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 volunteer work in informal learning organizations such as Steamboat Friends of Wilderness, Yampatika, and Dirt Bags of Southern Arizona. These involvements provide inspiration for nature-themed essays and memoir.

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.

Excerpt from I Am This Path ( An essay that won Honorable Mention at the Steamboat Art Museum Ekphrasis Contest)

I have walked this path so many times. This path of tall grasses not far from home. This path is a part of me. I am a part of this place, this land, miles and miles of boggy grasses, dried shades of black, brown and gold alert in the dimming winter light.

In 1948 Aldo Leopold wrote, there are those who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. I am one who cannot.

The marsh grasses skimmed with ice, of cold November temperatures when I wrap myself in woolen sweater, hat and hand-warmer filled mittens, my felt lined sorrels and insulated socks. Sloshing through drainage water amongst the reeded grasses my eyes and ears search the sky for v-shaped formations. My ears on high alert. Waiting to be surrounded with the moment’s desire.

Canada geese fill the skies arcing one last time as they find water lanes they seek. The synchronized honking, thousands of long necked geese is deafening. Like a drum, my chest reverberates with each beat pushing down out my feet into the wet earth. I hold my breath, dizzy with the sound.

I wander alone along the edges of the boggy marsh fields, a woman who grew up in the hinterlands, played in sand piles and pine forests, studied tree frogs, crossed wide lakes in my metal fishing boat to inlets of mystery, attended out-door church services and solo camped in national wilderness areas once I’d grown. I walk alone, feeling the sharp rasp of grasses against my arms and pant legs. This habitat is feral, deep and lodged in limbs and bone, in spirit and mind. My simple energy merges with the landscape and my physical boundaries blur and dissolve.