Wounded Learners Failed by Schooling: Symbolic Violence and Re-Engaging Low Income Adults


  • Elizabeth Lange St. Francis Xavier University
  • Donna Chovanec University of Alberta
  • Trudy Cardinal University of Alberta
  • Tania Kajner University of Alberta
  • Nicole Smith Acuña University of Alberta


wounded learners, symbolic violence, low income adults, marginalized learners, dreamkeeping, learning identities, community-based adult education


Using exploratory case study to assess the learning needs of low income populations in a Canadian city, one key finding was that the majority are wounded learners from their experiences in the schooling system. Compounded by various social and economic factors, these wounds represent various forms of violence, particularly symbolic violence that continually reproduces their marginality. Community adult educators have the opportunity to offer recognition of wounding and help learners re-story positive learning identities, rebuild learning capacities as well as social and intellectual capital, and transform a limiting habitus. Through a dialectic of indignation and “dreamkeeping”, they can both also assist learners in challenging meritocratic systems that require woundedness and failure rather than capability as a form of educational justice and create spaces for hope for learners who still dream of serving others and contributing back to their communities.


Author Biographies

Elizabeth Lange, St. Francis Xavier University

Elizabeth A. Lange (elange@stfx.ca) is Associate Professor of Adult Education at St. Francis Xavier University, Canada. She has 30 years of experience as an educator and facilitator of transformative learning in formal and nonformal settings. Her research focuses on transformative learning, sustainability education for adults, and transcultural learning and immigration. The introductory text The Purposes of Adult Education, 3rd Edition, 2014, was co-written with Bruce Spencer (Thompson Educational Publishing).

Donna Chovanec, University of Alberta

Donna Chovanec (chovanec@ualberta.ca) is Associate Professor in Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada. She specializes in Adult Education with a particular interest in political learning and education, adult literacy, women’s health, and community service-learning. She has worked as a social worker, adult educator and researcher in a variety of academic, health and social service settings. Her research is available in numerous publications, including the book Between Hope and Despair: Women Learning Politics (Fernwood).

Trudy Cardinal, University of Alberta

Trudy Cardinal (tmcardin@ualberta.ca) is Assistant Professor in Elementary Education at the University of Alberta.  Before entering graduate school she taught 13 years in an Elementary classroom serving a high population of Aboriginal students.  Her master’s thesis, For All My Relations: An Autobiographical Narrative Inquiry into the Lived Experiences of One Aboriginal Graduate Student and her doctoral work, Composing Lives: A Narrative Inquiry into Aboriginal Youth and Families’ Stories to Live By inform her current interest in narrative concepts of identity and the role of cultural, familial, community and school narratives in the negotiation of identity.  She brings her experiences as an Indigenous scholar, elementary school teacher, and teacher educator to the conversation.

Tania Kajner, University of Alberta

Tania Kajner (tkajner@ualberta.ca) holds a PhD in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Alberta. Her research critically examines community engagement and higher education in Canada, exploring the intersections of scholarship, community action, and difference. Her own engagement with community organizations has centered on research, learning, and strategies in support of equity, particularly in terms of gender, violence, poverty, and leadership.

Nicole Smith Acuña, University of Alberta

Nicole Smith Acuña (nsmith@mysage.ca) (M.Ed) taught with the public school board in Edmonton for 10 years before returning to university to earn a master’s degree in Educational Policy Studies. She continues to work as an educator and facilitator with the Centre for Community Organizing and Popular Education, using common texts and critical questioning to engage participants in discussions around structural violence and anti-oppression. She is currently the Communications Coordinator for Sage, a seniors serving organization in Edmonton.



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How to Cite

Lange, E., Chovanec, D., Cardinal, T., Kajner, T., & Smith Acuña, N. (2015). Wounded Learners Failed by Schooling: Symbolic Violence and Re-Engaging Low Income Adults. Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education, 27(3), 83–104. Retrieved from https://cjsae.library.dal.ca/index.php/cjsae/article/view/3901