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Feminist pedagogy begins with the premise that gender and the social inequality it represents in the wider society are often reproduced in the classroom. Existing curricula and classroom practices contain sexist biases and patriarchal assumptions as reflected in the fact that the contributions of women are often absent from textbooks; girls and women are portrayed in stereotypic ways in much of the literature of all disciplines; girls and women are often directed to certain fields of study and are directed away from others; and teaching practices typically favor the learning styles of boys and men. Teachers informed by principles of feminist pedagogy seek to express feminist values and goals in the classroom and to challenge traditional knowledge, seeking to advance the status and education of women and girls by providing them with educational experiences that encourage consciousness raising, empowerment, and voice through innovative educational strategies.
There are at least three distinctive variants of feminist pedagogical models: psychological, liberatory, and positional. The psychologically oriented model emphasizes the importance of relational connectivity in developmental learning and seeks to create non-combative and nurturing interaction dynamics in the classroom and between teacher and student. This approach to teaching seeks to create safe and non-intimidating classroom environments for interaction, exchange, and instructor evaluation. A familial language of caring and responsibility replaces the more sterile techno-scientific language of objectivity. In this context, a teacher’s central authority is subtly redefined as facilitation; the teacher becomes a guide from the side and facilitates the creation of a cooperative learning environment that features collaboration, mutual responsibility, and sharing.
The liberatory model focuses on difference in the intersections of relationships of power, not only in terms of social position such as race, ethnicity, class, and gender, but also important intersections in the personal, political, and the pedagogical. The focus is on the emancipation and empowerment of girls and women as a historically oppressed group. Liberatory models typically address the production of knowledge, assuming that knowledge that is valued is associated with valued identities or groups in a culture. Traditional school curricula rely on bases of knowledge that are often biased or exclude or marginalize the contributions of women. This approach claims that women and other minorities must be included in the design of curriculum and instruction. Recognition of differences and of exclusions also informs pedagogical practices that seek to transform social relationships through raising critical consciousness and advocating equitable policies and programs.
Positional feminist pedagogy has been influenced by poststructural feminism with its emphasis on the intersecting social locations of race, ethnicity, class, and gender. Positional pedagogies seek to construct a multi-perspective discourse of interrogation, disruption, and intervention in order to resist patriarchal control of knowledge, theory, and pedagogy. Aware that institutional discourses as well as persons holding positions of authority coordinate knowledge, poststructural feminists value and address the multiplicity of intersections of power. Explorations of meaning and power are particularly explored from margin to center. The aim is to develop feminist projects of standpoint that locate women in relation to one another and in relation to men. In the classroom this is translated to mean that pedagogical experience and texts are both politically significant and historically contingent. The feminist agenda is to confront masculinist language, theory, and cultural constructions that maintain the status quo; it seeks in the process to shift viewpoints by building a pedagogy of possibility. Central to this approach is the belief that knowledge is actively constructed in relationships of difference and position. Differences of authority and other variables brought to the classroom are not ”fixed identities” needing bridging, but rather serve as important markers for shifting power relationships. Rather than seeking to replicate power relationships, the goal is to challenge and to change them.
- Luke, C. & Gore, J. (eds.) (1992) Feminisms and Critical Pedagogy. Routledge, New York.
- Maher, F. & Tetreault, M. (1994) The Feminist Classroom. Basic Books, New York.
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