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  • 1 Auburn University, USA
  • | 2 University of North Dakota, USA
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Background and aims

Mormon polygamy is sensationalized in mass media and practicing polygamists are portrayed as villains or victims, but little attention is paid to the women who leave polygamous societies and struggle to survive. Their survival often depends on resources that can be provided by adult education, but limited research exists that addresses their readiness for those settings.

Methods

Through the life stories of three former female members of polygamous societies, this study explored their readiness for adult education.

Results

Analysis of the data suggested that the primary factors affecting readiness for adult education for the participants in this study were background knowledge (i.e., academic, cultural, and social), self-concepts, and social roles.

Discussion

These distinctions result in implications that are two-pronged; future research and programs must address the background experience necessary for an adult education setting (academic, social, and cultural), but it must also address the sociohistorical implications of self-definition created by a polygamous upbringing.

Abstract

Background and aims

Mormon polygamy is sensationalized in mass media and practicing polygamists are portrayed as villains or victims, but little attention is paid to the women who leave polygamous societies and struggle to survive. Their survival often depends on resources that can be provided by adult education, but limited research exists that addresses their readiness for those settings.

Methods

Through the life stories of three former female members of polygamous societies, this study explored their readiness for adult education.

Results

Analysis of the data suggested that the primary factors affecting readiness for adult education for the participants in this study were background knowledge (i.e., academic, cultural, and social), self-concepts, and social roles.

Discussion

These distinctions result in implications that are two-pronged; future research and programs must address the background experience necessary for an adult education setting (academic, social, and cultural), but it must also address the sociohistorical implications of self-definition created by a polygamous upbringing.

Introduction

The life stories of the women who are able to leave Mormon polygamous societies detail the horrors of living within Mormon polygamous societies, a life that left them unprepared mentally, physically, and emotionally for living outside the community. Their survival in society depends on resources that can be provided by adult education, but limited research exists that addresses their readiness for those settings. In addition, existing research is almost exclusively framed from a male perspective (Gibson, 2010). Research regarding polygamous women from their perspectives is needed to make recommendations for the creation of programs that meet the adult education needs of former woman members of polygamous societies. This need is urgent for women who were formerly part of polygamous societies whose survival in society may depend on the resources, specifically provided by adult education, that will help them to economically, socially, and emotionally survive (Byrd & MacDonald, 2005; Jessop & Palmer, 2007).

The study reported here is premised on the belief that adult education provides women the opportunity to build a viable life economically and to escape perpetual dependency on government assistance and social services by providing access to greater employment opportunities (Jessop & Palmer, 2007). Adult education is explored in this study as a conduit to opportunity; exploring these women’s histories and life experiences especially in regard to the separation from their communities provides insight into their readiness for adult education settings. This article will open the discourse regarding polygamous women and education, their stories lead to answers about their readiness for adult education, the potential for individual empowerment in adult education settings, and recommendations to help adult education to meet the unique needs of women who were formerly part of polygamous societies.

Conceptual Framework

Mormon polygamy emerged in the 19th century through the religious teachings of Joseph Smith, a prophet and creator of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) Church (White & White, 2005). After he had a “revelation” polygamy, or “the principle,” he became part of official LDS Church doctrine in 1843 (Moore-Emmett, 2004, p. 21). Polygamy was openly practiced in Utah until national public pressure and a quest for statehood led to Prophet Wilford Woodruff’s 1890 manifesto that announced the end of the practice of polygamy in the LDS Church (White & White, 2005). After the manifesto, polygamy continued to be practiced in secret by LDS faithful. As the practice was driven further underground, mainstream Mormons began to disassociate the practice with LDS doctrine (White & White, 2005). This resulted in the creation of fundamentalist Mormon polygamous sects who claimed that the LDS Church lost its claim to authenticity with its abandonment of polygamy (Van Waggoner, 1989; White & White, 2005).

While the total number of polygamists living in Utah is unknown, it is estimated to be between 30,000 and 100,000 (Krakauer, 2004). The actual number is unknown due to the secretive nature of the practice of polygamy, and because it is still illegal under Utah state law (Moore-Emmett, 2004). It is alleged that within these communities, there is widespread practice of intermarriage (specifically the Latter-day Church of Christ community), child abuse, sexual abuse, welfare fraud (called “bleeding the beast”), tax fraud, misuse of public funds, deficiencies in the education system, and systemic marginalization of women and children (D’Onofrio, 2005; Moore-Emmett, 2004; White & White, 2005). The closed nature of polygamous societies in Utah, the demonstrated reluctance of authorities to prosecute polygamy, fear of “eternal damnation,” “blood atonement,” familial and societal pressure, and lack of education make it difficult for polygamous women to leave these societies and survive in Utah society (Bringhurst & Foster, 2011; Jessop & Palmer, 2007; Moore-Emmett, 2004).

Women in polygamous societies

Preliminary evaluation of existing life stories of women who were formerly part of polygamous societies indicates a general lack of formal education, prevalence of abuse, the absence of autonomy, non-egalitarian and patriarchal society, and an overall insufficient level of preparation for life “outside” (Jessop & Palmer, 2007; Moore-Emmett, 2004). According to D’Onofrio (2005) and Duncan (2008), women in polygamous societies have limited access to educational opportunities, either through homeschooling or abbreviated education in public schools that rarely extend past eighth grade. Education for girls is focused on preparing them to become mothers and wives. Even within public schools in fundamentalist polygamist communities, curriculum is controlled by church leaders and focused on teaching religious doctrine. As a result, childhood education reportedly either failed to provide basic access to core content knowledge or provided blatantly incorrect information, such as content that denied the existence of dinosaurs (Jessop & Palmer, 2007).

Existing life stories also indicate that women within polygamous societies are unprepared for employment outside of the community (Duncan, 2008). For example, their stories demonstrate that even when women were allowed to work, they would work in church-owned businesses (Moore-Emmett, 2004) and would be forced to sign their paychecks to their husbands (Duncan, 2008). Their life stories indicate that women who leave polygamous societies do not have a formal academic background, employment skills, or life skills, such as budgeting, self-direction, and autonomy (including sexual autonomy) (D’Onofrio, 2005). As a result, they are ill-prepared to function or succeed in Utah society (D’Onofrio, 2005). Adult education is described as a resource needed for women who were formerly part of polygamous societies to help them to be economically viable, give them the confidence they need to remain outside of polygamy, and help them assimilate to society outside (Jessop & Palmer, 2007; Moore-Emmett, 2004; Wall & Pulitzer, 2008).

Readiness for adult education

Research regarding the readiness of women who were formerly part of polygamous societies is limited or non-existent. However, there have been studies regarding the readiness of students, specifically first-generation college students, for post-secondary education. Byrd and MacDonald (2005) and Reid and Moore (2008) conducted these studies that document learner readiness for post-secondary education from the perspective of the student. Many former members of polygamous societies will be the first in their families to attend adult education; these studies document student perspectives as the best sources of information regarding their own readiness for adult education. Their framework and research validate and provide a background for using participant’s life stories as the perspective through which evaluated their readiness for adult education (Reid & Moore, 2008). From the perspective of the learner, these studies found that academic skills, time-management skills, goal focus, and self-advocacy were the key skills for readiness for adult education (Byrd & MacDonald, 2005). Each student’s background, including family factors, work experiences, and career motivations, was also found to effect readiness; family support and career motivation had a significant positive impact on post-secondary education success. From the perspective of the learner, academics is only one of the factors that contributes to a student’s perceived readiness for adult education.

Studies that have created scales to evaluate the readiness of students for adult education, one which was conducted by Le, Casillas, Robbins, and Langley (2005), primarily focus on the academic factors that contribute to educational readiness. These studies focus on factors specific to university settings, such as commitment to college, academic self-confidence, social activity, social connection, emotional control, general determination, study skills, communication skills, academic discipline, and goal striving. The Student Readiness Inventory created as a result of the study would be an ineffective way to evaluate the readiness of former polygamous members of polygamous societies, because it assumes prior academic experience through high school and does not provide an opportunity to consider the unique background of these women. A scale or survey would not provide significant insight into each woman’s story or provide a comprehensive picture of their readiness for adult education, which is why I used life stories as the method for data collection to provide rich data through which I explored participants’ readiness for adult education (Reid & Moore, 2008).

Feminist theory

In Wives’ Tales: Reflection on Research in Bountiful, Campbell (2008) asserts the need for research framed through critical feminist thought that draws from the perspectives of polygamous women whose voices have been largely silenced in the polygamous discourse. Research conducted regarding Mormon Fundamentalist polygamy and polygamous women is deficient and existing research and media coverage is generally framed with an “outsider” (or “etic”) and distinctly male perspective; “though women are clearly present, their voices are framed by men’s characterizations of the events they describe and by hints about how the audience should understand those events” (Gibson, 2010, p. 287). These portrayals of polygamous women define and limit their role within a larger, patriarchal master narrative (Gibson, 2010). When women’s perspectives are allowed into the discourse regarding polygamy, they are either framed within the “women as victims” paradigm or viewed as lacking social capital as it is defined against the white, middle-class, two-parent, Christian definition of family (Gibson, 2010, p. 287). Previous research, even when conducted by women, cannot expect to express truth unless it is told from the perspective of the “emic” or women who have lived in a polygamous society. In order for research on polygamous women to be an accurate representation of their “truth,” it must resist “presumptions about false consciousness and assume the authenticity, ‘truth,’ and legitimacy of the stories women tell… this approach makes room for the voices of women who ‘have different priorities and are in the process of articulating the issues’” (Campbell, 2008, p. 130).

Feminist theory frames the current state of adult education as one situated within the current society power structure that privileges white, middle-class, masculine power, and knowledge (Elias & Merriam, 2005). Not only are women marginalized within the field of adult education, but so are persons of color and lower economic status; “this alienation… occurs when White, male, Western cultural norms of individuality, debate, and competitiveness, which are antithetical to the norms of many other cultures, dominate the classroom environment” (Baumgartner & Johnson-Bailey, 2008, p. 46). Values, such as cooperation, passiveness, and informal forms of childhood education, are viewed as deficient within adult education (Baumgartner & Johnson-Bailey, 2008). Like these marginalized populations, women are viewed as deficient according to this masculine power/knowledge paradigm privileged adult education settings (Elias & Merriam, 2005). Learning is a “historically specific mode of coming to know the world around you based on the ideological forms and appearances of capitalist social relations” (Carpenter, 2012, p. 30). According to feminist theory, success in adult education settings requires that women reject their knowledge as deficient, to relearn according to knowledge defined by a “capitalist, patriarchal, racist, heterosexist world” (Carpenter, 2012, p. 30).

Feminist theory provides insight that is particularly important for this study. Women who were formerly part of polygamous societies are marginalized according to their gender within the polygamous communities that they have left. They are further marginalized within adult education settings; their knowledge, as affected by their sociohistorical background, is not viewed as valuable within adult education even though they have learned a great deal. When viewed through critical feminist theory, there is not one universal “truth.” Instead, “each woman’s truth or knowledge is relative to the sociocultural context of which she is part” (Merriam, 2001, p. 350). Therefore, research conducted about women living in polygamy must be conducted from the perspective of the insider as evaluated from the perspective of a woman to provide an accurate picture of their readiness for adult education.

In addition, this discussion can lead to a “critical appreciation of women’s narratives” and an opportunity for reflection as a “consciousness-raising” activity, which are the two primary goals of critical feminist research (Campbell, 2008, p. 132). Through the telling of their own stories and the sharing of study results, participants in this study had the opportunity to empower themselves by reflecting on their own readiness for adult education. Feminist theory provides the insight necessary to see that women who were formerly part of polygamous societies are disadvantaged within adult education settings both because of their sex and their sociohistorical background.

Methods

Life history interviews were conducted with three women who were formerly part of Mormon fundamentalist polygamous societies in Utah to explore the impact of life experiences on their readiness for adult education. The use of life stories as the main data collection method of this study was chosen to provide a “more rounded and fuller explanation of decisions and approaches to success” (Stuart, Lido, & Morgan, 2011, p. 493). Through a life-story method of data collection, narrative information and the way events are presented or retold provides valuable information about the importance and context of life events to create authentic and valid data about an individual’s separate truth (Polyga et al., 2005; Stuart et al., 2011). Research conducted on life stories is especially relevant within a feminist framework and polygamous societies because of the importance of place and power on women’s life stories (Fivush & Marin, 2007). In this study, each woman’s life story played an important role in their readiness for education, because their life experiences affected their “engagement with knowledge and will shape how learning is understood and perceived” (Stuart et al., 2011, p. 491). The use of “narrative knowledge” generated by each participants’ life story provided contextual information and meanings ascribed to their lived experience, which created valuable and authentic data through which an evaluation each participant’s readiness for adult education was made (Etherington, 2009; Stuart et al., 2011).

Data collection

This study was conducted with Emma, Sarah, and Mary, who lived in Utah and were raised in fundamentalist polygamous communities. To identify study participants, polygamy outreach organizations referred several women who had left polygamy as potential participants in the study. The women identified reached out and indicated their interest in participating in the study.

Data were collected through life-story interviews conducted in several sessions in 2012. Each interview or series of interviews varied in length and time according to each woman’s age and availability. Emma had three separate interviews for 90 min each time, Sarah’s interview was 2 ½ hr, and Mary’s interview was 90 min. Each interview was guided by the participant. Because a participant’s choice of what is more important and relevant to tell in a life-story interview is inherent to the use of the method and exploration of the information provided (Polya, Laszlo, & Forgas, 2005; Stuart et al., 2011), the use of questions was limited, and only used to elicit additional information or to provide direction to life-story interviews. Those questions included, “Tell me about your experience with education as a child,” “What characterized your education?,” and “What is your opinion of adult education?” In each interview, participants were encouraged to reflect upon their own readiness for adult education and consider how their educational experiences and background have an impact on their perceptions, attitude, expectations, and experiences in education.

Data analysis

Through each participant’s life story, I explored their readiness for adult education by highlighting and interpreting their own perspective of critical and important life events that contribute to their education readiness. After the interviews were transcribed, interview data were coded through a thematic approach to data collection and analysis. Through structural and axial coding (Saldana, 2013), I identified the themes that emerged through data analysis that contributed to readiness for adult education. The themes that emerged were prior formal education experience, perceptions of a need for education, non-academic experience that contributed to readiness for adult education settings, and the development of an independent self-concept [informed by Knowles’ (1989) prescriptive characteristics of the adult learner]. This thematic analysis allowed the exploration of characteristics of readiness for adult education through the salient stories that emerged from data to provide the key points for exploration and discussion (Rossman & Ralis, 2003). To preserve each participant’s voice and the integrity and validity of her truth, important life events for each participant were categorized as told in the interview and explored as important indicators for different aspects of their readiness for adult education.

Ethics and trustworthiness

As women who were formerly part of polygamous societies, study participants were a marginalized population whose voices have frequently been ignored or silenced. Similarly, while the goal of this study was to explore participant readiness for adult education to make recommendations for programs to meet their needs, it is important to acknowledge that a lack of readiness should not be interpreted as a deficiency on the part of participants. To label woman participants as deficient because they are not, at this time, ready for adult education further perpetuates the marginalization they experienced in polygamy and experience in society. The goal of this research was to give each woman an opportunity to have her voice heard within the discourse regarding polygamy and education. To ensure that study results were valid and trustworthy, rich description, triangulation, and participant checking of data were used to confirm data collected, study discussion, and conclusion (Rossman & Ralis, 2003).

Findings

Using life-history interviews, I met with three women, Emma, Sarah, and Mary, to explore their readiness for adult education. Indicative of the life-story data collection method, these interviews generated rich and varied data through which I was able to come a deeper understanding of their lives and therefore develop an understanding of their readiness for adult education. Because I am exploring each woman’s readiness for adult education within the critical feminist paradigm and have chosen to use the life-history method, it was important I explored and told each woman’s story independent of the other two. Their experiences are unique, and it is not my intention to present their stories as typical or representative of the experiences of all women who have left polygamy. I wrote each woman’s story first; as such, I will present findings independently through each woman’s story.

Emma

Emma was 28 years old and lived in Salt Lake City. She had three children, two boys, and one girl who are 11, 10, and 9 years of age, respectively. As the oldest of the three participants, my time spent interviewing Emma was the longest; our interviews consisted of three separate 90-min interviews.

Emma was the second child, the oldest girl in her family. She was raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) community of Colorado City. For the majority of her life in Colorado City, she lived with her brothers and sisters in a three-bedroom trailer on the outskirts of town. Her home was surrounded by weeds and red dirt; she slept in a small room with her four sisters on the top bunk bed that she shared with her baby sister, her three younger sisters slept on the bottom bunk. Until Emma was older, her father only had one wife, her mother. He was a truck driver, gone most of the week on long-haul trips. Despite her father’s absence during the week, she felt a strong bond with him, and prized the valuable time she would get to spend with him when he was home on the weekends, even when he was grumpy or just wanted to sleep.

Experience in formal education settings

School was important to Emma’s family, “We didn’t get to miss school and my dad tried to encourage us to get perfect attendance, straight A’s were a big deal.” Contrary to church dictate, Emma’s mother allowed them to read library books. This attention to literacy and school was unique, as FLDS members were only allowed to church-sanctioned literature including sermons and the Book of Mormon. This emphasis on the importance of school and literacy development was an important contributor to Emma’s readiness for adult education; a strong background in formal schooling and advanced reading skills provided a rich resource that positively contributed to readiness for adult education.

In addition, Emma’s experience in formal schooling was positive,

I don’t remember having a ton of homework as a kid. I was fairly smart. I mean, I got all straight A’s until the time I dropped out of school. I got one B in my entire life and it was tragic! It was really encouraged in our family… As we got older we had homework most nights. In junior high and definitely in high school. I don’t remember having a ton of homework. I know we had occasional stuff here and there; we probably had to practice our spelling and that kind of stuff. I don’t really remember a ton of homework.

Confidence in her own mastery of accounting was important for her academic success and provided important background experience for her pursuit of adult education in the field of accounting since she had strong academic experience with accounting to support her coursework. In addition, this confidence in her own academic skills was also important for her readiness for adult education, because she had been successful academically in secondary education. She was also to translate her success in secondary education to a belief that she could be successful in adult education too, additional background experience that contributed to her readiness to learn.

Independent self-concept

Familial support of education continued throughout Emma’s schooling until she dropped out of high school, because she was caught with a teenage boy and was not allowed to be around him. She explained her decision to get married,

In my mind, all I was ever going to do was going to be a mom… I wasn’t going to school, I wasn’t doing anything else. So, my dad turned me into the prophet and within about a week, I was married… We got married in Colorado City and a week later I was gone).

Moving to a completely foreign environment where she knew no one forced Emma to discover her own identity so she could define herself and new social role as a wife, daughter-in-law, and stranger. She was responsible for the entire household and learned to assert herself in a new society as a wife where women were defined in relationship to their husband and family. This developed and reinforced her independent self-concept. Once married, Emma acted as her husband’s business manager as well as wife and mother to their three children. She was responsible for every aspect of household and business management. As she developed in that role, she gained confidence in her own competence. Emma’s social roles as wife, mother, and business manager contributed to readiness to learn, because they gave her confidence in her own abilities, decision-making capabilities, and perceived ability to succeed in adult education.

Emma’s independent self-concept was reinforced when she left polygamy. After she discovered her husband had cheated on her, Emma returned to her father in Colorado City. After arriving home, she realized that she no longer wanted to live in polygamy; to leave, she had to cut all ties with her family, including her father. The bond between Emma and her father was the strongest in her life. She was raised to believe that her father held the authority of God. To leave, she had to be directly disobedient to him. Deciding to leave was a critical decision that Emma made independently and signified the dissolution of her bond with her father. It was a critical aspect of the development of an independent self-concept, because it signified her ability to define her needs and take the steps to accomplish them despite external expectations and pressure. Emma’s independent self-concept would help her to set and achieve academic goals independent of direct instruction, which is an important aspect of her readiness for adult education settings.

Non-academic experience that contributes to adult education readiness

Emma and Matthew had three children in less than 3 years, and Emma also acquired the role of Matthew’s business manager as well as wife and mother, to ensure that his income from his job as a long-haul truck driver was managed and taxes were paid. Like her future employment, this experience provided valuable background experience for education and it was a social role that contributed to a great readiness to learn. Both marriage and motherhood were the roles that played an important role in Emma’s readiness for adult education. Motherhood was a social role with developmental tasks that contributed to Emma’s readiness to learn, namely a responsibility for their children and the organizational tasks, which ensured the home aspects of their life run smoothly. In addition, Matthew was not prepared for the responsibilities of married life, and was unfamiliar with home management tasks, especially budgeting and money management, so Emma had to take on these roles as well. Mastering those roles helped Emma to gain valuable background experience in accounting that supported her future adult education dream of becoming an accountant but also cemented her role as the responsible person in the relationship, an additional developmental task that contributed to her readiness for adult education. Emma was willing to develop these skills, because she wanted to support her family, but it also contributed to her recognition of the importance of an adult education that would not only develop her business management skills but would also allow her to be independent successful without needing to rely on her husband for financial security. This recognition was reinforced after Emma’s first formal employment. Work gave Emma insight into what she could achieve; being able to accomplish those tasks helped her to develop confidence in her own abilities, an important part to her readiness to learn.

Need for adult education

After leaving polygamy, Emma struggled to rectify her sociohistorical background where wives were obedient to their husband with the realization that she could be successful on her own if she was able to financially support herself. She found employment and it gave Emma insight into what she could achieve,

I can be completely and totally self-sufficient. It’s really amazing to me what it did for myself and my self esteem and I really enjoyed it. I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed working because I’d just been a mom for so long. Like, my kids, part of the reason I was able to work was my kids were all in school by then. I really appreciated being able to be home with my kids, especially because having three in three years, by the time you pay for childcare, there’s really no point in working, but having the experience in working was, I really really liked it. But underneath it all, I had bigger dreams. I didn’t want to work at a trucking company doing data entry. It just wasn’t really what I wanted.

Emma’s employment experiences were valuable because they gave her confidence in her own skills, which leads to efficacy in adult education settings. It also helped her to realize that if she wanted employment that would support her and her family independent of her husband, she would need a college education. This recognition led to Emma’s problem-centered need for adult education settings, so that she could find viable employment and gain the flexibility to leave her unhappy marriage. The goal of self-sufficiency and self-fulfillment also reinforced her to learn, as education was required for her to feel like she was in control of her life.

After leaving Matthew, Emma continued to develop an independent self-concept and had work experiences that contributed positively to her readiness to learn. Her work and life also contributed to her need for more learning; she wanted more for her life. Because of that, when she heard about an opportunity through the non-profit organization to pay for her education, she took the opportunity to move to Utah. Upon arriving in Utah Salt Lake City, she easily passed the GED test in the 99th percentile and began her higher education schooling at a for-profit institution pursuing a degree in Accounting.

Readiness for adult education

Emma was the only study participant that was currently enrolled in higher education, which speaks her readiness for adult education:

Getting to college was kind of hard because it was really intimidating. It was scary. So, I guess, that right there. Just that right there. If I had grown up more in like here, in the city, I think a lot of the problems that I had, like, I don’t how to say this without sounding full of myself, but I think I’m going to become a very successful person. I think it’s, you know, like just that school is easy for me, I mean like, I’m fairly intelligent. I’ve never really had to struggle in school or anything like that. So, umm, the biggest setback for me was socially and I do believe that a lot because of the way I grew up and part of it is just my personality… Part of was financial, but a lot of that, you know, if I would have taken the step to go and see, I would have realized I can get financing.

For Emma, the lack of social experience from being raised in a polygamous community was her biggest barrier to education, not her lack of a GED or limited formal schooling as a child.

Sarah

Sarah was 24 years old, married with a 2-year-old son and 6 months pregnant at the time of our interview. She was living in a monogamous relationship with her husband, Daniel, and was a stay-at-home mother to her son. She was raised as a member of the Allred Group, a fundamentalist Mormon polygamous group that does not require their members to live in a geographically isolated community. However, her story indicated that her childhood and childhood education in a polygamous community that was not geographically segregated from mainstream society still provided important sociohistorical data that contributed to her readiness for adult education. Sarah grew up and attended school in West Jordan, Utah. Because she is younger than Emma, her life-story interview was also shorter, but the stories she highlighted, detail about her childhood education, and life in a polygamous community provided rich data to explore her readiness for adult education.

Sarah was born and raised in West Jordan. Her mother was the second wife of her father, who would eventually have four total wives, two of whom he is still married to. Unlike Sarah’s other mothers, who she called “aunt,” Sarah’s mother worked outside of the home. As was traditional for many members of the Allred Group and may stem from fears of government raids in the 1950’s and 60’s, each wife and their children lived in a separate home. Sarah’s father would split his time between his different wives. Sarah’s mother worked full time as a seamstress and her father worked in construction management for different church-owned or church member-owned businesses. Because Sarah’s family lived in a single-parent household and many of her brothers and sister attended public primary and secondary schools, Sarah did not feel like an outsider would have known that they were polygamists; they dressed, more or less, like the general population, just more modest.

Experience in formal academic settings

Sarah entered kindergarten at a public Utah elementary school where she struggled academically and socially, “I never learned to read right away. It took me a long time… by the time everyone else was a fast speedy reader, I was really far behind.” Unprepared for formal schooling, Sarah was placed in resource classes and suffered from social anxiety. As a result, Sarah’s parents transferred her to the Allred Group’s private school beginning in 7th grade. This transition to private school was very important; classes were smaller and she finally received one-on-one attention.

It was just a much more relaxed environment. They still had consequences, for the first time in my life, [I] actually cared to do my homework and cared to pay attention… I loved it. I loved it. I never felt like I couldn’t go to a teacher and say I just missed everything you said, can you please explain it to me a little bit differently. So I did a lot better and I think if I was to have started there I wouldn’t have had the reading problems… Because it is such a smaller class and there’s literally one on one with every single thing that they teach you, if you need some one on one attention, they are going to give it to you.

She caught up to her peers academically and socially and graduated from high school. Sarah’s success in secondary education provided academic background experience that contributed positively to success in adult education settings, but the applicability of those experiences to adult education was limited for her. She attributed her academic success to her peers, teachers, and one-on-one attention. Transferring out of public school to private school reinforced to Sarah that she could not be successful in public schools and believed that would still be true for any adult education setting. These beliefs limited the contribution that her academic background experience had on her readiness for adult education.

Non-academic experience that contributes to adult education readiness

The Allred group, like the FLDS, reinforced social roles for women that are limited to wife and mother. From an early age, Sarah wanted to be a wife and a mother even though her high school pushed her to consider college and a career. At home, Sarah took on a majority of the “mothering” roles as soon as she was old enough to be responsible for her brothers and sisters:

I always really liked taking care of the kids. I loved our babies, you know, when my mom would have a new baby it was just like the most exciting thing to me ever. That baby wouldn’t leave my side. We would have a new baby and it was like my, you know, I was the second mom. I took care of the kids a lot. I’d feed them. I’d bathe them. I’d clothe them. I’d play with them.

Sarah never considered pursuing an adult education after high school, “I had one brother that didn’t graduate out of all my mom’s kids and I didn’t want to be like that.. I knew I would want jobs. Not a career.” Although motherhood is a responsibility that could have contributed positively to readiness for adult education, like it did for Emma, it did not for Sarah because she viewed motherhood as a social role that did not require additional education.

After graduating from high school, Sarah met her husband at work. Shortly after meeting him, she discovered she was pregnant and they decided to get married. This was the embodiment of her goals. She loved being married and being a mother, “I wanted to [get] married. My intentions were not to date and have a good time, my intentions were to fall in love and get married.” Although Sarah gained valuable experience from employment and had experiences now from motherhood that could contribute to success in an adult education setting, her goals were to be a wife and mother. As such, she did not believe that formal schooling was necessary to achieve those goals, so she did not have a need for adult education.

Self-concept

Sarah’s relationships with the opposite sex, including her father, dictated her living, religious, and employment choices. After she broke up with a polygamist youth in high school, her relationships were with men who did not want to live a polygamous lifestyle. As a result, Sarah decided not to pursue polygamy, “I think, for the most part, I was following whatever [religion] my significant other was. And now, I’m with [her husband] and we have our beliefs, but organized religion is not for either of us. It just works better not to for us.” Not following a polygamous lifestyle was, for Sarah, a passive act. Sarah did not have to break ties with her family, friends, and life to leave polygamy; instead of needing to vocalize that she was no longer a member of the polygamous church, she simply stopped attending. Leaving polygamy was less difficult and did not require that Sarah develop an identity separate from the polygamous culture she was raised in.

Readiness for adult education

Although Sarah indicated that she does not see a need for adult education in her own life, she indicated at the end of the interview that she may eventually pursue adult education:

I would love to have more education but I can’t leave my kids. I’ve never worked since I had my son, he’s 4 now. And I can’t leave him. I tried to work one time and it was depressing, it was really hard and I couldn’t imagine paying someone else to be his mom. I just, to me, it was like what, I can’t pay someone else to be his mom but I don’t plan on having very many kids, I only plan on having a couple and I really do want to pursue something, really badly, I do. But I know I couldn’t be focused right now and I’d say probably in about five years when both kids are in school.

After her children are old enough, she saw a time where she would like to pursue employment that she enjoys. However, she supplemented that statement by making it clear that she would need certain things to be successful in an adult education setting:

And [my husband] is a big reason because he’s a full-time dad, he’s a full-time hardworking guy, he works, he has a job and he goes to school. He can help. I know he can help me stay focused and he’s just what I need to make sure that I do what I need to be doing. He’s the probably the biggest reason.

Her husband is the key for her to pursue adult education; she did not feel that she would be successful without his one-on-one help and support. Because she perceived herself to be a failure in the public school system and attributed her success in secondary education to one-on-one support from others, she lacked some of the confidence she needed to believe that she could do it on her own. Her conclusion about her own readiness for adult education was similar the one I drew after exploring her life story.

Mary

Mary was single and lived in a “safe house” in Lehi, Utah. She was raised in the FLDS polygamous community in Colorado City, Utah and left the community less than 3 months prior to the time of our interview. Her age and the recent departure from a polygamous community provided an important perspective on readiness for adult education. As the ninth child of 25, Mary grew up in the FLDS community of Colorado City. Her mother was the first wife of the two. Until she was 13 years old, her family lived in a small house on the outskirts of the city with both mothers and all of her brothers and sisters. Growing up, she played outside with her brothers and sisters, games like hide-and-go-seek and tag.

Experience in formal education settings

The FLDS Church forbade non-church reading, so Mary did not do any reading before entering 1st grade at a FLDS private school. Mary struggled in school, “I couldn’t read very good and I couldn’t spell. Because I just can’t spell. It’s just a fact.” Warren Jeffs eventually closed all private schools in Colorado City and Mary transitioned to home school for 6th grade. Homeschooling was not well-structured or supported by her parents, so 5th grade was Mary’s final year of formal schooling. Curriculum was dictated by the FLDS church. At first, Mary liked the freedom of home school, “It was kinda like, ‘what we gonna do now?’ but then we were kinda happy to not have to go to school until a few years and we were like uhh we need to go back to school. Real school.” Mary did not take homeschooling very seriously and completely stopped any schoolwork after eighth grade. Because her formal schooling was abbreviated, its contribution to her readiness for adult education was limited.

Non-academic experience that contributed to adult education readiness

Mary’s role at home, beginning when she was 6 or 7 years old, was to help her grandmothers with cleaning, cooking, and other aspects of household management. When she was older, she acted as their caretaker as well. From a young age, Mary had adult-like responsibilities and duties, which contributed positively to confidence in her own abilities. She understood the importance of her roles, and completed the tasks associated accordingly. Her social role as a caretaker required her to complete adult tasks independent of her parents. Competence in those roles gave her self-confidence and faith in her own abilities which led her to have the confidence to believe she could succeed in adult education settings despite a limited academic background,

If I pass my GED good then I’d feel comfortable goin to a high school, and then goin to college.. I think I’ll be okay as long I know how to do it [speak in front of the class]. I think mostly the one thing I’d be scared of is reading in front of everybody. I would not like that. I never would.

Her social roles as a child contributed positively to her readiness for adult education.

Independent self-concept

At the time of our interview, Mary had just left her family and polygamous community and was reluctant to speak about the circumstances that led to her leaving. She indicated that she had rebelled against her father and religious authorities, and had left polygamy voluntarily. She could return if she wanted too, and her family would like her to return, but she had chosen to remain outside, despite difficulties finding viable employment and living arrangements. Mary left polygamy voluntarily and entered into a society where she knew few people, had no resources and no formal schooling. This act of leaving indicated that she had developed the independent self-concept necessary to make difficult decisions in accordance with her own beliefs and goals and had developed an independent self-concept. Remaining outside of polygamy despite an option to return reinforces her independence, capability to make decisions regarding her own life and indicates that she is self-directed. This self-direction contributes positively to her readiness for adult education settings.

Need for adult education

While Mary was able to work at a church-owned business in Colorado City, she had trouble finding employment in Salt Lake because she did not have her GED, “I’m just going for housekeeping right now because I’ve put in so much applications and everyone’s like ‘we’re not hiring.’” She was frustrated by her job search and stopped applying for positions to focus on getting her GED to improve her employment opportunities. She wanted to get a job so she could move out of the safe house and get her own place to live and had career goals of becoming an accountant. Like Emma, she had a need for adult education, because it was required for her to find gainful employment.

Readiness for adult education

Of the three study participants, Mary was the most confident about her academic success in an adult education setting that she defined as college. When I asked her what she would need to be successful in adult education, she responded:

Mary: Car. Probably I’d have to have a grant, definitely.

Laura: Are you afraid of the classroom, how hard it’ll be?

Mary: Not really, as long as I don’t have to stand up and do nothing in front of the class, I think I’ll be okay but I mean even that’s not too hard as long I know how to do it. I think mostly the one thing I’d be scared of is reading in front of everybody. I would not like that. I never would.

Laura: Do you worry about how easy or hard it will be? Do feel like it will be hard?

Mary: No. Especially if I got my GED I would, if I pass my GED good then I’d feel comfortable goin’ to a high school, and then goin’ to college.

Her biggest struggle currently is with “fitting in” which can be, in part, attributed to how recently she left polygamy and also to her age, where social acceptance was very important: “Everything. How they do their hair and we didn’t, we didn’t do any of that. You know, we combed our hair out nice like braids and French braids and you know and like we didn’t paint our nails, we didn’t put makeup on or anything.” In order for her to feel comfortable in an adult education setting, she would first like assistance with understanding how to dress and do her hair:

The only thing I have a problem with is, mostly my hair, I need to figure out what to do with it. I mean I know I’m going to leave it long, but sometimes it’s just so long I’m like I can’t do anything, I’m like, what should I do with this hair! But, I need to recut my bangs different.

Mary’s biggest concerns about her readiness for adult education were related to her perceived social limitations, not academics, but she also recognized that her lack of academic experience will hinder her pursuit of adult education, and saw her lack of a high school diploma as the biggest way that growing up in the polygamous community in Colorado City negatively affected her education. Her self-concept is important; she was confident that she will succeed in adult education once she received her GED, so her biggest concern was related to how she will “fit in” with her peers. This is important; my exploration of her life story came to a similar conclusion; after additional academic experiences in a formal setting, she would be ready for adult education. Her answer also indicated how important social experience in a formal academic setting outside of polygamy would be as well.

Discussion

Marginalized populations and their forms of knowledge are often not accepted as valid within adult education settings. Polygamous women are marginalized within polygamous communities, but they are also marginalized in adult education outside of these communities because of the marginalization caused by the sociohistorical context of their life and because they are women. As a part of a marginalized population, study participants were disadvantaged by their sociohistorical backgrounds because of non-formal childhood education experiences, different social relationships, and social roles that did not require adult education. Recognizing that marginalized populations and forms of knowledge are not accepted as valid within adult education settings, the patriarchal nature of both communities that provided the context for their life stories was also an important aspect of their readiness for adult education.

Participant’s self-assessments of what they needed or would need to consider adult education is important and weighed heavily in the final discussion of future implications of this study. Just as each woman’s story was unique, their readiness for adult education settings varied. While Mary and Emma had the least childhood formal academic experience, the act of leaving polygamy either created or was indicative of an independent self-concept that contributed to their readiness for adult education, in addition to creating a problem-centered need for adult education – they needed education to pursue meaningful careers. In contrast, while Sarah had completed a formal childhood education, she did not see a need for adult education. The primary factors affecting readiness for adult education for the participants in this study were background knowledge (i.e., academic, cultural, and social), a self-concept defined by external factors, and perceptions of possible social roles. These distinctions result in implications that are two-pronged; future research and programs must address the background experience necessary for an adult education setting (academic, social, and cultural), but it must also address the sociohistorical implications of self-definition created by a polygamous upbringing.

Recommendations

To support the readiness and success of women who were formerly part of polygamous societies in adult education settings, adult education programs must address perceived gaps in background knowledge academically, socially, and culturally. To be effective, a program developed to address background experience would not only have to include an academic aspect of readiness that includes study skills and adult basic education but also needs to address some of the social and cultural barriers that Mary and Emma regarded as important in their readiness for adult education. Mary, in particular, emphasized how important appearance was to her feeling comfortable in an adult education setting; Emma focused on the importance of social skills like effective communication with teachers and fellow learners as well as confidence to speak and present in class. Potential programs need to provide valuable information about succeeding in adult education settings as a whole, not just the academic aspects of adult education.

Second, programs need to address some of the sociohistorical implications of self-definition created by a polygamous upbringing. While I reinforce again the value of wife and mother as meaningful social roles, a potential program to help women who were formerly part of polygamous societies might provide exposure to alternate social roles for women. Emma’s exposure to educated women, such as her boss, helped her to see the potential for women outside of the social roles of wife and mother. A mentor could also help women who were formerly part of polygamous societies navigate the social and cultural environment of professional and adult education settings. Real-world work experience and mentorship with a woman who is self-directed, independent, educated, and economically successful could help women to identify additional possible social roles for themselves. Emma, Sarah, and Mary each indicated that work experience helped them to develop an understanding of employment, develop self-confidence that came when they received praise and payment for professional task well done, and understand how adult education would enrich and advance their careers. Programs combining mentorship with successful women with real-world paid work experience could help women gain self-confidence but also an understanding of how adult education could enrich and deepen their future roles.

Third, a program that addresses the needs of women who were formerly part of polygamous societies to help them be successful in adult education settings would facilitate the development of an independent self-concept. Within this prescribed program, facilitators, staff, and faculty need to provide opportunities where participants can be recognized as valid decision-makers, learn to value their background knowledge as valuable, and be able to define and vocalize what they wanted and needed. This is referred to as self-authorship by Baxter Magolda, defined as one’s ability to be the author of one’s own life, which involves “deciding what to believe, one’s identity, and how to interact with others” (Baxter Magolda, 2004, p. xix). Developing a concept of self that was independent of the father was the first step toward self-authorship for Mary and Emma (and leaving polygamy). A program that helps participants to develop into self-authored individuals would accomplish that by helping them view “knowledge as complex and socially constructed,” that the “self is central to knowledge construction,” and that knowledge is mutually constructed (Baxter Magolda & King, 2004, pp. 41–42).

Just as each woman’s story is unique, their readiness for adult education settings varied. This distinction results in implications that have multiple parts; future research and programs must address the background experience necessary for an adult education setting (academic, social, and cultural), but it must also address the sociohistorical implications of self-definition created by a polygamous upbringing. These recommendations lead to a program that incorporates the importance of background knowledge, provides opportunities for mentorship, incorporates real-world work experience, and facilitates the development of an independent self-concept.

Authors’ contribution

LP contributed 90% and CCO contributed 10% to this manuscript.

Conflict of interest

None.

References

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • White, O. K., & White, D. (2005). Polygamy and Mormon identity. The Journal of American Culture, 28(2), 165177. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.2005.00161.x

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baumgartner, L. M., & Johnson-Bailey, J. (2008). Fostering awareness of diversity and multiculturalism in adult and higher education. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 120, 4553. doi:10.1002/ace.315

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2004). Making their own way. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

  • Baxter Magolda, M. B., & King, P. M. (2004). Learning partnerships: Theory and models of practice to educate for self-authorship. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bringhurst, N. G., & Foster, C. L. (2011). Lecture: FLDS and the outside world. Ogden, Utah: Weber State University Alumni Center.

  • Byrd, K. L., & MacDonald, G. (2005). Defining college readiness from the inside out: First-generation college student perspectives. Community College Review, 33(1), 2237. doi:10.1177/009155210503300102

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Carpenter, S. (2012). Centering Marxist-feminist theory in adult learning. Adult Education Quarterly, 62(1), 1935. doi:10.1177/0741713610392767

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Campbell, A. (2008). Wive’s tales: Reflecting on research in Bountiful. Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 23(1–2), 121141. doi:10.1017/S0829320100009601

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • D’Onofrio, E. (2005). Child brides, in egalitarianism, and the fundamentalist polygamous family in the United States. International Journal of Law, Policy, and the Family, 19(3), 373394. doi:10.1093/lawfam/ebi028

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Duncan, E. J. (2008). The positive effects of legalizing polygamy: “Love is a many splendored thing.” Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy, 15(2), 315337. Retrieved from https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/djglp/vol15/iss1/3n

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Elias, J. L., & Merriam, S. B. (2005). Philosophical foundations of adult education. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company.

  • Etherington, K. (2009). Life story research: A relevant methodology for counsellors and psychotherapists. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 9(4), 225233. doi:10.1080/14733140902975282

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fivush, R., & Marin, K. A. (2007). Place and power: A feminist perspective on self-event connections. Human Development, 50(2–3), 111118. doi:10.1159/000100940

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gibson, M. (2010). ‘However satisfied man might be’: Sexual abuse in Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints communities. Journal of American Culture, 33(4), 280293. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.2010.00752.x

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jessop, C., & Palmer, L. (2007). Escape. New York, NY: Visionary Classics, Inc.

  • Knowles, M. (1989). The making of an adult educator: An autobiographical journey. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

  • Krakauer, J. (2004). Under the banner of heaven. New York, NY: Anchor Books.

  • Le, H., Casillas, A., Robbins, S. B., & Langley, R. (2005). Motivation and skills, social, and self-management predictors of college outcomes: Constructing the Student Readiness Inventory. Educational and Psychological Measurements, 65(3), 482508. doi:10.1177/0013164404272493

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Merriam, S. B. (2001). Andragogy and self-directed learning: Pillars of adult learning theory. New Directions of Adult and Continuing Education, 2001(89), 313. doi:10.1002/ace.3

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Moore-Emmett, A. (2004). God’s Brothel. San Francisco, CA: Pince-Nez Press.

  • Polya, T., Laszlo, J., & Forgas, J. P. (2005). Making sense of life-stories: The role of narrative perspective in perceiving hidden information about social identity. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35(6), 785796. doi:10.1002/ejsp.277

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Reid, M. J., & Moore, J. L. (2008). College readiness and academic preparation for postsecondary education: Oral histories of first-generation urban college students. Urban Education, 43(2), 240261. doi:10.1177/0042085907312346

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rossman, G. B., & Ralis, S. F. (2003). Learning in the field: An introduction to qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Saldana, J. (2013). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. London, UK: Sage Publications.

  • Stuart, M., Lido, C., & Morgan, J. (2011). Personal stories: How students’ social and the cultural life histories interact with the field of higher education. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 30(4), 489508. doi:10.1080/02601370.2011.588463

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Van Waggoner, R. S. (1989). Mormon polygamy: A history. Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books.

  • Wall, E., & Pulitzer, L. (2008). Stolen innocence: My story of growing up in a polygamous sect, becoming a teenage bride, and breaking free of Warren Jeffs. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • White, O. K., & White, D. (2005). Polygamy and Mormon identity. The Journal of American Culture, 28(2), 165177. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.2005.00161.x

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation

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Editor(s)-in-Chief: Helga DORNER

Associate Editors 

  • Csíkos, Csaba (Eötvös Lorand University, Hungary)
  • Csizér, Kata (Eötvös Lorand University, Hungary)
  • Dorner, Helga (Central European University, Hungary)

 

Editorial Board

  • Basseches, Michael (Suffolk University, USA)
  • Billett, Stephen (Griffith University, Australia)
  • Cakmakci, Gültekin (Hacettepe University, Turkey)
  • Damsa, Crina (University of Oslo,Norway)
  • Dörnyei, Zoltán (Nottingham University, UK)
  • Endedijk, Maaike (University of Twente, The Netherlands)
  • Fejes, Andreas (Linköping University, Sweden)
  • Guimaraes, Paula (University of Lisbon, Portugal)
  • Halász, Gábor (Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary)
  • Hansman, Catherine A. (Cleveland State University, USA)
  • Kroeber, Edith (Stuttgart University, Germany)
  • Kumar, Swapna (University of Florida, USA)
  • MacDonald, Ronald (University of Prince Edward Island, Canada)
  • Marsick, Victoria J. (Columbia University, USA)
  • Martensson, Katarina (Lund University, Sweden)
  • Matei, Liviu (Central European University, Hungary)
  • Matyja, Malgorzata (Wroclaw University of Economics, Poland)
  • Mercer, Sarah (University of Graz, Austria)
  • Nichols, Gill (University of Surrey, UK)
  • Nokkala, Terhi (University of Jyvaskyla, Finland)
  • Ostrouch-Kaminska (Uniwersytet Warminsko-Mazurski, Poland)
  • Pusztai, Gabriella (University of Debrecen, Hungary)
  • Ramesal, Ana (Barcelona University, Spain)
  • Reischmann, Jost (Bamberg University, Germany)
  • Rösken-Winter, Bettina (Humboldt, Germany)
  • Ryan, Stephen (Waseda University, Japan)
  • Török, Erika (Pallasz Athéné University, Hungary)
  • Wach-Kakolewicz, Anna (Poznan University of Economics and Business, Poland)
  • Watkins, Karen E. (University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia)

 

 

 

Journal of Adult Learning, Knowledge and Innovation
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