"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.).

Friday, April 5, 2013

Personal Narratives

The posts over the last week or so have been very reflective and have helped me to not only think about our readings, but “see” my classmates. Parts of my own narrative keep pushing to the surface (I keep pushing them back down). Anytime one is pushed to examine theory in light of experience things get stirred up. Then the quotes Susan added this week intensified my own reflective mood.  So, please indulge me a bit of my own narrative – my reflection on my road to becoming an “expert learner.”

Expert learner is a term I picked up some time back, I can’t tell you where, but it stuck with me. I thought “ah” that is me. Often when asked about my “area of scholarship” I fumble. But this term has allowed me to express exactly what I do – I learn – expertly.  Before you judge that statement, let me frame it for you.

Change was the only constant of my childhood. I am the oldest of six on my mother’s side. At age seventeen I found I had a few more siblings by my father.  The final count was 10 half-siblings (5 on each side) and 2 step sisters. This gives a peek into lack of stability and the need to constantly adapt to surrounding environments. The thing that has had the most impact, though, was my erratic school attendance. Until age 13, I never attended a single school more than a few months. We moved a lot. I can remember once not attending school at all for two months – around age 11. I loved school. It was the most dependable thing in my life. I worked hard to adapt to every new environment- new teacher and expectations. I was a straight A student. And I was a chameleon, taking on the environment, surveying, adapting, honing in on what needed to be learned quickly in order to survive. 

My younger siblings did not fare so well to the constant upheaval, except for one younger sister and I would consider her an “expert learner” too.  At age 15, I entered foster care and learned that system. Out of the system and on my own at 17, I tried, unsuccessfully, to return to the 11th grade – 3 times in that year. It is hard to reconcile making a living with going to school. At 18, I entered a two-week GED prep program, obtained my GED and the rest is history, so to speak.  
I look back and wonder how things might have been different, sometimes. But I don’t stay there long; I have gained certain abilities that serve me well. I am an expert learner. I can learn anything I have the desire to learn. I am experiencing a certain rest these days, realizing I don’t have to “prove” that anymore. I like that.
I have seen a couple of commercials recently where two chameleons are trying to decide which color of paint to choose. The female changes color with each swatch she steps on and I smile to myself, thinking back.  (My subtitle for this post was going to something like “the chameleon qualities of the expert learner” but I resisted.) 

“Constant problematizing of their existential situations,” embodied learning, tacit learning, naming and framing the world, temporality… agency. I have the T-shirt.

Thanks for reading, Susan.



  1. Susan, your post brought tears to my eyes. My favorite words were, "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn." Would you consider sharing this as a literacy quote for the blog banner? Thank you from "the other Susan."

  2. Thank you for sharing this narrative with us. I greatly respect what you have achieved. You are a walking success story and I am honored to know that you have shared with us.

  3. Susan:

    I really liked your post. I can't identify with all of your history, but we share some similarities. When I first met with Dr. Hurst, she told me there was a name for people like us. They're called "Lifelong Learners". It was a lightbulb, an 'a-ha', a reasurrance, that we're not alone, we're not strange, and we have a good quality. I have a great deal of respect for you. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Joyce M.

  4. A wonderful reflection, Susan. Did you ever read Jeannette Wall's The Glass Castle? I'm sure there are vast differences between your two biographies (how could there not be?), but at least a few similarities--especially the "migratory" nature of your childhoods and love for school. (Like Joyce, I cannot know your experience, but do relate to the idea of school being "the most dependable thing in my life." This is true for me today as well...an anchor for those times of family loss and illness, and even during fleeing moments of doubt and insecurity. Why are books on a shelf so comforting????

    BTW, I recognize the quote “Constant problematizing of their existential situations,” from Freire, and have the article in digital form if anyone is interested. Weirdly, our Critical Discussions Group just read that paper last week and that particular quote was profoundly helpful for me, as I seek ways to connect my love of existentialism (phenomenology) with critical theory. So, how eerie is it that you randomly (?) decided to plunk that down in the blog this week???
    PS: Given your lifelong passion for learning, I do hope you will consider taking ALDT 601 Adult Learning and Development in the fall.One of the assignments is writing an educational biography...


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