Barbara Sparks

Barbara Sparks

After 33 years in higher education, Barbara Sparks, Ph.D., interest in how different groups of adults learn and develop continues through her writing, teaching and consulting.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Education Research of the Year Award for The Struggles of Getting an Education: Issues of Power, Culture and Difference for Mexican Americans of the Southwest provided Barbara with a springboard for further cross-cultural research and publications, presentations and workshops.

Her writing covers literacy and vocational learning in Cuba, stories of Appalachian women’s informal and job-related learning, experiences of welfare mothers learning in community, immigrant English literacy classroom narratives, practitioner and leadership development challenges, reviews of adult basic education programs and middle-class adult transitions to retirement.

Retiring from North Carolina State University, she remains involved in culture, literacy and learning through nonprofit and educational program evaluation, volunteering in informal learning organizations such as Yampatika and the Steamboat Springs Art Council and teaching continuing education workshops for lifelong learning programs in Colorado and New Jersey.

Excerpt from The Struggles of Getting an Education: Issues of Power, Culture and Difference for Mexican Americans of the Southwest

This is a story about educational struggle, the story of how working class Mexican American adults have struggled for their right to an education; a story that is missing from the adult literacy reports. It is also a story of resistance, a resistance to the unrelenting discrimination, inside and outside of schooling that Mexican Americans have experienced because of their racial and ethnic status. Finally, this is a story of how government funded adult basic education (ABE) and English literacy programs contribute to the Mexican American struggle for educational equality. It documents the stories of thirty men and women who try to get an education in a society that seeks to assimilate them into the dominant culture because it does not accept them as they are. These men and women tell of their educational experiences that are embedded in wider historical and contemporary social, cultural, economic, and political arenas of life. They also tell of the cultural actions they took to meet their self-identified educational needs and the continuous struggles they engaged in as they did so.

Excerpt from Follow Those Girls (A piece of oral history taken from a larger project about women’s learning and development.) Reader’s Theater, Oak Creek

“Now look, those two girls right there, they look like they know where they’re going, so, you just follow them. You can do this.”

Such was the sendoff eighteen year old Grace heard from Mother as they approached the wooden platform at the bus station. A small brown bag of ham biscuits in her hand, Grace was leaving the family farm for the big city and a chance to earn some money for college. A lady friend of Mother’s got her a job as chore girl for a wealthy couple in Albany, New York. Graduated from high school a few weeks earlier, this would be the first time Grace left her family farm in the backwoods of Caswell county North Carolina.

As fate would have it, the two girls from the bus station got off at Washington, D.C. Grace had to go on to New York by herself. Mother was counting on her.