Which Lens Can See Progress?

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There is a man who comes to classes in the evening.  He is not one of the students who is celebrated on our certificate nights. He comes straight from his job as a carpenter to class so doesn’t have a chance to go to the canteen. He is focused on his work. He comes equipped with the spellings and writing he did during the week. A fat refill pad with stories, newspaper articles, a borrowed novel or historical biography from the library; an eared and well-worn dictionary, covered in coloured post-its.

He has always worked as a carpenter, talented and skilled with his hands. He was offered promotions, foreman jobs yet always turned them down. He saw other men less skilled than him, yet men who could read and write, get those jobs.

From the outside and from the lens of employment, educational status and anything formally recorded on paper, he has always been a carpenter with no formal qualifications. He left school with no qualifications.  No certificates in adult education.

Mezirow’s Tranformative Learning Theory is a useful model in explaining how learning changes the way adults make meaning of their world – changes in understanding of the self (psychologically), changes and reflection on their belief systems (convictional)  and changes in their lifestyle or the way they live (behavioural).  For that man, the biggest change was within himself – the psychological part. Let’s hope these changes are noticed and acknowledged by perceptible eyes. The telescope that sees progress and notices change. All too often the telescope is being adjusted and managed by external powers, like work, accreditation – other measures of value or worthiness. Who is controlling the lens?

The man who comes to the centre has had a seismic shift in identity. He can read aloud, he doesn’t care if he makes mistakes, he loves looking up the origin of words, he would have loved if a place like this existed when he was younger.

“I never thought I was someone who would use a word like that.”

“I never thought I was someone who would read The Irish Times.”

“If I can read words like this, I can read anything.”

“I know what they are talking about now.”

“I look at the lads I work with and I realise, if there was a place like this when I was younger, I could have been an engineer.”

“I know what I am reading is hard but I am not afraid of it anymore.”

All said, not with a hint of regret, but with an air of confidence, a passion, a feeling that a veil has been lifted on a once untapped learning world. It was there all along, yet he wasn’t given the guidance to see it.

Apparently meteorites fall every year in Ireland; mostly they go unnoticed, as according to Astronomy Ireland they mostly fall into the sea.  A black rock the colour of coal,  falling  from space, breaking the earth’s atmosphere as a fireball before landing. It may fall in a forest, in a lake or the ocean but it is there. And only perceptible to the right kind of lens. Or if you are looking for it.

For that man who comes to the centre, the change within himself was earth shattering.  Yet from the outside nothing changed.

With the right lens adjusted, we can see it.

Fionnaigh Connaughton, a tutor in DALC 

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