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Friday, August 28, 2009

On Not Silencing

Ashely at Small Strokes asked me to write a guest post for her series on teaching feminism in schools. I decided to expand off of my previous post about silencing feminists in a school setting. Make sure you check out Ashely's series, there is some great stuff going on over there! Here is what I wrote for the series:

One thing that I have been thinking a lot about lately is silencing. So when Ashley asked me to write a guest post for her teaching feminism in schools series, I thought I would write about the effect silencing has in a school setting.

Just one thing to remember: this is coming from the perspective of a student, not a teacher.

Feminism and women's studies were not taught in my high school. We'd have a unit on women's history, a unit on books written by women, etc. But those were usually some of the shortest units of the class and nothing was incorporated into the rest of the class. It just seemed like something the teachers wanted to get through because they had to, not something they were actually interested in.

The high school that I went to was overwhelmingly white, upper middle class, conservative, and Christian. I fit the mold in kin of two of these demographics. I'm white and middle class -- but by the standards of my fellow classmates, I was on the lower middle class end of the spectrum, though not by society's standards. I am not, however, conservative or that religious.

When I was in high school I definitely had feminist values, because that was the way that I was raised, but I don't remember ever calling myself a feminist during that time. I think a lot of this had to do with my high school atmosphere and the people that I associate with. While the teachers claimed that the classroom was a "safe environment," it wasn't really true. Having an opinion that was different (and sometimes radically different) than most of the other people in the class was not an easy thing and the teachers didn't really do a whole lot to encourage any type of discussion about it.

I really shouldn't blame the teachers entirely. In high school, I wasn't really the kind of person that raised their hand a lot. It wasn't cool to be smart and it definitely wasn't cool to have differing opinions. I didn't really fit in anyway, but I was too shy to actually say anything in class. But I often wonder if my voice was encouraged to be heard more often, if I would have been more willing to share it. But there's really no way of knowing.

Teaching feminism and women's studies in high school comes with a lot of responsibility. I think it is a great idea and necessary to the development of well-rounded students that feminism and women's studies be taught in middle school and high school. But where the responsibility comes in is making sure that you are discussing these topics in a truly safe environment for the students. It shouldn't be about "preaching" your values as a teacher but about fostering discussion about these important issues.

Students who voice differing opinions are often silenced in a classroom setting, not only by fellow students out of peer pressure, but also sometimes from teachers. While teaching feminism and women's studies, it is also important to teach about respect and practice respect yourself. It's important to encourage all opinions, even anti-feminist ones if they are made in a respectful manner. Silencing opinions of students, whether you agree with them or not, is not what is going to build confident students who are ready for the "real world." High schooler can be cruel, but when the silencing comes from teachers, I think it might be even more damaging.

The incorporation of feminism and women's studies into the curriculum has to be done in a way that avoids silencing. I don't really have any concrete ways of going about doing this because I am not familiar with teaching techniques. All I can say is try to be respectful and encourage respect in your students. Teaching feminism and women's studies should be about fostering discussion and bringing awareness to feminist issues, not only in the lives of students but in society as well. Silencing students who are respectful in their opinions is not the way to go about doing this.


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