Monday, August 28, 2006

Gender and Education

I found the link to this article "How the Schools Shrotchange Boys" by Gerry Garibaldi, over at A Coservative Blog for Peace. It interests me for two reasons: 1) I have been mulling over gender and how it is used philosophically and theologically in attempts at saying something solid about human nature 2) I have always and continue to be astound how my experience of gender simply is at variance with most attempts to generalize about gender.
What Garibaldi describes in his article seems to me to be a tragedy. Though I am not sure he actually knows the deep source of the problem he describes. I am also astounded by how different education seems to be from when I was a kid. I was in school in California in the 70's and 80's and it was no utopia but I received a descent education with probably a good bit of progressive ideology mixed in.
But I did see how certain students and myself faired better in the system than others. Gender though seemed irrelevant, or perhaps I ignored it. I have never fit the generalizations of Garibaldi; none of my siblings do either. The boys he describes actually would have accurately described both of my sisters more than either me or my brother in school as children. This is especially so for my younger sister and she as he described always struggled in school. It was my sister who more often than not demanded of my parents the why of our house rules (which incidentally my parents encouraged us to do) Given the freedom to question I very rarely felt the need to know the reasons as long as things went smoothly and I had room to do my art and play with my legos. My sister always got in trouble both at home and at school more than I did. Now that is not to say that I feel I exemplify the traits assigned to girls in this article. There is a cooperative streak in me, but actually what was more important to me than either knowing the reasons for things or being cooperative was that I wanted a challenge, life wasn't boring and so school or anything else shouldn't be boring either. If I thought something was boring I'd do passing work, I'd do what I needed to get by. This frustrated teachers who (now looking back on it probably were trying to teach to the median) saw my abilities and couldn't figure out why I didn't live up to it, until the parent teacher conference in which my mother would say, "Oh, well you aren't challenging him, Larry needs a challenge." My sister though always needed to know why and subjects that seemed irrelevant to her she did poorly in. My older sister didn't do well in school until she had a firm goal and reason to learn.
I wonder if some of this gap between my experience of gender and the stereotypes that I too can observe have to do with the way my Father raised us. Dad didn't have substantially different expectations of us as children based on gender. Dad tried to get all of us children to be interested in fixing things in mechanics, we all can tell stories about this, since only my older brother was as mechanically inclined as my Dad is. I was more interested in painting and legos and daydreaming in the fields, or playing with dolls with my sister. This deeply disconcerted my aunt and uncle who refused to allow their son to play with dolls.
In the end certain aspects of gender expectations and roles were just plain boring to me, they skipped over the challenge of actually getting to know a person. Sports are boring precisely for this reason, they tell you nothing about the person. Competition is all surface as far as I am concerned it isn't really much of a challenge to defeat someone else. Sure I could learn a sport skill, but in the end it was fairly meaningless to me. So, I found the company of most boys (except for the few outcasts like me who didn't care about sports all that much if at all) to be a bore, they were trained or so it seems to me, I have trouble with this innate stuff, because it apparently wasn't innate in me, so what then am I a freak. I decided long ago that no it was the gender expectations that were freakish and not I and my siblings who seemed always to wander about them but never settle easily into what was assumed to be innate.
As for the schooling question: It makes me wonder if democratic education isn't simply always already oppressive, always unable to deal with humanity as it expresses itself in children. Most of my educators as a child (even in the university) didn't want to deal with me as a person unless my parents or I forced them to. The few teachers and professors of whom I remember and who were truly good teachers were first and foremost those who saw that they were contributing to the development of a person who already had a personality they had to encounter and negotiate with.
All else is jumping through hoops and oppressive, and has little to do with true education.

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