A recent article in our local Montreal newspaper The Gazette dealt with private all-girls' schools, and the journalist claimed that these schools cater to the way girls learn, that is, in collaborative ways. I teach at a co-ed elementary school (at the Grade 5 level), and my immediate response was that we at our school do indeed nurture that kind of learning, for 811 our constituents. Later that year, at a workshop session on gender issues (led by Fran Davis and Arlene Steiger), one of the teachers from the very school which was prominently featured in the Gazette article maintained that the girls in her school often align themselves with the masculinist philosophy: competitive, closed, exclusive -- only room at the top for the elite. Feminist pedagogy has much to offer all people, male and female. Living and learning in a community is about caring and about relationships. A sense of community, the nurturing of a positive, caring spirit in the classroom, school and neighborhood, and a push for democracy is where we ought all to be heading.
With a view to heightening awareness among elementary school teachers, a WILLA committee is currently working on a list of suggested readings for a gender-balanced curriculum, Pre School to grade 6. This list will complement the WILLA Guidelines for a Gender-Balanced Curriculum in English, Grades 7 - 12.. The challenge is to find books of excellent calibre which will touch hearts and expand horizons, and will reflect come of the issues of concern to feminist educators. As Sandra Bradford DeCosta asked in a recent column in her role as WILLA Early Childhood and Elementary Editor, frustrated at the passive image of girls and women in recent movies: "Where are the bright, industrious, brave, thinking young girls" needed as role models? (p. 4).
Perhaps we might consider updating the list of children's books and professional resources often (is every two years too ambitious an aim?), for there are sure to be additions worthy of inclusion, and suggestions of titles that we will have overlooked. Had the list been published last year (1993) for example, books such as the McKissacks' Sojourner truth: Ain't I a Woman?, Lyons' Letters from a Slave Girl, Freedman's Eleanor Roosevelt, and the soon to be published Cleopatra, by Stanley, could not have been included. In an inspiring talk at the recent IRA conference in Toronto, Diane Stanley spoke about the image of Cleopatra as seductress through the ages, whereas the truth is that she led an army as massive as that of Alexander the Great, and had she triumphed, world history would have been drastically different. Recently there was reference as well to Cleopatra in Harper's Bazaar of all places, when a reviewer of Ackerman's book A Natural History of Love (Bloom, 1994) stated that "Ackerman [writes] about the monarch Cleopatra, convincing us that she was a political powerhouse (Margaret Thatcher's psyche making brilliant use of Iman's beauty and Josephine Baker's stagecraft) but love had little to do with it" (p. 90).
When you see the booklist, please keep track of titles too good to miss which you feel ought to be included in an updated WILLA booklist for a gender-balanced curriculum; please send the suggestions to us. It is vital for us to hear from you, the classroom teachers and school and community librarians, who have had the opportunity to see which books resonate. We also encourage you to write for WILLA, to speak of professional and personal experiences in the class room and outside the classroom, experiences which are of import to us in the multiple roles which we play.
Copyright 1994, The Women in Literature and Life Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English (ISSN #1065-9080). Permission is given to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for resale.