I decided to blog about the Worthman (2008) article I shared with the class because, as I wrote in the discussion guide, the content is personal to me: I saw myself in both of the ESOL-teacher study participants. In addition, I can’t resist the opportunity to discuss adult education classrooms as a “site of struggle” and a place where “identity templates” are created. Have I mentioned that I study identity issues (smile)?
At this point, I’m not sure which way I’m going with my identity research, but I have an intense interest in two broad areas: a) the classroom as a site of literacy practice (a ‘site of struggle’), and b) ESOL curricula that aim to domesticate and/or Other language learners (creating those ‘identity templates’). For me, something that connects identity in these two areas—classroom and curricula—is the concept of belonging. At the heart of adult education-ESOL is the learner’s desire to belong to a community of English speakers. This desire to belong, and the process of creating an English speaking way of being, is what I seek to study. So, my blog post today about Worthman’s ‘empowerment and emancipation’ article (EE) is written through my identity-belonging lens.
Firstly, EE has us conceptualize power in a Foucault framework of force that “installs itself” through a dominant discourse. This is different than the notion of ‘power as capital’ that I have been writing about in other discussion guides. I am humbled by how much I need to learn about the works of these scholars. Nevertheless, I understand the dominant discourse to be both the discourse in which the learner seeks to belong (a secondary discourse for her) and the discourse that positions her as Other, de-valuing her knowledge and her language, subsuming her into the monological discourse of English-speaking ‘America’.
EE has us look at the adult education-ESOL classroom as a site of struggle, where this Foucaultian power is felt by the learner as she learns how to be in a secondary discourse, the monological—one and only—discourse of her new culture. Power is delivered through this one discourse in a way that disciplines andmolds her into an ‘identity template’ of a ‘model citizen.’ Wow, I didn’t know all of this heavy stuff was going on. It sounds like the ESOL classroom is a site of medieval torture! Where am I, as teacher, in this gruesome scenario?
EE profiles two ESOL-teacher study participants, either of which could be found in a typical adult education ESOL program in our state. Both seek to teach adult learners the skills necessary to belong; however, one is using a method that 'molds' and 'disciplines', the other is using a method that ignores the mold.
I realize I have set a tone that molding and discipline are somehow 'torture,' and that we should aim to defy this monological power, but I have also learned that we cannot assume an awareness of or desire to defy it on the part of learners. On a more theoretical level, I argue that making the assumption that learners have a desire or will to defy the power that is, is acting as an agent of a different discourse, a counter- and critical- discourse, one in which the learner many not have a need to belong.
In the end, this dilemma is a torture. It is the torture of trying to do what we think is best while respecting the agency of adults who seek to join the English speaking community.