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"I Am the Seed in a Watermelon": Exploring Metaphors About Education, Welfare Reform, and Women's Lives

Ann Carey Scott, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation describes a qualitative, participatory action research study conducted in western Massachusetts from the spring of 1997 through the spring of 2000. The study investigated the educational experiences of a group of fifty-five low-income female students in one western Massachusetts community using interviews, focus groups, writing activities, and surveys. The study examined how participants were affected by contemporary social and economic issues, particularly by the policies commonly known as “welfare reform” that were legislated in the United States in 1996. Welfare reform created new challenges in the lives of many low-income women and their families by severely limiting the amount of assistance recipients are eligible to receive in their lifetimes and restricting their access to education and to the supports needed in order to pursue education. All of the study participants were raising families, were current or former welfare recipients, were either enrolled in graduates of Adult Basic Education programs, and the majority were Puerto Rican women who spoke Spanish as their first language. Thus, the main contexts framing this study were welfare reform and adult literacy, as well as the implications of race, language, gender, and class on low-income women's educational experiences. Because the study employed a participatory action research approach, participants were full partners in all aspects of the research, including its design, methodology, analysis, and a variety of presentation activities. The study described in this dissertation explored three key topics in order to understand the educational experiences of participants: the wide range of meanings participants associate with education; the impact of welfare reform on their learning and achievement; and the variety of ways they made use of and created support systems in order to reach their goals as parents and learners. Finally, an important aspect of the study was that it employed metaphor analysis in two ways: (1) as the study's main tool for analyzing data and (2) as an innovative pedagogical strategy for the writing classrooms in which much of the data was generated. Thus, in addition to the study's findings related to participants' educational experiences, the study also generated findings related to educational practice.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Adult education|Community college education

Recommended Citation

Scott, Ann Carey, ""I Am the Seed in a Watermelon": Exploring Metaphors About Education, Welfare Reform, and Women's Lives" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3000343.