Domestic Violence is a problem of the "other" that must be resolved by the specialist. We are not part of it. We need to unlearn this unnatural and anti- community approach.
There is certainly space for the therapist in addressing Domestic Violence, and connecting students with service providers is one of our central roles as educators. At the same time, it is our problem too, and we are all victims of violence and responsible for it. So, from that perspective, we must act.
One of the ways to act upon this issue is to create safe spaces where we can collaboratively dialog with others about it and identify strategies to address this. Students are often willing to explore this. Some teachers will say that it is not in their job description and it will take them away from the language goals of the class. However, dialoging about social issues in verbal or written form, or by reading about the topic are all very valid ways to facilitate language acquisition. In fact, experts would argue that it is the best way.
The key word is safety both for the instructor and the student. Jenny talks about vicarious violence. That is when teachers become emotional dumpsters for student problems until they can't stand it anymore. The key is allocating time for having discussions about tough topics, doing this work with care and love, being cognizant about the risks, and relying on experts (service providers) for support, if issues get out of hand.
KT: : I agree. But here is where the role of professional development and administrative support comes in. Teachers need to develop strategies for including topics of social relevance in the class. They need to know how to make the ties between the social topics and instructional goals. Teachers also need the 'safe' place to go. They need to rely on administrators who understand the emotional toll of working with women who are victims, children who are homeless, families in despair.... Strong and effective leadership that develops processes and procedures for students and staff is one critical starting point.
NF: This is an incredible conversation and very topical and timely in my hospital's neighborhood! We often have this conundrum with nurses, child life specialists, and other professionals working with DYFS families and other families in distress. The Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) is New Jersey's child protection and child welfare agency within the Department of Children and Families. It’s mission is to ensure the safety, permanency and well-being of children and to support families.
As we all were discussing this the other day, and as KT stated, we are not therapists, or psychologists, here to handle the entire family package. Yes, we offer family-centered care, but the boundaries are pretty much just within the guidelines of helping the family help the patient heal. We often do not even have the referral option to other professionals that it seems some literacy programs do.
In addition to KT's "(Safe meaning that the women feel secure in sharing and our teachers have access to resources to assist the women)", I would also include the personal safety of the teachers, the nurses, and other professionals. I believe this is implied when we all say safety, but I would think this is a legitimate concern wherever the literacy program, or hospital program, is located. I am learning so much from being part of this discussion...thanks for hosting it! I will be sharing this with our community partners as well!
TC: Sometimes children are also "too scared to learn" from the beatings in their own homes. And they carry the unseen wounds physically and emotionally throughout life.
AW: Addressing in a safe manner: A little science, put in digestible form: effects on woman and effects on children who see or hear the language and beating. "...I just let it pass?" How about brain damage? A concussion? Life in an institution? Women and children are already damaged, how much more is too much? Yes, PTSD certainly has had that effect on me, forgetting some things I want to remember. Fortunately I have really good auditory recall. I have another question: Does anyone know a teacher who has experienced dv? Might there be special classroom insights from such a teacher?
TCH: Prior to entering the ABE field 15 years ago, I spent 11 years working with battered women and their families (starting as a children's advocate in a shelter, ending as director of a counseling/treatment program). A few thoughts:
a) as several have noted, having resources ready to be used as needed is important. Crisis lines dealing with domestic abuse are widely available, and offer trained staff/volunteers that can be very helpful. I would keep such phone numbers handy.
b) In the pressure of trying to survive each day, battered women may not be fully aware of the danger of their circumstances - and much violence occurs as women try to leave their abusers. It can be helpful to say things like, "I am very concerned for your safety. Things sound very dangerous." But, teachers are not counselors or trained advocates, so should not get overly involved in complex problem solving; they may inadvertently suggest things that can increase danger to victims (and even, in very explosive situations, to themselves).
c) Battered women are used to having their experiences minimized and denied. If one receives a disclosure, saying something like "I am so sorry this has happened. I believe you. Would you be willing to accept a phone number where you can get some help?" can be helpful. Compassion is always appropriate.
d) Battered women are used to being controlled and manipulated by their partners. Avoid telling them what to do, because they already experience this constantly (and we may well not understand the complexities of their situation, thus offering well-meaning advice can be dangerous). Affirming them and what they tell you helps reinforce their own efforts to 'find their own voices.'
LF: Thanks TCH, for describing some ways to directly respond when students disclose abuse. I found this very useful. I've had students disclose abusive situations to me in the classroom, and what I've learned is that each student and situation is different. One of the most important things has been to simply acknowledge what the student had to say. It's been difficult for me to realize that sometimes that's ALL a student wants - for me to understand why she can't get homework done, for example, or why she can't concentrate in class, or be in class consistently.
Of course, part of me wants to jump in and help "solve" the problem or "fix" things... so I also stand ready with resources and referrals. But one student told me very frankly that while she understood that her situation was physically and emotionally dangerous to her, as well as illegal, she had no intention of leaving. Another student disclosed abuse in a journal, and then invited her abuser to her graduation ceremony later in the year, which left me wondering about appropriate etiquette...!
KW: TCH's suggestion to listen and believe is a good one, and you don't need a counseling degree to do it! I am heartened to know that we are all out there working to create a safer world through education. Thanks for all your work.
KT: I often wonder if our media which often portrays violence against women as acceptable as a reason many women stay in abusive relationships. I remember a student who once told me that she knew she was in an abusive relationship, 'but isn't that the way it is for everyone?" While we know what violence is and that it is not a part of a healthy, normal, and vibrant relationship - I wonder if we have a second barrier to overcome as educators.
TCH: Much of the reason women stay in abusive situations if that they have NO where else to go and feel trapped, especially with children, limited education, and no job possibilities.
Andres: : Thanks for all the great responses. Please keep it coming. A few trends that I observed.
1. We are not always sure how to respond
2. Sometimes our instinct is to want to give advice and offer solutions. It is best not to do this.
3. It is important to create safe spaces for students and staff where a dialog can emerge. The dialog can be verbal or in print, through journals, etc.
4. Ideally we should be listening to the students. Sometimes they need someone to hear them.
5. Many students are not ready to leave their circumstances.
6. It is very important to have contacts that can intervene when necessary, such as counselors, shelters, hotlines, the police, etc.
7. A couple of you commented that violence can lead to serious injury and death. In such cases this may require immediate attention. Any comments?
KT: While these responses are extremely appropriate and useful -there is one more that I would add. It is important for the safety of the teacher to alert a supervisor that there is a battered women attending class. While respecting the privacy and dignity of a student who discloses this information - there is a larger, global issue to consider.
It is the responsibility of the administrator to ensure that all efforts to ensure the safety of the individual, peers, and staff are taken into consideration. I would like to hear from administrators about what policies, practices, and / or protocol they have in place for situations where a student has disclosed this type of info.
KO: Very good points! We stress the importance of a safety plan for victims of domestic violence but it is also important to have a safety plan for the teaching environment. Also you pointed out the often complicated issue of privacy/confidentiality.
BW: In response to KO’s encouragement of safety planning on the part of the teacher, administrator or program, I would urge program leaders to implement standard, universal safety precautions and to have a policy in place regarding appropriate response. Waiting until a disclosure is made is not a safe strategy. Many victims of domestic violence will never disclose, and their partners may be threats as well. Taking reasonable security measures all the time is wise. Of course, if there is a specific and known threat, additional measures may be needed, but I would guess that it would be best to follow written policy in order to avoid liability issues, charges of discrimination, and other issues. State anti-domestic violence coalitions may be good resources for policy guidance.
AW: I feel I should join the conversation at another level, since I disclosed my experience with domestic violence way back, right here. I don't share my experiences any more, except with people who love me, and even then I know that they "forget" as soon as possible what I have disclosed. One of my friends is a psychiatrist who works with soldiers with PTSD. One of his children has been hospitalized with a mental illness. He has a partner who has a child who fights drug addiction. A while ago I mentioned to her that I had PTSD and she was shocked, I could tell, said something like "But you're over it now, aren't you?" Well, no..... End of conversation.
Here is a current example of a difficulty I still have, it has to do with my now former dentist. A dentist I have been going to for 20 years pulled out one of my teeth. I didn't know this was going to happen, I thought there would be another procedure, and so I had a feeling of shock when he showed me the tooth. What would you have done? It turns out this was to prepare the way for a tooth implant, which is very expensive. He hadn't told me. Two months later I have switched to another 2 dentists, but it took weeks before I was strong enough to ask the original dentist for x-rays to take with me. I haven't told him I won't be coming back. He thinks it is a "second opinion." Since then I have learned a lot about medical ethics, about tooth implants, about consent forms and about bill estimates.
I am giving you this long song and dance to show you the effects on people who should know better when a dv survivor discloses, and everyday problems of trust, fear, and rage we get bogged down in. If I were in one of your classes, what would be most helpful is compassion, followed by ordinary talks with class members about how they handle difficult situations.
So, as you go about your business in the wide world, reflect that about 18% of the women you meet have experienced domestic violence. If you don't know, in your teaching, how to respond to us, then please find another line of work. (I know that there are a HUGE number of men who have been molested, but I am unsure of the numbers.)
HG: Thank you for this, AW. I have kept quiet during this discussion because I have a lot of personal triggers about this due to the fact that my stepfather abused my mother and I witnessed a good deal of it. My mother has said things such as, "I had no idea it affected you that much." Stepdad and I never discuss it. They are still together. The physical abuse has stopped, the mental and emotional abuse continues.
Your experiences bring to mind a lot of my own issues with what I view as authority of any kind. Doctors, county representatives, the admin staff of the school districts...only when my children are being threatened can I break past that. It is an important realization for me, because I could be the "authority figure" that is causing a student anxiety. Even if it's inadvertent, that's stunning for me and it speaks to the fact that I must get control of my issues before I can be an effective advocate. Thank you again.
TC: Thank you for sharing there are triggers in you.... I too have some. However there is some stuff I will not put into print. There is a book written by a former detective about abuse and I am sorry I don't know the title right this moment. He suggests there are three stages of abuse and in stage "3" someone often dies.
KT: I thought I would share where my concern stems from. Early in my teaching career I provided resources for a woman who was a victim of domestic violence. She left her partner, but continued coming to class. As she was in a safe house - the only way her partner had access to her was in my classroom. While teaching one day, he suddenly appeared in my classroom. It was a very tense situation. I learned -as my experience in education and eventually administration - that there needs to be a full level of information.
Yes - it is absolutely critical that we respect our adults and their privacy. Yet - we know when a woman begins to increase her academic ability, which -in itself- causes conflict in a violent home. There must be a plan for everyone’s safety. That plan must be shared to all staff members. As we strive to assist all of our students improve their lives - safety for everyone is a critical issue.
AW: I guess I had better weigh in here on safety. A woman in a domestic violence situation is potentially in a life threatening situation. Recognize this. Help her to make plans for getting out of a life-threatening situation, this must be done. I was in such a situation and my congregation helped me out when I needed it. Of course you must use basic administrative procedures to keep your students safe, but this should be the responsibility of EVERY teacher, anyway, every day, just add "personal safety" or whatever, to your fire drill procedures. This is the real world. Now, terminology, the women you work with are survivors, not victims, the victims are dead.
KW: In response to AW’s reminder about the importance of language – “terminology, the women you work with are survivors, not victims” – I think it’s important to recognize that language is used and claimed differently by different people. Within the Battered Women’s Movement, there’s a lot of discussion about victim vs. survivor, and I’d like to share my understanding of the different perspectives. Battered women are victims of a crime. Some people argue that shifting to survivor terminology diminishes the criminal nature of what has been done.
For some, claiming the term survivor shines a light on the many strengths and positive qualities that one must possess in order to live through domestic violence. For some, calling themselves survivors is claiming their own power and sovereignty which the perpetrators had tried to take away.
For others still, distinguishing between survivor and victim creates a sense of good vs. bad. For example, if you are still in contact with the batterer, you’re a victim; but if you leave, you’re a survivor – and it comes with the idea that making the choices that would lead you to survivor status are preferable and safer, despite your constrained ability to choose freely. There’s widespread animosity in U.S. society toward anyone perceived to be “playing the victim,” and service providers can fall into this, too, by seeing those who don’t “get over” what is happening/has happened quickly enough or in the preferred manner. Some victims of domestic violence feel pressure to become a “survivor” which usually means separate from the abusive partner. I try to use the language that the person experiencing violence prefers. For example, because AW identifies as a survivor, that is what I would call her.
AW: Well, KW, surviving so far.... and maybe that makes a real difference. I wouldn't get too hung up on the language, myself, though I take your distinctions in good spirit. I never know if I will continue to survive, as one of my persecutors is still out there. I very much live on the edge even while I have created as many secure barriers as possible. I am genuinely horrified when I hear of people who take great risks in how they run their lives. As someone once said, "What's wrong with bourgeois values?" A house that doesn't leak and is warm, income, food, and family, a circle of friends, civic participation, and cultural participation--what's not to like?
I do avoid the thinking that is in much of your post; it seems beside the point and a luxury. I really do understand the Millennium series of books by Steig Larsson, and I "get" Salendar in a visceral way. I wonder if that accounts for the huge number of books sold, perhaps their appeal to women who have experienced domestic violence. There is a terrific article and I am trying to remember where I read it, about the live-long effects of stress--low literacy was a side-effect. I'll rummage around and see if I can find it, if so, I'll give the citation.
I took your questions to another point, namely, as I see it, the difficulty practitioners have knowing how to work with people like me, and how that would make me feel if I were in their classroom-----a "get over it response" from me. In my experience, as I related, others tend to treat disclosure with horror & shock. We are ordinary; our experiences are ordinary, up to 18% ordinary. I understood your point very well, I think. First practitioners have to manage their own reactions, and I cannot manage those for them. This is before worrying about how to manage us.
KN: I couldn't agree more, AW, when you say, "Practitioners have to manage their own reactions." True in so many areas. And wouldn't it be great if they had learned to manage them in professional development outside the classroom, so they would be prepared when they met their students.
DG: I think that we also need to remember that practitioners and adult learners have many things in common. One of the commonalities is that practitioners are part of the percentage of people who have endured or currently endure domestic violence. Therefore, some of the difficulties practitioners may have stem from their own histories and backgrounds. As people have said, this is a very complex issue...
BW: Yes, this is one reason I don't disclose, I just let the topic go by and focus on areas of commonality that we have, I simply avoid because that makes the most sense. On a one to one basis I can shade what I say so that I can "manage" the reactions of the other person. TCH's comments described the understandings that he reached after 11 years working with battered women and compassion was what he came up with and that does strike just the right note, I think. The "horror" that others feel teaches us that, indeed, we are horrible. That is why I go on in my assertive way, kind of verbal arm wrestling, coming up with the word "ordinary."
I also want to say that this is a political issue--political in the wider sense of elected politics. Senator Scott Brown disclosed in his autobiography. I think he did this mainly so as to avoid an "ah ha!" moment later on in his political career when opponents troll through life histories to find pay dirt, something a candidate has withheld.
I have said a million times that teachers are not therapists. My guess is that teaching with this stance, this role, doesn't work well. Further, students need to be in a situation where they "learn" how to be in a classroom, with a teacher, with assignments or tasks. This is what a teacher does, and it gives a battered woman a chance to learn how to be a student, the behaviors that go along with being a student. Teachers can help students a great deal by simply being teachers, so students can simply be students.
Andres: I don't think that teachers are resistors of these types of issues. Rather they are systematically taught to resist by the very system that employs them. Please bear with me as I explain.
In the United States, I believe that we have a problem with education caused by the increased demands of high stakes testing, Teachers' leadership, personal involvement, pedagogical knowledge and creativity are becoming unimportant. Instead, the ability to distribute and administer worksheets increases. There is little space for teacher creativity. They are essentially becoming classroom managers with the only goal of reproducing predigested knowledge in their students' heads. The management aspect is quite demanding with forms, worksheets, handbooks, paperwork, and tremendous pressure to ensure that students are able to demonstrate good test taking skills.
Whenever teachers are asked to incorporate anything additional to their curriculum, they get frustrated. Particularly, if they are only part-time teachers as is common in adult education. Topics like health education, environmental education, domestic violence awareness, creative writing, community activities, and whole language practices are often add-ons; yet, teachers are given little knowledge on how to do it, limited preparation, etc. While, the pressure for students to perform well in the high stakes testing is tremendous and the only evaluation measurement.
In the United States, after passage of the Workforce Investment Act, and the National Reporting System, funding for adult literacy came in the form of English Literacy Civics. The implication was that programs would help students understand the requirements of citizenship, including participation in family, education, vocation, and community. This sounds very exciting, but the only way to measure student progress are standardized instruments like the BEST and the TABE. There is tremendous pressure for students to demonstrate gains, or programs stand to lose the limited funding that they have.
I often do workshops for K-12 and adult education teachers. I've asked if they ever get excited and raise their tone of voice in class, or make demands of students to do certain things, or ask their students to explain why they missed class, assignments, etc. All of them pretty much state that they do all this things at least a few times. I asked them if they ever consider that the students may be victims of violence or if in their previous years of preparation they were ever told to consider this. The response is usually "no". I explain to them that the mentioned behaviors and other aggressive talk can be overwhelmingly intimidating to people who live with domestic violence. While these teachers are concerned, they are not sure where to start or how to address domestic violence considering all of the above mentioned demands.
The Workforce Investment Act and No Child Left Behind don't care if students are survivors of violence, sick, poor, unemployed. etc. If students cannot be de-educated into thinking that the only measure of success is a score on a standardized test result, the system has failed. The rest is unimportant. Pretty Orwellian, huh? In Texas, for K-12 education we are transitioning from a high stakes test called the TAAS to a new one called the STAR. The cost of this transition is approximately $93 million to Pearson publishing. At the same time, the state is eliminating funding for most social services and cutting funding for all education programs. And, they are adding a new caveat. 50% of the student’s grades will depend on performance in these tests.
Our program has not been dependent of Workforce Investment Act funds. Aside from students passing the GED, what we do in the classroom is up to us. While the GED is a high stakes test, teachers have plenty of classroom time and yearly time to prepare students. So, the teachers are not under constant pressure to perform for a high stakes test. Domestic violence, health, creative writing, community issues, etc., are important components of our instruction and teachers don't resist. We devote tons of time to professional development including 2 hour a week of teachers getting together to share classroom issues and their own practices. I agree with you that doing this sort of thing is essential to teacher prep. But it is a luxury that most programs don't have. Sorry for the rant, I guess that I got carried away. But I strongly feel that the educational system is limiting our ability to address important issues more and more.
KN: I was happy to see your "rant," Andres. Thanks for the details about the situation in the US. Things have been going in a similar direction here in Canada, but not so far or so fast, and more or less depending on which part of the country you're in. I too worry about the dumbing down of instructor's jobs, and the systematic way the emphasis on tested-for outcomes strips us of our ability to do what we know needs to be done for our students.
CG: Thank you for a wonderful discussion so far. I've learned a great deal. One question I have is regarding dv and men. This discussion has seemed to focus on women's experiences, but I know that men can also be subject to dv. Have you surveyed any men or gathered this information in any other way?
Andres: We want to thank everyone for the vibrant discussion this week on domestic violence in adult education. This is a very complex issue, one that affects all stakeholders in adult education, and it was helpful to hear a variety of perspectives expressed on the topic.
As a quick recap, these are some of the key themes that emerged throughout the week:
* We are not always sure how to respond. While sometimes our instinct is to want to give advice and offer solutions, it's best not to do this;
* It is important to create safe spaces for students and staff where dialogue can emerge. The dialogue can be verbal or in print, through journals, etc.; ideally we should be listening to the students. Sometimes they need someone to hear them;
* Many students are not ready to leave their circumstances;
* It is very important to have contacts that can intervene when necessary, such as counselors, shelters, hotlines, etc.;
* A couple of you commented that violence can lead to serious injury and death. In such cases this may require immediate attention.
* Disclosing is a difficult thing and there may be many reasons for students not to disclose;
* There was a focus on the research aspect of the study, i.e., how effective the survey was, how applicable it can be to other groups, how students responded/would respond to this type of surveys;
* There was an interesting discussion relating to teachers having difficulty acknowledging the problem and/or addressing it (resistance to change);
* Several participants stated that dv is a crime and therefore there must be interventions to prevent people from getting seriously injured or killed. However, disclosure issues and confidentiality issues blur the lines between our duty to try to prevent violence and our need to respect the confidentiality of others;
* the issue of men as survivors of domestic violence emerged.
The above recap shows a multi-faceted discussion that touched on research, classroom practice, and personal and professional experiences. We want to thank you for your forthrightness and engagement in this important issue and we hope that this conversation continues.
All the best,
Andres & Erika
Andres: The following is a list of student anecdotes. I use to collect these but have not done this for a while. However, I thought that this was relevant since many of the anecdotes are about students dealing with violence. The way I collected them is that I asked each instructor to tell me about two stories of significance that they remember from their classes every semester. I collected these between 2001 and 2005:
- One student had not earned her elementary certification. She enrolled in our program but her children were against it and requested that she stay at home. After a semester her children noticed her academic improvements and that she is now able to help them with their homework. The children now support her decision to attend GED classes.
- One of our students has taken the GED exam but has yet to pass her math portion. She is attending math tutoring so that she can re-test. She has reported that her self-esteem has improved considerably as a result of attending this program. She is currently enrolled full-time in credit courses at El Paso Community College and she is also working at a day-care. She wants to become a teacher. She has said that because of the classes she has discovered that she is an intelligent woman and has the potential of becoming a good teacher. She wants to work at an elementary school, teaching classes to "children of her community"
- One student was being physically abused by her spouse and verbally abused by her mother-in-law and her children. She was very shy and would not communicate in class and was always looking down. One day, after much effort, she opened up to the Promotora. The Promotora invited representatives of the Shelter for Battered Women and the Violence against Women Action program to speak with her. She refused services from both programs. Finally, a program called Familias Fuertes that offers group family counseling made a presentation in her class. All the students in the class decided to join counseling sessions, as a strategy to get the abused student to go to counseling. The whole class attended counseling including the popular Educator, and so did some of some of the students own relatives, including the husband of the abused student. Those students who complete a certain number of counseling sessions with this program receive a certificate of completion. The entire class completed the counseling sessions and received the certificate of completion. In addition the entire class took the GED exams together. The abused student has reported that her family situation has improved considerably.
- One of the students enrolled in our program was battered by her husband and he forbade her from attending our classes. She moved to Phoenix with her children to escape her husband. She recently returned to El Paso and re-enrolled in our program.
- One student who enrolled reported that she wants to learn because her children are attending elementary school, and she is embarrassed that they know more than she does and they make fun of her.
- The husband of one of our students was against her going to school. He would tell her that she would not learn anything. He left her and moved to Mexico and told her that he wouldn't come back unless she quit school. She did not quit school. After a month he came back and started to physically batter her, but she kept attending classes. She took her GED exam and passed four out of five tests. When he saw her results he tried to strangle her. He was arrested and is currently in jail. She returned for additional tutoring and will re-test soon. She plans to enroll in college.
- An undocumented migrant worker with a fifth grade education from Mexico was an excellent student in our program. She took all her GED tests and had very high scores. As soon as she obtained her GED certificate, she enrolled in a continuing education intensive ESL program and is currently in level nine of that program. She is also studying computers in the evenings. Because she is still undocumented, she cannot qualify for financial aid to go to college. She is paying for her ESL and computer classes out of her own pocket. She has stated that after getting her GED certificate it became impossible for her to stop attending school.
- One of the top students in one class was violently physically and sexually assaulted by her spouse before taking her GED tests. As a result of the battery, she was not able to pass her exams. However, she has decided to take the exams again. She currently makes flower arrangements and repairs cars to earn a living.
- A student with a fourth grade education would come to class with her child. Her child would distract her consistently and she could not concentrate. The whole class took turns to help her with her child so that she could focus on her studies. She took her GED exam and earned her certificate. Her child is enrolled in Head Start and she works there as a volunteer while she waits for a work permit. She has been offered a job with Head Start as soon as she receives her work permit.
- A student's trailer home was burned to the ground with everything she owned soon after she took her GED exam. She was hospitalized for smoke inhalation. Her daughter who lives in Dallas, Texas, took her back to Dallas and we lost contact with the student. The student recently contacted us to tell us that she had earned her GED certificate.
- In one class two women had the same first and last name. They were both named Maria. To distinguish them, one was nicknamed Maria de la Cebolla (onion). The reason for this is that she would come to class for a while and half way through the class she would announce that she had to leave to go to the field to pick onions. She would take her books to the field and would study during breaks. She has obtained her GED certificate.
- An older and very dedicated man who attended our classes would promote our program to other farm workers in the fields. The contractors got mad at him and told him not to promote our program because their laborers would leave to study for the GED. The man has obtained his GED certificate.
- Our oldest student, a 77-year-old woman has obtained her GED certificate.
- A 75-year-old student obtained her GED certificate. Soon after she announced that she would be getting married, through the church, to her common law spouse.
- A young student with a new born child was being harassed by her ex-boyfriend and the father of the child. He was threatening the student with taking her child away. The student was very distressed and was performing poorly in her classes. The Promotora referred the student to "Familias Fuertes", a free counseling program. Counselors talked to her and to her ex-boyfriend. Since then, the student has reported that her ex-boyfriend is not harassing her anymore, and she has been doing very well in her classes.
- A homeless student with very low self-esteem enrolled in our program. Since she enrolled, she earned her GED certificate, her cosmetology license, she has found employment, and she is getting assistance to purchase a home.
- A troubled youth from an alternative school was referred to our program and was placed in one of our classes with mostly adults. At first, he could not relate to the other adults and had a hard time adapting to the class. Presently, he claims to have acquired a new respect for adults and especially his mother.
- A woman working in cleaning was asked, together with her other co-workers, to do some overtime work. She refused since she was attending GED classes. Her employer told her that if she passed her GED, she would get promoted. She is currently working as an accounting assistant for the same employer.
- Many GED graduates from Fort Hancock have requested employment as teachers' aids upon completion of their GED tests. They do not speak English well or at all, a requirement to work with the school district. The school superintendent began to offer free ESL classes to GED graduates so that they can work for the district.
- A student reported that since she started attending GED classes she reads and understands store receipts. On a recent visit to the grocery store, she noticed that she was overcharged for an item and she requested a refund.
- Several GED graduates from previous years are currently enrolled in credit classes at EPCC. Some of them are volunteering as tutors for MAP.
- A student was admitted to college under the Noriega Bill.
- A student who had an alcoholic spouse learned about AA and Alanon in class. They are both attending counseling.
- A student learned about the Shelter for Battered Women in class. She referred her cousin who was being abused by her spouse. The cousin is receiving counseling.
- A student wanted to bring her elderly and ill mother who lived in Chihuahua to live with her in El Paso. With help from her instructor, she got her mom a visa to come to the United States and a wheelchair from another agency. Her mom passed away right before they made the trip to El Paso.
- A young student had been travelling with her parents around the country following the harvests, and was unable to find a place to study for her GED and complete it. She enrolled in our program (in Spanish) and her parents decided to stay in El Paso so that she could earn her GED certificate, which she did within three months.
- A student who worked in the fields with her husband learned about our GED program through her daughter's elementary school. She enrolled in our program against her husband's will. Even though she had only gone to school through the 5th, grade she took the GED and obtained 211 points. While she has not passed all five exams, she is still attending classes.
- An 18-year-old student with two children who was living in the Shelter for Battered Women earned her GED in our program. Because of a problem in her eye we referred her to an eye specialist. Unfortunately, she lost her eyesight in one eye but she continues to attend ESL classes. She is currently living with her 42-year-old husband who continues to abuse her.
- A student had been secretly attending classes since her husband opposed her going to school. On a Saturday in which she was scheduled to test for the GED her husband wanted her to go to the fields with him. She had to tell her husband the truth and he drove her to take the test. However, he told her that she couldn't study anymore and he hid her car keys. She is waiting for the results and hoping to have passed since it will be harder to continue to attend classes.
- On another site, a student didn't want to go to school, but her husband forced her. She took her GED test but didn't pass all the exams. She got a job and quit attending classes. Her husband made her quit her job to return to school.
- The communities that are furthest from the City of El Paso lack social and educational services. When a rural community is located between two larger communities, people have to go to different communities for services. They may receive health services from one and social services from the other.
- In the rural areas, the public schools lack resources and there is a lot of abuse towards the children by other children, or by staff. There are virtually no counselors and there are no systems in place to explore or address these problems. Parents share their problems in our classes and learn about how to address issues in our classes. Parents reported to their HEP teacher about a bully in a school. The teacher advised them as to how to proceed and the parents met with the principal, who addressed the problem.
- One student had been working as a substitute cook at a school cafeteria. After earning her GED certificate she applied for a teacher's aide position. To her surprise, she has been given the position at Head Start with the condition that she attends school and pursues an associate's degree in education. She is currently working and will start college next semester.
- After earning her GED, a student applied for a VISTA volunteer position with Texas A&M University. Her job was to tutor kids attending the EPCC Gear Up program. She was doing such good work that the director of Gear Up offered her employment in the program. She continues to tutor children, not as a VISTA volunteer, but as a Gear-Up employee.
- A man enrolled in our program after working for 8 years in the cotton fields in Anthony Texas. After two semesters, he earned his GED certificate. Upon earning his GED he started his own construction company.
- Three sisters with young children stopped working in the fields to attend our program One earned her certificate a semester ago and is currently enrolled in credit classes at EPCC. Another sister obtained her GED the following semester and started EPCC in January. One sister has not been able to earn her certificate yet, but she remains enrolled in classes.
- A student in our program appeared very eager to learn and volunteered for just about everything. However, he always seemed to ignore the instructor and other students in the class. The instructor realized that the student was hard of hearing and that he would manage somewhat by reading lips. The student was referred to the Texas Rehabilitation Commission. The student was diagnosed and got hearing aids for both ears. The student earned his GED certificate and transitioned to credit classes at EPCC.
- A student reported that since she started attending the program she has been able to assist her daughter with math homework. She used to tell her daughter to ask someone else for help, but now she doesn't anymore. She reported that her daughter made A-B honor roll.
- A student reported to have a friend that was afraid to have AIDS. The student passed the information that she received in our program to her friend and went with her friend to the county hospital to get counseling and assistance.
- A student who was pregnant attended classes until the day she delivered. She returned to classes two weeks later with baby in hand. She earned her GED certificate and enrolled in college.
- Two sisters who earned her GED reported that they went to a factory to look for a job. Since they had their GEDs, they were hired as supervisors and are earning more than the other workers.
- A few months ago, one of our Lead Facilitator went to a newly constructed public housing site called "Tio Cooper", designated exclusively for migrant families, to open a GED class. The manager of the building told our facilitator not to bother because "these residents" are lazy and don't want to improve. Since our facilitator insisted, the manager made a room available for a class. The class has been a total success. Four students earned their certificates and several others will earn one soon. The manager of the building is very impressed and her attitude towards the residents has changed considerably.
- The parents of a student lost their home in a fire and suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns. The mother died. The students in the class donated money and supplies and organized a sidewalk sale to raise funds for the student to help her pay for the funeral and other expenses.
- A student suffering stomach cancer had to go to Houston, TX for surgery. She took her book to study in the hospital. When she returned, she took her tests and earned her GED certificate.
- A student who has been suffering from domestic abuse for several years finally earned her GED.
- A student has vision problems and is waiting to have surgery in her retina. She attends class and covers one eye with her hand to read and write. She is currently taking her GED tests.
- A migrant student couldn't go to the fields regularly because of illness and she was having economic hardship. The other students offered suggestions to help her. One student offered her house to teach the other students how to make cakes. All the students attended a baking class and the student with financial problems is now making cakes and selling them door to door. All the students learn how to make cheesecake at a 60% savings from the supermarket cost.
- A student with only second grade education in Mexico earned her GED after 2 years of attending class. She did this while working in the fields 10 hours a day. When she enrolled in the program she said that she had a 6 grade education because she was embarrassed of her low educational achievement and thought that she wouldn't be accepted into the program. She told us the truth several months after enrolling. She has published a story in a book called "Memorias del Silencio/Footprints of the Borderland".
- A migrant student has worked in the fields for many years. Her parents and grandparents are farm workers, and so is her husband. She only had a 6th grade education when she started and earned her GED certificate within 8 months. Presently, she is a volunteer tutor, and the El Paso Times of July 15th 2005 published a front page article relating her story as a migrant worker, as a student, as a volunteer and as a model citizen.
- A student from a small rural town of Alcala was attending a class at Fort Hancock, a rural colonia. She has 5 children and had four part time jobs. She worked in the cotton and onion fields and started very early, because she needed to get her kids ready for school, and she had another job helping children cross at a school. After this, she worked cleaning a house and ironing clothes. Then she rushed back to the school to work helping children cross. After 5:00 p.m., she cleaned classrooms at Fort Hancock elementary. When she was attending the program, her two oldest children would go to clean the classrooms while she attended class for an hour and a half. Once she was out of class, she would go and finish cleaning the classrooms while her children did homework. After this, they would go home together. The drive back to Alcala was on a very dark and desolated road. Two of her children are now enrolled in college and she is attending weekend classes at EPCC.
- A student found that she had very high glucose during a diabetes workshop and went to the health clinic where they found high sugar, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. During another workshop she also learned of a program that offered her low cost insurance benefits. The student's health slowly improved and so did her performance in class. She earned her GED and found employment at a factory. She is currently attending college.
- A student came to the US to obtain any job to help her mom financially. She lives with her aunt that helped him find work in the fields. He started attending GED classes and earned his GED. Then he started volunteering as a tutor. He is currently working part time as a GED educator.
If anyone is looking for resources or more information on Domestic Violence, I recommend the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, located online at The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
It can be challenging to figure out how to respond to disclosures of abuse, and it can be hard to understand the choices that victims of domestic violence make, especially if it seems to perpetuate or increase the danger they face. I have found this document helpful in
understanding the choice that some victims make to stay with partners who use violence. It was created by Jill Davies, an attorney at Legal Aid in Hartford, CT:
The Florida Literacy Coalition has developed excellent resource-Women’s Health-and pages 27-29 deal with domestic violence and list resources. http://www.floridaliteracy.org/books/WomensHealthSE.pdf
Lamb, Wally (2003). Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution (Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters). NY,NY: Harper Collins. ISBN-10: 9780060595371 and ISBN-13: 978-0060595371
The essays in this book were written by women who have felt the impact of domestic violence. Their stories are powerful and can lead to great discussions and inspiration. While the women in this book are all incarcerated - their stories definitely resonate with our students. I added this to my classroom library and couldn't keep it on the shelf.
Horseman, J. (April 1, 2000). Too Scared To Learn: Women, Violence, and Education. New York, New York: Routledge ISBN-10: 9780805836592 ISBN-13: 978-0805836592
Too Scared to Learn explores the impact of women's experiences of violence on their learning, and proposes radical changes to educational programs through connecting therapeutic and educational discourses. Little attention has previously been paid to the impact of violence on learning.
A large percentage of women who come to adult literacy programs have experienced, or are currently experiencing, violence in their lives. This experience of violence negatively affects their ability to improve their literacy skills. Literacy programs and other educational programs have not integrated this reality into their work.
This book builds on extensive research that revealed the wide range of impacts violence has on adult literacy learning. Interviews with counselors and therapists, literacy learners, and educators working in different situations, and a wide range of theoretical and experiential literature, form the basis of the analysis. Educators are offered information to support reconceptualizing programs and practices and making concrete changes that will enable women to learn more effectively. The book makes clear that without an acknowledgment of the impact of violence on learning, women, rather than getting a chance to succeed and improve their literacy skills, get only a chance to fail, confirming to themselves that they really cannot learn.
Essential reading for literacy and adult education practitioners, teachers of English as a second language, and education theorists, Too Scared to Learn explores the intersection among trauma, psychological theory, and pedagogy. The book is filled with a wealth of practical ideas, possibilities, and thoughts about what practitioners might do differently in classrooms and educational institutions if we begin to think differently about violence.