"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.).

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Embodied Learning

I found the article by Christine Woodcock linking "ways of knowing" for me. Embodied knowing is something I have experienced in feminist ideology and theory. The discussion is often concerned with how the Western dominant paradigm of knowledge is constructed as privileging the mind as the sole source of human learning and experience. (Postmodern analysis also takes on how knowledge is constructed and shared.)  Woodcock, however, linked these concepts to literacy events for me and brought my awareness to how we make sense of everyday practices to a deeper level.  There are many "texts" in the world that are hidden and I would venture that many of them are hidden and remain hidden because of how they are connected to the body. Despite our "enlightenment" and tendency to think "clinically" about the body, we still prefer to skim lightly across the surface of its way of knowing.

Why is this? Right now I have a couple of thoughts on this based on this week's readings. One of the questions we were asked to consider concerned the "power of literacy" and whether by looking at literacy through praxis, art and other less traditional means, we were going too far. To peel back the layers of meaning when I am studying something, I frequently pull out my huge Oxford Dictionary. I am fascinated by words and love to tease out nuances of meaning by "rewording" something I am reading by inserting the thematic word from the dictionary in place of the word in question. In this instance, "the power of literacy" became "the power of competency."

Back to Woodcock, who argues that there is a disregard for personhood in literacy practices, and that the body must "be treated as invested with personal meaning, history, and value that are ultimately determinable only by the subject who lives within it."  I would argue that literacy (competency) is an individualized phenomenon and that being literate within a situated discourse/text means making meaning of that situation that allows one to grow, to learn, and even to overcome.  This brings me to Precious Jones. Precious had to go beyond learning ABCs and how to form letters on a page - how to read. She had to 'make sense' of what her embodied experience had taught her. The dialogue of her struggle - recorded through her journals and poetry - allowed her the space, and the method, to become 'literate.'  However, the process was exceedingly difficult for her, difficult for her teacher and others in the class. It was also difficult for us. Why do we skim over embodied ways of learning? They are just hard, and we feel out of control of the learning environment. We don't know how things will turn out. The only way out is through. Ironically, that is also an embodied learning experience, the birth process.

Is literacy all things to all people? I would argue that literacy is a highly individualized construct and that is the common thread in these readings. Moreover, the ability to make sense out of our embodied experiences leads to competency, and that is something we all desire. Embodied learning then, can empower competency.  


  1. I love your reword - "the power of competency" - certainly we can all relate to the feeling of not being competent in something, often much easier than to the struggles of illiteracy. This is a great way to think about that embodied learning because lack of competency is certainly personal, and often has to do with a physical inability to do or to comprehend something - but also by learning, as you said, we become increasingly competent.

  2. This may or may not be the place to bring it up, but the word feminist can be misleading. I have three daughters. All of them could be considered feminists by the 'literal' definition of the word, but if you were to tell them they were feminists, they wouldn't really understand. Our daughters are fortunate in that they don't really know any other way to be. Woodcock's article is interesting in that she looked for how women referred to their bodies in their writing. It's not something I've ever noticed in reading female writings. Is this something one should 'look for' if a feminist perspective is desired?


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