"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, March 31, 2014

Narratives, which are “fact” and which are “fiction”?

In the beginning section of Michelson’s article, “If the Self Is a Text, What Genre Is It? Structure and Ideology in Narratives of Adult Learning,” there are two statements that caught my attention:

  “life histories produced by adult learners in our classrooms are, in important senses, fictions (Michelson,  2011). That is, the narratives that students produce, however much they originate in real events, are multiply overdetermined (having more than one determining psychological factor) by the structural and ideological frames within which they are encouraged to write.” [page 200]

Brookfield (2000), in turn, argues that ‘narratives of critical analysis in which people experience contradictions, are visited by revelations, get better, and come to fuller self-knowledge are necessary palliatives but essentially false” [page 202]

In my analysis of the article, these two statements (and others) formed the foundation for Michelson’s critique of the “Bildungsroman,” a type of writing sometimes referred to as a “coming-of-age” story.  But my question is this – who determines what is “fiction” or what is “false” in someone’s life story?

For example, in the novel “Push” by Sapphire, Precious takes her file (the social worker’s narrative of her life) from the social worker’s cabinet and reads it.  In the file, the narrative of Precious' life is very negative.  She chooses to de-emphasize her accomplishments, e.g. winning the mayor’s achievement award, focuses on Precious’s low TABE test scores, and bemoans the time and resources it would take for Precious to earn a GED or get into college.  The social worker summarizes that Precious would be better off entering a one of several workfare programs (perhaps becoming a home attendant) and believes Precious “seems to envision social services, AFDC, as taking care of her forever."

On the other hand, not only does Precious vigorously challenge the social worker’s assessment  with her statement “I'm getting my G.E.D., a job, and a place for me and Abdul, then I go to college,” but her journal is full of positive affirmations about doing well for herself and her children.

Both narratives, the social worker’s official report and Precious’s journal, are based on real events or facts, but who is to say which narrative is “fact” and which one is “fiction”?

1 comment:

  1. Ah, Bob, right on! I cant wait for you to present this to Elan tomorrow evening! As I noted below in Rachel's post, Michelson's article (which is quite aligned with Derrida's deconstruction) seems to fly in the face of the "genuine" benefits of literacy learners' autobiographical writing. And who is Brookfield to dismiss them as palliatives and 'essentially false'!! So I want Elana to help us with this, because, in my estimation, Precious IS demonstrating self-authorship at its best. And her narrative has a teleology--i.e. an arc towards growth. On the other hand, as Rachel pointed out, Precious' narrative is not David Copperfield--the world does not "finally" recognize her and affirm her as a self-contained indivifual. She is affirmed (to the extent she is) through her collective of friends and Ms. Rain, not on her own. And she doesn't seem to have a "split" protagonist--the kind that has a "lost" past seld and a "found" present self. She is as confused and determined in her telling self as she was in her past self. So...I see Ms. rain as not subjecting Precious to the Bildungsroman mold, but allows her fears and despair into the present writing....But we'll see what Elana has to say. Thanks for echoing my feelings about all this!


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