Thursday, May 18, 2017

SCHOOL IS IN BEYOND THE FEMINIST CLASSROOM | Bitch Media

School Is In | Bitch Media:

SCHOOL IS IN

BEYOND THE FEMINIST CLASSROOM

Student with vines creeping near.
Illustration by Chris Kindred

This article appears in our 2016 Winter issue, Nerds. Subscribe today!
One of my most striking lessons in gendered classroom dynamics came in a history seminar during my final year at a women’s college. The college allowed men into its graduate program in teacher education, and one of those men sat across from me in this seminar, dominating discussions even when he clearly hadn’t done the reading. Still, the nine women, including myself, who filled out the rest of the class found ourselves deferring to him: We gestured that, yes, he could speak before us; we quietly pursed our lips when he talked over us without realizing it, and we shifted uncomfortably rather than challenge him on questionable interpretations of history.
Finally, the professor, a man and an avowed feminist, intervened. “Hey, let me stop you there,” he said to the student. “You’ve spoken a lot this class. You need to make space for the women in the class to speak.” The professor enforced the policy for the rest of the class, and for the remainder of the semester actively intervened to prevent the male student from monopolizing the conversation. If he hadn’t intervened, the semester could have been unproductive, demoralizing, and incessantly frustrating.
And it wasn’t just that one man in that one seminar. Since beginning my graduate studies in history at a major (coed) research institution, the same dynamic emerges, ever more fierce in an environment where grad students battle for professorial favor, and women, while increasingly present, still make up less than half of my department. From the time we were children, we have navigated classrooms that—from test questions that favor wealthy, white, male students to unconscious bias on the part of educators—too often reinforce society’s broader, structural inequalities.
Feminist classroom practices, when implemented, can play an important role in creating a learning atmosphere where students from all backgrounds can engage in critical analysis of course materials and in challenging prevailing modes of thought and discourse.
Yet despite the importance of feminist pedagogy in combating structural oppression, we should also be clear: Feminist pedagogy alone is inadequate to the barriers facing women, people of color, and queer people in institutions of higher education.
Instead, we should look toward changing the institutions that structure our teaching. Just as we teach students to contextualize the texts and people we study, we must understand our classrooms as products of the broader university environment.
Today’s universities are hardly the wood-paneled rooms filled with old men smoking pipes. Higher education has changed, but not in a singular direction. The legacies of the Black freedom struggle and the women’s liberation School Is In | Bitch Media:

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