In the summer, i’m going to teach another Education course. This time, it’ll be a three week course on the social foundations of education. Five days a week, 2.5 hours a day. It’s the same number of hours as the other courses I’ve taught (all two of them), but in a configuration that’s MUCH more challenging, I think. i dunno. I’m more than a bit jittery about teaching. But this is much better than cold-sweats-heart-palpitations-terrified. So, you know, things are improving.
social foundations of education. three weeks–I think it’ll be one of the final courses for them before they go and get teaching jobs (or try to). My students will be high school art teachers. I don’t know jack about art. i expect we’ll get along.
I also got the evaluations from my fall class. 42% of ’em filled one out. That’s 13 out of 32 people better than the course before. One person mentioned that sometimes the discussions became a bit defeatist. Yea. That’s one of the problems, eh. I have great respect and admiration for teachers–it’s one of the most important jobs ever. Right up there with parenting, health care and radical feminist activism.
But the education system? not so much. it’s constraining, conservative, rigid and dehumanizing. Like ALL the institutions of power–Medicine, Law, Religion–designed to keep the power in the hands of the powerful, and maintain the dominated at the bottom–a raw resource for the human services industry. Big “E” Education is designed to reproduce systems of inequality–to reinforce racism, sexism and classism. To reward mediocrity and stifle creativity. And all the good intentions of those beautiful people in my classes, they’re not gonna amount to a hill of beans when faced with that big ol’ machine.
Or will they?
Why am i doing this, then, if I don’t think things will change?
Of COURSE things are changing. Though the changes are glacial, they are indeed changing. Lookit, I’m an obvious lesbian from a working-class (not poor) background. I’m not supposed to be teaching university classes. I’m not supposed to be talking to future teachers about sexist harassment in schools. But I am, and I do, and I have started to talk to future teachers about sexist harassment in schools..
Speaking of which, you know what, NO ONE talks about sexual harassment by boys, of girls. There’s lots of stuff about generic bullying, and quite a lot about homophobia, and there is research too about racist bullying–(but it’s not called racism–it’s called “ethnoculturally-based bullying”). In fact, you’d be hard pressed, as you dig through the research, to find anyone who calls attention to the systems of domination (you know, patriarchy, for example) that are socially approved and reinforced in myriad ways. These systems, within which we all operate, provide the permissions and methods by which children (and adults) bully, harass and intimidate.
There’s this campaign to combat bullying, right–all the ‘good’ kids wear pink, to signal their commitment to end homophobia.Pink is the colour for the campaign because only girls and gay boys wear pink. Boys are not supposed to wear that colour because that means they’re faggots. Girls ARE supposed to wear that colour because, well–that’s all there is for girls to wear, isn’t it? No one is bullied fro wearing olive green, or navy blue. Girls who decide to wear khaki and blue and black, like boys, they’re not gonna be bullied because girls who dress like that can kick yer ass. But boys who wear pink, now, fair game.
Because they are like girls.
And girls are weak. and disposable. or at least interchangeable–when we’re all in pink, we all look alike.
When i was young, i remember saying, and hearing, that ‘older men are set in their ways, they don’t understand that women are liberated now’. We let our dads and our grandpas off the hook because they grew up during a time when there were different expectations, sexism was stronger.
Well, now, you know what, i hear women say that exact same thing about men MY age! “oh, my dad, he’s just that way because that’s all he knows”.
No, no it is NOT all he knows! He was rewarded with all this power and room to move because he was male. All the women in his life, all those women who tried to tell him that WE are human, too, and he has to make room for us — we are just so many gnats buzzing in his ear. The call of the patriarchy is much louder and more compelling than the quiet determined resistance of the women. So he learns how to keep that power.
The ‘bad guys’ will physically intimidate and attack women who dare to question them. There are relatively few of them. But the ‘nice guys’ who would never dream of hurting women, they don’t stand up to the bad guys. they don’t sanction them. They might keep their distance from the bad guys, but they’re not likely to confront them, and tell them to stop. They’re not likely to step in between a man who is a bully and the woman who is his target.
I was at a dinner party once, a long time ago now. It was a gathering of artsy type folk, we had done some theatre together. One of the women who was starring in a play the next week, she was there with her husband. I was there with my lover. I wore a t-shirt from a take back the night march a few years earlier. The husband guy, he said to me, with a smile, “so, you want to kill all men, do you?”
I was taken aback. and i took the bait. I said, “of course not, what are you talking about?” and then realized he was referring to my t-shirt. It’s a great shirt. All these women, and female gods and historical figures are rushing together over a hill that is glowing yellow like the moon and stars in the sky. There are no male figures in the picture.
I guess that bugged him. He kept on me and on me, telling me that feminists hated men, and wanted to kill them or enslave them. I don’t remember now if i replied, “oh, like men do to women now?” I doubt it. I should have. I remember his wife beside him, looking down, looking uncomfortable. I remember our friend, Francine, trying to argue with him, too, trying to pull him off me (metaphorically). I remember feeling as if he was terrible knight in black armour, thrusting at me with his sword, swinging at me with his mace, and i had no defense. i was inarticulate in the face of his frightened rage.
And the men all moved to another side of the room. The nice men all stayed silent and pretended to talk about something else.
Later, Doug told me, “he had no right to attack you like that. He was totally unreasonable”.
“Why didn’t you help me?” I asked him, “He might have listened to you. Or at least backed off.”
I don’t remember Doug’s answer.
But that’s how the individual bully props up systemic sexism. The bully is left alone. No one confronts him in the moment, and later his actions are decontextualized as just some mean things he does. Or maybe his behaviour is pathologized–and we hear that all the time, too. “he’s a sick man”. No he’s not. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Were he truly ill, or disordered in some way, his choice of target would not be nearly so predictable. He went after the women. He targeted me. His wife. our friend Francine. And the men let him. The system stayed in place, his position of dominance, the one wearing the boots, the boots placed on our necks, everything in its place.
This took place a long time ago, and we were all of us in our late twenties and early thirties at the time. “Things are much better for women now”, we said, “men understand better now than they did”, we said. All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
Things have changed. At least now it’s NOT okay to say out loud (if you are a man) that you expect your wife to have dinner ready for you every night when you come home. At least it is not okay to growl at your wife, “One-a dese days, Alice, one-a dese days….Pow! Right in da kisser!” as Ralph Kramden said to his wife Alice 1950s sit-com “The Honeymooners”. In some places, it’s not okay to post pornographic pictures on the lunchroom walls, either.Things have changed.
ah, but it is glacial. Women are still routinely harassed and dismissed in non-traditional jobs (i rode my bike past a construction site last week, and the one woman working on the site wore a bright pink hardhat. I was so angry…); everywhere you look, women and girls are stuffed into pink (more and more, i’m pretty sure) and boys are draped in khaki. Women are invisible in public. Movies, radio, tv shows, art galleries, music, business, science–even when there are more women than men in the science programs and the PhD programs and business schools, it is overwhelmingly men in the good-paying jobs, the seats of power, the heads of state. And of course, pornography STILL proliferates–in lunch rooms (maybe not as many, now–but too many, all the same), on TV, in store window displays, billboards, the internet, everywhereeverywhereeverywhere….
We have our place. We’ve learned where we belong. We learned it in school. We learned it from each other, from our teachers, from our families, from the world around us. But we can un-learn it, too. and we can make something else instead. When i teach “Social Foundations of Education”, I want us to figure out together how that foundation was laid, and what we might do to use it as a base for liberation rather than complacent acquiescence.
So. Sexism and sexual harassment is one thing we’ll focus on. The other thing will be the teachers strike. here in BC, public school teachers have been on strike for the whole school year. They all go to work every day, they just don’t do anything extra. No report cards, no recess supervision, no after-school sports. It’s frustrating for everyone. the Education Ministry has been chipping away at the BC teacher’s federation since 2001, when the Liberals were first elected. They declared teaching an essential service, effectively limiting teachers ability to legally strike or engage in job actions that would have an impact; they passed bills that removed class sizes, class composition, specialist support (‘educational assistants’, or other support staff), and hours of work from the teachers collective agreement. In April of 2011, the BC Supreme court found these limits (Bill 27 and Bill 28) violate teachers charter rights to bargain collectively. And now they’re trying to impose a contract that would see teachers salaries essentially frozen (The state calls it “net-zero”– it means i think, increases of 1% each year for three years or something like that).
We could have some interesting times dissecting labour relations, educational and union politics, sexism in the hallowed halls…three weeks. I’m a bit nervous about it. But it’s exciting, too. we can do a lot together, meeting every day like that. just have to have a plan…
anyway, I started this post about three weeks ago, and it’s time to move on.