Reflection Of Knowledge:The Quilts Of Gee’s Bend A Documentary, Everyday Use A Shory Story, W;t A Play, and The Politics of Memory   Leave a comment

Experience equals an adult learner’s knowledge. Different experiences create different types of learning patterns within the knowledge held by an adult learner. How is knowledge named depends on the context, designation, and identifiable characteristics. In the play W;t by Margaret Edson (1993), the context takes place in a cold, sterile hospital environment. Vivian, the protagonist and professor of poetic literature spent her life in search of knowledge and it is metaphorically seen as a shield to protect her from human emotions and compassion. In turn, throughout the play she concentrated on her learned formal knowledge which in her mind protected her from cancer and death. She recognized her knowledge through words. The experience could be seen as an experimental learning experience in her eyes that she could connect to John Donne’s poetry. It was her specializing in poetic literature that she found her identity in order to make meaning of the world around her as medical terminology and her knowledge of literature was intertwined with poetry. Vivian named her knowledge: shield.

            There are similarities regarding the characters in the play. Vivian as well as Dr. Kelekian and his fellow Jason have a deep desire to learn which increased their knowledge in their field. Each professional placed the value of knowledge over people as they were absorbed in research as Jason yelled, “She’s research!” (p.82) after calling a code blue. In the name of research; mercy was disregarded as well as, humanitarism. They all recognized that knowledge equaled power. Furthermore, their actions can be seen as academic elitism between teacher and student and doctor and patient. The differences arise when Vivian finds her knowledge and identity through poetry whereas, the physicians walk a thin line of risk taking, as a human beings life is at stake, to benefit other cancer patients. Yet, they surrender Vivian’s life in the name of research. Dr.Kelekian and Jason named their knowledge: sacrifice.

            The Quilts of Gee’s Bend documentary by Badim & Arnett (2002) tells the tale of an all-African American rural community across the Alabama River. Poverty and inequality are part of life. The women of Gee’s bend identify themselves through their procedural knowledge of piecing a quilt. It was based on community incorporating past down survival techniques and traditional values. As Loretta Pettway commented, “…but I never liked it to quilt, but after I marry and have family I had no other choice because I asked people for quilts and they wouldn’t give me none and so well I’m going to make these to the best I know how [self-directed learning] and quilt’em they going to keep me and my kids warm.” It is within this self-directed learning where personal identity was formed as quilts became and outlet that included creative expression and provided comfort emotionally and physically. The context of knowledge acquired stemmed from slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, segregation, and disorder within family environments. Factual knowledge had been passed down through generations which were interwoven with cultural knowledge. These women were discarded by society and yet came together to share their knowledge of quilting with one another using discarded pieces of cloth which created skills based on their knowledge and giving new life as Jane Fonda mentioned. Spiritual, factual, conceptual, religious, and procedural knowledge were combined in the cultural values of their knowledge. These women recognized their knowledge as survival, a way to be close to god, togetherness and family. While outside their community others viewed them as artists creating historical art. The women of Gee’s Bend named knowledge: Hope.

            The short story by Alice Walker (1993), Everyday Use is similar in context to Gee’s Bend. The identity changes of African Americans were prevalent as the fight for freedom was in the air. Having knowledge and respecting one’s culture and heritage played against the knowledge of formal education. The protagonist, Mama was poor, oppressed, had minimal literacy, and was uneducated but utilized her experiential knowledge to survive and feed her family by killing animals as good as a man. Dee (Wangero) distant herself from the knowledge of her culture only to depict the loss of heritage. The tension of quilts arose as Mama viewed them as memories of the people who created them, as a part valued a history in which they instilled their hearts and souls. Mama commented, “In both of them were scraps of dresses Grandma Dee had worn fifty and more years ago. Bits and pieces of Grandpa Jattell’s Paisley shirts. And one teeny faded blue piece, about the size of a penny matchbox, that was from Great Grandpa Ezra’s uniform that he wore in the Civil War.” Dee regarded them as art to be displayed in her home. Historical and cultural knowledge were valued and recognized through the eyes of Mama whereas; formal knowledge is seen in the character of Dee. The characters of Everyday Use named knowledge as: Ethos.

            Elana Michelson, professor and author of the book Globalization, Adult Education and Training reported on knowledge economy. It is in the best interest of the adult learner to provide RPL as a way of becoming self-directed and to create a more democratic civil societal view of education. The goals are to provide adult learners with employment credentials, allow employers to identify appropriately skilled workers, to assist governmental and educational institutions in identifying the needed areas of both training and retraining adult learners, and to enhance the nation’s economic edge at a time of global competition and technological changes (Edson, 1993, para. p. 141). She discussed democracy and human rights which were affected by the market and the restrictions which were implied. It would create changes, meaning the implementation of new ways to stop the oppression (racism and sexist bias) of the learner while controlling the work environment. Michelson valued knowledge because it equaled experience, but the question becomes how to assess the knowledge for credential purposes within our diverse world? Michelson recognized knowledge, experience in adult learners, and the accessing of higher learning which was needed for those who were oppressed. Definitions of skills need to be revised which included categorizing academic and vocational skills. Academic elitism was and is a challenge due to the advantaged learners versus the under advantaged resulting in power struggles in many countries. Michelson named knowledge: Equity.

            In the future I will be working with adult learners and there will be many ways in which knowledge will be rewarded in my own site of practice. The rewards will be intrinsic as I develop my skills and use my knowledge to be considered a teacher. Another reward would be to train adult learners in a specified area in their field. As an educator my knowledge will be an extension of my understanding of my site of practice. I will be helping others to learn while learning myself how to problem solve for instance, in assessing knowledge of a student.

            In summation, knowledge is a complex concept that incorporates understanding and familiarity through experience. There are power struggles, human rights issues, racism, sexist bias, and oppression that still exist to this day that underline the values and beliefs system. There are a multitude of different types of knowledge such as cultural, societal, procedural, and conceptual just to name a few.

            By reflecting on the works read and the documentary viewed, learning opportunities for the adult learner all have context which needs to be explored and not forgotten. It is their knowledge which helps them survive in a world that is coming to grips with the challenges of what it means to be educated. Knowledge is power as the women of Gee’s Bend, the characters of W;t/Everyday Use and the article written by Michelson which all showcased its changing meaning in our complicated world.


Badim, V. & Arnett, M. (2002). The Quilts of Gee’s Bend: Documentary. Retrieved from

Walker, A. (1973). Everyday Use. Retrieved from,

 Edson, M. (1993). W;t. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

 Michelson, E. (1997). The Politics of Memory. Globalization, Adult Education, and Training: Impacts & Issues. Supplemental Reading.



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