A Blog of Epic Proportions

The Divine Miss M

I don’t mean Better Midler. I mean myself. I’m talking about myself until I make it into the activism bigtime. I am on a mission to become The Divine Miss M.

Here’s the deal. I’ve known what I wanted to do since I was about 15 years old. I’ve known that I want to feminist, and yes, I use that word as a verb, for about 6 years now. I’ve BEEN feministing since about the same time at least in some capacity. However, a terrible recession and some financial limitations mean that I’m going to have to put that goal off for a little bit of time now. So what am I doing in the meantime?

I’m in school to become an elementary school teacher. The challenge now is one I’ve never faced before. I’m used to knowing exactly how to feminist in almost every situation. I’ve written at length about pop culture, abortion rights, violence against women, racism in the media (and in politics, especially of late), LGBT rights, etc. etc.

But I’ve never written about pedagogy. It just wasn’t on my radar. So now I’m in my classes and I’m listening to all of this advice on how to teach, and I’m wondering how to convert it into a feminist pedagogy that someone as young as five can understand.

Right now I’m interning in a kindergarten class. Fortunately for me, I am actually in a good spot to be able to develop a feminist pedagogy for young chillen. My cooperating classroom teacher (CCT) is a pretty laid-back guy (a diversion from the norm in itself), so I’ve been able to develop a sense of myself as a teacher. I think this is important, because when I went into this teaching gig I didn’t want it to just be a way to make money until I possibly get a job in a feminist non-profit. Granted, if I were to be offered a position right now as I’m sitting here typing this blog post (hint hint, anybody?), I would probably leave this teacher program. My heart really does lie in activism, community organizing, and political engagement. Still, while I’m here, I want to do the best I can by these kids and by the society they’ll eventually grow up to lead and become members of.

So that means I need to develop a feminist pedagogy that can apply to young children and that won’t get me fired from the school system. I have a feeling that I’m going to revisit this topic a lot on this blog.

As it stands right now, my class really doesn’t exhibit any problematic behavior. I’ve heard horror stories from my fellow classmates about kids in kindergarten and first grade yelling racial epithets across the schoolyard or telling an African-American principal that they won’t comply because they “don’t like black people”. My class does not do any of this. My school is tiny and in its own little as-progressive-as-a-school-can-be world.

Can I still see some problems, though? Yeah. Every girl’s backpack is still pink. I still feel like we’re using the banking system of education. I’m treading lightly right now regarding Native American representation in my lesson plans about Thanksgiving.

This program has really helped me grow as a feminist even as it’s tried to stifle it right out of me. It’s helped me to see the subtle ways that our patriarchal system works, even as young as kindergarten. Hey, it’s time to get up to pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth now, even while none of you little ones know the atrocities that some people have committed in the name of it.

It’s a lot to think about. My goal is to become what I have termed The Divine Miss M by the time I’m out of this program (so I have until the end of next summer). The Divine Miss M is the quintessential feminist teacher, hence why she is divine. I still feel like I’m clueless about how to get there, but as with so many other things, I imagine the journey itself will show me the way eventually.

What do you think a feminist pedagogy for young children would look like?


4 responses

  1. Danie

    I think at the very least you could strive to create an atmosphere of acceptance of all people in your classroom, a “community of learners” if you will. I found that in my experience working in the schools that this model is quite successful. Also, when discussing community life, always adding think questions like: “Can girls do (insert male dominated field here)?” and having an open discussion about why (or why not) they think one way or the other. Kids are surprisingly smart, and if you get them thinking about what’s actually possible then I think the lessons you want to teach them will stick with them throughout their life.

    November 15, 2010 at 12:16 am

  2. Well, see, my problem so far hasn’t been with the kids, it’s been with the system. I think once I’m in my classroom and I’m not having to write ridiculously long and drawn out lesson plans, I’ll feel like I have more freedom to incorporate feminist principles into my teaching. Really, I’m getting more opposition from the system than anything else. That doesn’t even take into account teacher culture, which is problematic in itself, but that’s a topic for another post.

    November 15, 2010 at 12:26 am

  3. I ask myself the same questions in my second grade class. And even though I introduced myself as “Ms. M,” they always call me Miss.

    It’s all about inclusion, pretty much. I try my best to read books and create math problems that are culturally sensitive and have a social justice theme. I read a book about deforestation today, and many of the children said, “That’s so sad.” One kid said, “How do you know when it’s more important to let the forest live instead of cutting it down to make houses?” That’s a pretty profound question for a second grader to ask (especially in the class I’m in). It’s probably the only story we’ve read this year that didn’t have a clear happy or sad ending. Other students said the ending was sad, because the forest got cut down, but it was happy too, because they were hopeful that they could save other forests. I doubt anyone would consider a book like that liberal indoctrination. Well, no, I’m sure some jerk would, but they’d be wrong. I didn’t tell the students what to think. I asked them what they thought and what the characters in the book thought.

    But if you’re still getting shit from the administration or parents, check the professional teaching standards. New Jersey requires kids to learn about justice and the important contributions of people of color, women, and Native Americans. If it’s covered in the standards, then it’s fair game. I just read a book about Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta to the kids. No one’s had a problem with it so far, but they’re both famous people of color working for social justice, so it’s all good.

    November 15, 2010 at 5:36 pm

  4. Well, I’m not actually teaching classes of my own yet. I’m still interning, so I’m just kind of piggy-backing on what my classroom teacher is already doing. I find teacher culture to be somewhat oppressive where I’m at, though. I feel like if I try to do anything different, it’ll be like “Oh my goodness, this crazy woman teaching these kids to be godless libruls”. This wouldn’t bother me so much if I didn’t need a job so badly. I feel like in the teacher culture down here in FL, conformity is encouraged and anything outside of the norm is risky. Right now I’m teaching kindergarten, and the standards are broad, so I can stick things in where they don’t normally “belong” which is what I’ve been doing. Maybe it’s a little bit different because you’re teaching kids that are a little bit older, but at my school it seems like heavy topics are skirted around completely. Plus, I’m currently interning in an INCREDIBLY white, INCREDIBLY middle class “up-scale” school. I only have two kids that are classified as ESE and have been retained, and their only “problems” are speech impediments. Just working in a school like that makes me feel like a bad feminist, actually. Plus, I’ve got a girl who’s parents wouldn’t let her dress up for Halloween because it’s “against God”. So I feel like while working in these more privileged areas and schools, working from this more radical, progressively influenced background gets more difficult. These parents expect turkeys and happy pilgrim stories. I mean, I don’t even want to make these kids do the pledge let alone tell them the happy pilgrim Thanksgiving stories I think these parents would expect to hear about.

    I’ve always had a problem with compromise. I’m really not good at it. So what I’m struggling with the most is feeling like I’m selling out or compromising too much. I mean, I understand some topics just aren’t appropriate and won’t be digested by 5 year olds, but there’s got to be some way to infuse these concepts into the curriculum or my attitude without causing too much of a ripple or compromising too much of my convictions. When I say that the system is the problem, I’m actually talking about an entire culture of pressure. I think I’m just going to write a new post about it, because it’s coming from way more than standards and statutes.

    November 15, 2010 at 11:29 pm

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