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I was thrilled to be in a big city and full of optimism about my classes. But as the year unwound, I began dealing with anxiety and depression—and found myself in the midst of an emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship. The relationship, and my mental illness, would go on for years before I got help. As one of the millions of American women who struggle with anxiety and depression, I came to understand that my mental health struggles did not exist in a vacuum.

Living in a sexist society necessarily impacts the way that I, and many other women, process our experiences and emotions. The therapeutic work that arose from this simple premise saved my life.

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It makes sense that over time, these forces can wear a person down, as well as exacerbate existing clinical mental health issues. Today, women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than men. The same is true of de pression. Ignoring sexism when treating these issues is dangerous, according to Abigail Conley, who teaches counseling and special education at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Yet Sax never directly identifies a sexist culture as the root cause of stress for girls, despite the fact that the crux of his argument tap-dances around that very point. The psychological practice, informed by relational-cultural theory as well as several others schools of thought, aims to help patients understand how biases like racism, sexism, and homophobia can contribute to their mental distress.

It also accepts that specific iterations of misogyny—such as sexual assault or emotional abuse—are part and parcel of a broader system of sexism. Julien, a practicing feminist therapist. This is sexism at work, in your life. We are concerned about how and when the attempt to create a democratic classroom goes astray. To clarify our concerns, we provide several brief examples:. These examples show the complexity of sharing power with students in the classroom and how demanding a democratic classroom can be. A growing body of literature has focused on feminist assessment Hutchings, ; Lambert, ; Musil, a, b.

Two collections of essays published by the Association of American Colleges described the results of this investigation Musil, a, b , and yet provided little detail on how the professors in the study assessed student learning in the classroom. Lambert claims that the principles in Table 1 are concerned with power, politics, and transformation, and that the principles place the student at center. To us, the principles are broadly worded, vague, and not readily adaptable to any classroom. They do, however, underlie an important point Lambert makes. In this article, we encourage reflections about hidden assumptions made by a number of White and middle-class feminists.

We encourage this experience because of the fact that a false reading of the distinction between matters of educational equity and democracy may injure the very students that feminists purport to help. Although feminist concerns about the misuse of assessment are legitimate, we suggest that feminist pedagogy including the nine principles of feminist assessment strategies address directly student learning concerns.

Without a clear discussion of how feminist scholars assess students, their suggestion to share power with students leads to confusion. We believe, therefore, that while dialogue is important to teaching, it is surely one of the many factors that might lead to effective teaching. In a shared democratic classroom, even the idea that professors have the power to give grades grants them power over students. The following are a few questions for reflection: Is giving grades just a judgment?

Liberal Feminism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Or does giving grades provide feedback to students, so that they may improve? Or do students really earn their grades?


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If giving grades does not clearly articulate to students how to improve, then giving grades may not be enough, especially for first generation college students and students of color who may not have had adequate feedback at the lower levels of their education. For many students of color, suffering from class or race-based discrimination is a common occurrence in the schools.

In any culture, it must be said that using grades to discriminate against students is grossly unacceptable. To describe this issue in broad terms, we use the terms overt and covert discrimination. Overt discrimination may take place when a teacher tells students that they are not smart enough to understand or complete assignments. Covert discrimination occurs when a teacher pats students on the back, tells them they are doing just fine; but covertly believes that the students are really not capable of learning.

This could also occur when a faculty member does not provide adequate feedback on a poorly executed student work; or when a teacher abdicates his or her responsibility to use appropriate assessment instruments to determine whether a given body of students understand materials taught in class. We believe that a blanket interpretation of shared power in the sense of issuing grades may not take into account the experiences and needs of the poor, working class, or first generation college students, people of color, and other groups.

The point we are making here is that some of the ways feminists interpret notions of power and control may inadvertently reinforce stereotypes, because their interpretations assume middle-class experiences that less privileged students may not have. On the one hand, for example, a White and middle-class student with a strong high school background in reading and writing may not suffer in a classroom in which an instructor focuses on dialogue, and chooses to give everybody As on papers whether they needed continued work or not.

Although our main focus is on classrooms at the university level, we must include a discussion of K pedagogy to clarify our position. We first discuss the history and current literature on how educational inequity occurs. We demonstrate how different conceptions of teaching and assessment result in either sorting of students which is a way to prepare learners for different socio-economic positions in American society or educating students so that they have a greater chance for social mobility and success. We then discuss ways to overcome these pedagogically discriminatory practices.

The belief that ability nature , or development nurture is the primary basis of intelligence continues to spill into judgments about learners in the classroom. The belief in innate intelligence as the factor for success, however, conflicts with democratic ideals that hard work leads to life success. In some cases even though ability could mean incremental ability as related to learning , it can also mean innate ability that ability is an in-born trait.

In the United States judgments have been used to sort out students as though a fair contest a meritocracy encompassing student ability and hard work exists in classrooms, even against a democratic paradigm, which suggests that those who study and work hardest will rise to the top. This point is important when and where we draw on our personal relationships with colleagues. In almost all of the classes that we teach, we have observed that, even after discussing the distinction between innate ability and incremental ability development , colleagues, teacher education candidates, and pre-service teachers continually fall back to the issue of academic success based on innate qualifiers.

Could this phenomenon be an accident? This belief may be deeply embedded in American society. Too often, the belief in innate abilities causes parents and educators to either consciously or subconsciously vary their expectations of students based on social, economic and, or racial lines Finn, ; Good, ; Rosenthal For children and young adults the situation could be disturbing.

Additionally, the study concluded that students who believed that they had low ability levels realized decreased performance in the testing situation. Having control is, nevertheless, associated with beliefs in innate ability Dweck, , While discussion of innate abilities and personal development appear to be on opposite sides of establishing a literate democratic society, there are other issues, which equally present undue challenges to teaching such as social inequalities in the form of sexism, racism and classicism.

Social inequities in the forms of sexism, racism, and classicism become means to insure inequity. They can be used to treat a given body of learners as if they are not capable of learning. Students with less than desirable educational experiences perform less well in school because they are given lower-level assignments, believed to be less capable, and end up being handicapped academically.

Could this practice on the part of some teachers be a deliberate effort to push certain students into less desirable social, political, and economic conditions, so that certain learners have better sustaining life conditions than others? In which case then [we would argue] the schools have become a habitat for determining and securing coveted positions for certain groups of students at the expense of others.

Further, if there are distinctions between educational institutions and business enterprises, then since when did the former become the latter? Or are the two inextricable companions? Research by Willis and Anyon , have demonstrated that different students learn different things based upon a hidden curriculum that supports the status quo i. This hidden curriculum consists of the various ways that some textbook companies, administrators, teachers, and parents keep students from poor socio-economic backgrounds in their place , as if there is an ordained place for this group.

To call this a conspiracy could be a misdiagnosis of the real issue. It is rather a process of layering knowledge, and perhaps an expectation among higher echelons of power to maintain their statuses. This is to say that class, and race as well as gender expectations do play a role in what we refer to as the hidden curriculum. We believe that use of limited or emergency licenses in certain states, coupled with the fact that many urban K teachers attend colleges where high standards are not emphasized, urban students entrusted to poorly prepared teachers do not learn the basics of academic survival.

Because of their own educational handicaps, the teachers tend to have concerns about their own abilities and that of their pupils as well Finn, ; hooks, The result is that many K pupils are not adequately prepared for college. However, the implementation of standardized tests seems to punish teachers and schools. Johnson and Johnson describe the negative effects of standardized tests on a small Louisiana school.

The authors rightly point out that the test-makers are selling millions of dollars worth of tests in spite of the fact that children in Redbud School have few supplies and only one drinking fountain for the entire school. It is our opinion that the current use of standardized tests is an example of how beliefs in innate and, not incremental ability and characterize the education of young minds. We argue, therefore, that if standardized tests are being used to determine what students know and in which areas they need to improve, then they are worthwhile.

More often than not, standardized tests provide little specific feedback to students and teachers, and so both groups fail to pinpoint specific areas for improvement. Therefore, teaching to the test in the context of Leaving No Child Behind is [to us] sorting out students.

Radical Pedagogy (2004)

In contrast to sorting, we believe that teachers must find ways to teach and assess student learning using techniques that enable students to increase their understanding and skill levels. To such strategies, we distinguish between arbitrary and unfair use of assessment against useful and necessary assessments as measures. Astin suggests that assessment outcomes and selection of instruments are matters of judgments in values. Given the expectation of higher standards across the country as supported by the No Child Left Behind Act and statewide assessment systems, identifying whose values and standards are at play in the schools has increasingly become important and challenging.

The authors argue that grades also can be interpreted as a means to sort good students from bad, or provide a weak form of feedback that may or may not reflect an official standard. The authors went on to say that:. Noddings states that standards are unfair. The author discusses the increasing number of students who pass standardized tests and still question their knowledge. Based on mainstream cultural expectations, standardized tests usually have one right answer. All such tests are norm-referenced and they can be used to sort out learners. Although feminists correctly warn about the misuse of standards, tests, and grades, they understate the alternative—teachers need to know what learners ought to be learning.

As teachers ourselves, we are not against standards and grades but rather on how we treat students in relation to these measures. Clearly, performance-based assessments are not meant to sort out students. They are assessments based upon criteria, and allow for possibilities for meeting criteria in numerous ways. Performance-based assessments provide concrete ways for teachers to convince students that they are not defined by the results of tests, and that they are intelligent beings and can improve. Similarly, hooks tells students that grades are something they can control through their effort.

To ensure that students are learning and improving their skills, performance-based assessments may be the only way to convince students that they can control their effort and improve their performance. Teachers, however, must provide clearer criteria, avenues for revision, and make known to learners that different contexts require different criteria for assessment.

For instance, we have students who have taken writing classes and then assume that they have learned the correct ways to write without being aware of the fact that there are many different forms of writing such as fiction, non-fiction, scientific, technical writing, and others. Similarly, students may assume that they have one chance to do something correctly. Noddings discusses providing students with avenues to make revisions in their work.

For example, she suggests that students be given more time in math, and be allowed to re-take math tests. However, teachers may find that allowing for revisions or more time for students to learn is not always easy, because other students may see this approach as unfair to those who learn more quickly. We try to make clear that many real-life situations require that everybody understands and performs. Through such dialogue in the classroom, we try to work with students to understand that sorting undermines learning.

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This understanding is especially important for students who do not come from the majority culture. For underrepresented students, they need to be able to code switch from what is accepted as best or right in their own culture to what is accepted in the mainstream culture Delpit, In effect, this code switching is a form of consciously connecting with a rather different social environment, and its expectations.

To do this, teachers are encouraged to understand not only the history of oppression but also how oppression is reproduced, and played out in societies.


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For example, some feminist teachers build their case on a notion of essentialism —that women are innately superior to men. That is, feminist pedagogy assumes that caring is a feminine attribute. As authors, we believe that caring is an important value that many women strive for and support. Dealing with the results of feminist essentialism is important because male essentialism is used against the education of women.

The point needs to be made that human characteristics do vary by experience, culture, and education. The complexity of teaching cannot be limited by assigning erroneous attributes that hinder the development of either male or female students. If we resist all efforts that women cannot comprehend mathematics and science, then we cannot believe that men cannot as caring. The fact of it is that caring does not rule out appropriate use of judgment and power Delpit, ; hooks, Teachers and parents are aware that they must use judgment and power in their relationships with children and youth.

The act of caring thus connotes a form of power over others. We want to push the idea further to clarify what this sort of empathy entails. What about a student who is angry in learning situations? Teachers with true empathy recognize when students do not know enough about what they are learning, or even understand the subject of instruction and, yet are able to determine rather meaningful strategies that ensure that students do learn.

For sure, caring does not mean pleasing students. To us, it means as much as respecting and engaging students in search for truths, even when it may be uncomfortable. Students who find that their old ways of thinking no longer apply will experience cognitive dissonance of sorts. This dissonance is a powerful agent for change in thinking Festinger, ; Halpern, This faculty member selects three students who have similar ethnic and gender characteristics, so that the simulation is free of possible stereotypes.

At the outset, the class is told that the three students are sixth graders who have performed the same on a brief word-problem on a mathematics test. She walks up to the first student, looks at the student with obvious disgust, and throws the paper on the desk. She then walks to the second student and gently places the paper on the desk. See, here. After the simulation, she asks the three students how they felt during the simulation and asks the rest of the class what happened in the simulation. For the first two students they claimed to have been put down.

The students understood that the teacher had little expectation of them. Although intimidating, the third student admitted that she felt understood and that the teacher expected her to do well next time. After the simulation, we discussed what self-esteem really means—and, that it can be [or that it is] laissez-faire solicitousness and, as such a mask for contempt, if it supports failure. The simulation makes two important points. The first of which explains why students respond best to helpful criticisms.

Baron found that students respond to constructive criticism with increased self-efficacy. By contrast, destructive criticism leads to decreased self-efficacy. The second point relates to what we mean by caring.


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To us, caring involves the courage to provide constructive criticism to enable students to understand expectations. We suggest that the balance between caring and power happens through this constructive form of criticism—a very different form of power than the use of destructive criticism. When teachers provide constructive criticism, they are using their power and authority. Feminist pedagogy, however, makes problematic the use of power and suggests that teachers be co-equals with their students. This belief in teachers as co-equals flows from an essentialist position that women are naturally caring and do not use power; but women do use power when raising their children and in classrooms.

Even teachers who claim they want to avoid the use of power in classrooms find it is inherent in their roles. We believe that feminist teachers must recognize that they, too, do use power, and that this power must be used constructively even if it means to cause some inconvenience or discomfort in the lives of students. We then hold a Town Meeting, where students take on the role of their characters. In the beginning of this class activity, many of the students appear to be uncomfortable. We also remind the students that whatever comments are made by each student during the simulation is descriptive of their assumed characters, and not their own beliefs.

Afterward the students reflect on their experiences in writing. We end the activity with a discussion about their discomfort, as we discuss their feelings of dissonance as well as the change process. Many students describe having an aha experience after the event. Feedback from the students suggests that the activity should be an integral part of the course. As faculty members, we have found out that this exercise contains the same risks for stereotyping as any class discussion on race, ethnicity, or gender.

Counter-Stereotypes and Feminism Promote Leadership Aspirations in Highly Identified Women

The experience appears to open up students for important discussion on race, ethnicity, gender, age, among others, in terms of making assumptions, and stereotyping others. We believe that this kind of deep learning happens in feminist classrooms; however, a positive use of power demands that the teacher facilitates student dialogue, so that everyone is able to participate in the learning process. From our perspective, deep learning is sometimes painful, because accepting as wrong a deeply held belief is hard Stanovich, This deep learning can also be exciting as students engage in heated discussion and learn to disagree without offensiveness or rudeness.

This is when teachers must use their power in the classroom to demonstrate respect for differing views, while maintaining respect and order in the classroom. Sadker and Sadker support the idea of using teacher power to engage students in classroom dialogues. Our syllabi indicate that all students are required to participate in class discussion.

No student is allowed to take the entire discussion time.

When students do group work, we monitor their group work to assure that no student is left out. We talk to individual students about their under-bearing or overbearing presence in groups. Because we present this monitoring system as an equitable treatment of students, students have been extraordinarily receptive. I never talked because I was afraid to. Because you made me, I found out that I could express my views and I do it in classes all the time now. Although we use a great deal of dialogue in our classroom, we are uncomfortable with a feminist view of pedagogy that focuses on dialogue at the expense of writing.

Writing requires a deeper level of self-analysis. Many of our first generation students come with poor writing and absence of critical thinking skills. Finn and Rose describe their own transformations from working-class kid to educated adult, and they both talk about the role of learning to write. Mike Rose said:. Although journaling can require high levels of critical thinking and is useful in many circumstances, it sometimes becomes little more than daily logs. Students need to do complex writing that requires systematic thinking, organization, and integration of references.

They must also be able to express opposing views and show how they have used evidence to come to their conclusions. Golden is one feminist who confirms her commitment to critique student writing. She reports:. First generation and working-class students are not as likely as their middle-class peers to have developed good writing skills.

Even students entering a graduate program at a comprehensive institution like ours may not have done this kind of writing. These students require a great deal of help to write explicitly and systematically, which requires explicit use of faculty power. In our experience, if students are not asked to rewrite, then they rarely read the comments on their assignments and, or forget them soon after. We believe that this process is more likely to make some students uncomfortable in the short run, and yet [we believe] it will transform and empower them in the long run.

Feminists have suggested two forms of educational activism. The one based on democracy Maher, ; Scering, , and the other based in critical theory as exemplified by Freire , Feminist assessment needs to be illuminating and transforming so as to provide knowledge and skills students need to make informed choices in their lives. Teachers can challenge traditional notions of power and yet be caring. This is to mean that teachers must encourage students to go on to succeed, and not give up. Later Friere points out how easily good intention can thwarted when he says:.

Freire also criticized radical leftist education that treated students as though they are mindless robots most of whom are mired in false consciousness. The author also pointed out that an authoritarian leftist approach was as unsuccessful as the traditional banking model. Feminist teachers do express concern about authoritarian teaching; however [we], are concerned with babying students.