Amber’s Pedagogical Enactment:
“Uneasy Hybrids: Psychological aspects of becoming educationally successful for working-class young women” in The Routledge Falmer Reader in Gender and Education
In this chapter, authors Lucey, Melody, and Walkerdine argue that working class women experience emotional problems as they struggle to obtain a better life than their parents. Problems arise when working class girls start to achieve at a higher level than that of their parents. Parents begin to feel inadequate because they cannot relate to their daughter’s educational experience after primary school, which leaves girls with feelings of guilt and isolation for furthering their education when their parents couldn’t afford to, chose not to, or did not have the opportunity. This disconnection between parents and working class girls causes “shame and anger and pain,” because the girls are forced to seek educational opportunities alone, without support or financial stability, unlike that of middle-class girls whose parents attended universities and support their daughter’s education financially and emotionally (242).
The authors compare and contrast the educational experiences of working class women to middle class women to argue the inequalities that exist between the two groups. They concluded that society promotes more educational opportunities to middle class women than to working class women, and that society views middle class families positively, while working class families are viewed negatively. They argue that blame is placed working class families for the lack of educational achievement of working class children, instead of looking at the ways in which society contributes to the problem: “Since middle-class children do vastly better in school than working-class children, the everyday practices of working-class families must somehow be lacking that which ensures success in middle-class families” (241). This mindset leaves little room for the idea that society constructs the negative perceptions associated with this group.
In an example with a working class girl named Holly, the authors express society’s influence on the construction of an individual’s identity based on race and the problems that occur when an individual is ‘mixed race’ (244). For example, Holly struggles in school to uphold her identity as a mixed race where her mother is white and her father is black. In school, students classified her as black because of her skin, while they neglected the fact that she was also white. Black girls would pick on her because she was not black enough and white girls would degrade her because she was black, again ignoring the fact that her mother was white: “White people only see her blackness and black people want to attack her whiteness” (245). As a result, Holly conformed to society’s perception of who she should be and how she should act. She began to beat up white girls and to talk slang in school, but then at home she would study and do her homework, so that she would continue to get good grades. Holly’s identity was formed through the social construction of what it means to be a black woman. This example proves that an individual is not separate from society’s definition of race.
Before reading this article, I believed that my students’ success in school was a direct correlation to their parents and the fact that they were not doing what they needed to do in order to motivate their child to be successful. However, after reading this article, I realize that the problem lies in society’s emphasis with binaries and the emotional struggles in which working class girls face as they achieve at a higher level than their parents. In class this week, I asked my lower-level students to answer a set of questions such as: Did your parents go to college? Do you want to go to college? Do your parents encourage you to go to college? What do they say to you about college? What do you want to do in the future? The majority of the girls stated that their parents did not go to college, but that they encourage them to go because they want a better life for them or that they don’t want them to make the mistakes that they made. All of the girls said that they want to attend college. Their responses reflected much of what the article addressed in regards to working class families wanting more for their children, which takes the blame off of the parents for working class girls’ failure in school. This made me realize that like the authors in this article, working class girls’ motivation to succeed and to want a better life must come from within, and that I need to stop blaming the parents for their child’s lack of interest in education.
After I read this article, it made me think about the issues that my students may be facing which are not related to their parents’ parenting skills. I thought about a female student who I have been struggling with all year to try and get her to value her education and to strive for success. In the classroom, she acts out in front of others and her responses are usually “I don’t know,” “This is too much,” or “I don’t get it.” Before this article, I continued to blame her lack of concern for her success on her mother, who I thought did not support her academically. I now realize that I should have been focused on this student’s individual drive, and the disconnection that may be present along with the emotional stress she may face due to the fact that her mother did not go to college. I thought about Holly and how she acted out in school so that she would be accepted by peers, and then how when she was at home she studied and did homework. I started to question if this was why my female student was choosing to engage in this type of behavior (to become accepted). I started to think that if Holly works hard at home away from society’s influences and stereotypes of her, then maybe it would work for my female student if she had a place to succeed away from her peers.
This week I decided to separate this female student from her peers and to work with her on an individual level, so that she would not have the influences of the other students. As I worked closely with her, I saw that she was more receptive to answer questions and had more motivation to learn. We just finished “Three Cups of Tea,” so much of what we talked about centered on education and the opportunities it provides. She really enjoyed discussing how the Pakistan women used education to create a better life for themselves. I used this discussion as an opportunity to relate to her life and to help her to recognize her potentail to be successful. I couldn’t get her to open up about her resistance toward education within the classroom, but I am hoping that if I continue to work with her, she will choose to fight through the “emotionally and socially terrifying shift” that a higher level of learning will pose, rather than to “sta[y] within the well-understood and maintained practices of school failure” (249).
Reflections: After working one on one with this student, I realized that it is possible to change a student’s pattern of negative behavior and disinterest in education. I realized that students have the potential to learn, but they choose to act out in class and neglect their education instead of working hard to achieve success. Whether they do this to fit in or because they feel guilty to want a better life than their parents experienced, I think that if working class students are given the opportunity to work one on one with teachers during the week, students would express the same motivation to succeed as my female student did just in the brief amount of time that I worked with her. Right after we spoke, when she entered back into the classroom her behavior and attitude changed for the positive, but a couple days later, she started to act out again and to shut down when confronted with discussion questions. Earlier I proposed that teachers should work individually with working class students; however, the problem with this is that there are not enough resources or teachers to work with students on an individual basis, so my challenge to push students to value their education still exists. I am now realizing that my students need to take responsibility for their learning, but what is the next step, if we as teachers cannot provide the one on one attention that some of the students desperately need to get them on the right track?
Construction of the subject, psychoanalysis, and history: How do these issues come together and matter?
In our group presentation, we discussed the construction of women within society, embodied vs. society’s construction of the subject, and how an individual’s personal experiences in relation to these issues transfer to the classroom. Whether we are constructions within society, or embodied subjects, we need to create an identity for ourselves where we are free to choose how to act and behave within society, without taking for granted that the roles created for us through history are real. If we refuse to deconstruct the messages presented to us within society, we will continue to support the heterosexual male narrative, where anyone else is inferior and considered as the other. These issues come together and matter because individuals need to become aware of society’s influence over our actions and behaviors. In addition, we need to recognize that our experiences (positive or negative) have an impact in the way in which we perceive others and our surroundings. As educators, we need to especially be careful with the way in which we present ourselves to our students and to recognize that our own experiences affect our interactions with them. Through our experience with feminist pedagogy, we can now introduce to our students a new way to view the world in the eyes of a feminist, which will promote an awareness of the individual self, so that we do not fall victim to the “myth of woman,” or the heterosexual male narrative (Wittig 14).