Raising My Voice

Wow did I have a lot of thoughts on the first few readings for the course—far more than I anticipated, even knowing how likely it was that I’d totally nerd out over the content. Not counting massage school or the other course I’m currently enrolled in, this is my fourth attempt at formal adult learning since I graduated from college, yet the first course in which I feel at home. Thanks, UMass Boston (and Christin)! It feels good to be back.

It’s hard to even know where to start. I was very happy to see that “lack of voice” (with regard to women who shy away from adult learning) and other gender-related issues along with race, socioeconomic status, and the values enforced by one’s family of origin were all addressed in the readings—all factors have a significant impact on whether a person chooses to participate in adult learning or not. Education plays a huge role in so many social justice issues, both in the U.S. and around the world, and I feel that it cannot be overemphasized how important education is in improving one’s quality of life—not only in terms of creating job opportunities, but with regard to nutrition and healthcare, advocating for oneself when facing legal problems, and so on. That said, I found myself literally pumping my fist in the air and shouting “YES!” when reading the sections of the Merriam & Caffarella chapter that pointed out how “elitist and exclusionary” adult education is, and how it reinforces the (white, male, middle-to-upper-class, urban) status quo. Indeed, the assumption that all adults should pursue the highest possible level of education readily available to them is… well, elitist and exclusionary. Is it really so bad to be perfectly at peace with a blue-collar job and a high school diploma? Why do we assume the “individual deficit stance” when thinking about this group, as if there is no other reason for lack of participation than a lack of intelligence?

On a more immediate and personal level, all of this got me thinking about my own experience growing up in the K–12 setting, throughout college, and leading up to this moment in my learning trajectory. As a kid it never crossed my mind that not going to college was an option, nor did I consider taking any classes that weren’t the most challenging—that is, as someone who had been labeled “academically gifted,” I would have been a traitor to everyone around me had I chosen to take the “normal” learning path. However, in my southern, suburban, public school setting, I received quite a lot of mixed messages on what those “academically gifted” classes actually meant. Academic rigor and commitment were expected, but creativity and independence were discouraged. Speaking up too often or too confidently led to derision from my classmates and irritation from my teachers (something that, from where I stood, seemed heavily influenced by gender norms). My struggles in math and science not only crushed my idea of myself as being smart, but also reinforced the consistent message in the culture of my hometown (and the south in general) that girls shouldn’t (couldn’t?) get too involved in those subjects. I found myself losing my voice, losing my confidence and my self-expression, and shying away from anything that felt like it was too hard—much to my detriment, as the struggle continued when I went to college and proceeded to aggressively avoid anything that might challenge me. All this served to dramatically slow the process of figuring out What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.

And so here I am, a 32-year-old “adult learner” who doesn’t feel much like an adult, who panics at the first sign of potential failure, who is still sorting out whether she is meeting other people’s expectations or her own… and who will be trying desperately over the course of this term to figure out what any of this means for the field of Instructional Design and her place within it. I just hope all y’all reading this don’t get too burned out on my verbosity. (Good luck!)