"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Monday, January 28, 2013

Resistance-positive or negative?

Many would argue that when the word resistance is spoken or associated with a topic, the audience almost immediately begins to assume a negative context.   To resist, after all, is to express opposition through action or words.  But is resistance to a process or request, especially in the workplace, truly someones unwillingness to comply?  Or can it also be an opportunity for process improvement?  I reflect first on a personal story that was shared during Adult Learning last semester by our own Dr. Muth.  If memory serves, he had set about the task of assisting a particular adult student to learn to read and write. Beginning with processes that had worked for him in the past, he was challenged this time with consistent resistance from the student.  The student was not interested in learning as it was presented, and had no issue voicing his opposition at each attempt.  Dr. Muth at a point took a final step back and approached the student instead with a question: "tell me what you want to write and/or read about".   From that point on, tried and true processes and approaches were not forgotten or set aside, but instead adapted to meet the needs of the individual learner.  A learner that found his educational way by finally letting go of his resistance and instead investing himself in learning lead by his own voice.

Considering this approach, I found myself aggressively underling sections while taking in the first chapter of Reading Work.  In several places I noted resistance that was prevalent and yet those in supervisory positions often sought to criticize (sometimes publicly) and punish as opposed to really seeking to understand.  So much seemed to lie within the workers' accounts as to WHY they didn't feel they needed to comply.  Perspectives that even seemed to lend genuine reasons that the processes could be reviewed and/or improved to meet the needs of both parties.  Perspectives, it seems, that were often ignored.

As educators, do we really seek to ask someone to conform to the norm?  Or do we instead seek to help them understand and build upon their own perspectives and knowledge?  Resistance can be frustrating, especially when the need will not go away.  But considering the why behind the resistance at times can help to effectively overcome it.


  1. I like the Wolfram Alpha dictionary, Holly. One of the definitions of resistance is to "elude, especially in a baffling way." Seems like that's a good way to describe this process: moving toward the baffling, not away from it!

  2. I've started thinking about my project and the use of 'resistance'. I'm not sure if the resistance will come from the person taking the training or the person/entity the training is for. I'm not thinking of resistance as one entity opposing another, but more as the resistance to training itself. When it comes to the computer, a lot of people don't think they need training after a certain point. When I teach a level 2 course, I always start with questions from a level 1 course to show students that there is more to the software than they think they know up to that point.


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.