WILLA Volume 3 - Weaving in the Women reviewed by Margaret Carlson

Volume 3
Fall 1994


Weaving in the Women , by Liz Whaley and Liz Dodge. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Boynton/Cook, 1993.

High School English teachers can welcome a new resource book, by Liz Whaley and Liz Dodge, on strengthening the curriculum with the addition of more books by and about women. Weaving in the Women, published by Boynton/Cook, is crammed with ideas and titles, references and suggestions of how -- and why -- to expand standard materials. They write, "We think the jury is in and that the research is clear on the need for all of us to study about all of us in order to have a fuller understanding of humankind .... Those of us who treasure words and books .... must continue to demand that women's writing be recorded, published, valued, shared, and taught so that everyone can know the truth of those experiences." (263)

The major portion of the book is devoted to ways of changing and adding to specific high school courses beginning with the 9th and 10th grade, and progressing to American and English Literature courses. This for mat makes it possible to turn quickly to sections that will be immediately useful to a teacher. Each chapter is rich in specific recommendations, and each includes a Suggested Books for Students list, as well as a list of Useful Books for Teachers, which are often anthologies for further materials or background reading.

The chapters on American Literature (divided into four quarter sections) are especially detailed. The 18th century section begins with strong narrative material on Anne Bradstreet, the poet, and Mary White Rowlandson, an account of her capture by Wampanoags. As in many instances throughout their book, Whaley and Dodge give wonderful stories and anecdotes to enrich their suggestions. They also discuss familiar writings of the American "canon," but re-visioned by the addition of women authors.

One of their common recommendations for making changes is to pair a familiar story with a rediscovered one, such as pairing the tale of "Rip Van Winkle" with "The Revolt of Mother," a 19th century story by Mary Wilkins Freeman. Students may then compare the writers' ideas and points of view and/or ask questions about differences in outlook related to gender issues. Later on, chronologically, stories by Hemingway and Faulkner could be balanced with stories by K. A. Porter or Eudora Welty, and-again-examined for gender differences. For modern American fiction, the authors suggest the addition of such books as Cold Sassy Tree and The Bean Trees.

The section on English Literature gives several ideas for adding women authors, even for the years prior to 1850. One notable "pairing" is to link the poet Pope with the poet Sarah Egerton, who was writing wonderful couplets in 1703 lamenting the exclusion of women from philosophy, science, and art in "The Emulation." (161) Unexpected ideas such as this one are found throughout the narrative. Some modern English books for study include The Road to Coorain and West with the Night as the authors broaden the base of English to include former British colonies or areas of English influence.

In addition to these excellent chapters of specifics for different courses, the authors include a special chapter on the importance of changing methodology as well as content, in order to bring in more student participation. They strongly support the concept of student centered learning, which is explained in detail, and contrasted with traditional classroom teaching. "In the end, what is gained from weaving in the women is the empowerment of students, female and male. Students get excited about learning and want to know more. They want to make more and more connections to what they've read previously and to their own lives." (259)

Whaley and Dodge also include a chapter on evaluation techniques with many alternatives to traditional tests. They share a variety of ideas for papers and projects that can reveal a student's understanding of the material, and also call for creativity in student responses. An excellent description is given of how to develop an Oral Final Exam.

Yet another chapter takes time to focus on studying women characters in various novels, as drawn by male or female authors. Some of the negative images in Hemingway and Fitzgerald are contrasted with positive portrayals shown in Cather or Hurston.

As a special gift, the authors add a whole chapter outlining an elective on Women's Literature, which, in itself, is worth the price of the book ($19.50). They include the rationale and general objectives of such a course, as well as dozens of references which would make several summers' worth of fine reading. "Women's literature courses ... seek ... to claim for women their equal place in the world and to retrieve their accomplishments throughout history so that people can study and evaluate them... (Such courses) should contribute to the emancipation not only of women but of men too, from the rigid roles to which they have been socialized." (217-218)

The concluding Bibliography is of immense help to the searching reader, with a range of further materials to consult. Even the Index is a pleasure to sample, sending the reader to specific items that might other wise be overlooked.

This book helps resolve the issue of "inclusion." Teachers everywhere can rejoice that much of the work of "how-to-do-it" comes in this resourceful package. Cheers to Liz Whaley and Liz Dodge for their courage and persistence in providing such an outstanding volume.

Margaret Carlson

Re-educating the Imagination: Toward a Poetics, Politics, and Pedagogy of Literary Engagement by Deanne Bogdan. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, Heinemann, 1992.

Deanne Bogdan's work on literary engagement is a densely packed and enormously thoughtful -- often passionate, and consistently thorough --consideration of the realm of the imagination in a post-structuralist era. It warrants very special attention and deserves the care required to appreciate its impact.

Bogdan probes deeply issues pertinent to what literary texts we teach, (termed a "censorship problem"), why we teach them (the "justification problem"), and how readers respond to them (the "response problem"). Thus we have three angles of the "meta problem" that frames Re-Educating the Imagination . Issues about the texts we teach, why and how we do so are posited as critical variables which are greatly influenced by the contexts in which various literary selections are taught, not to mention the power dynamics and politics of that con text, and the often intense and deeply ingrained feelings that teachers and learners bring to text and situation. As a reader of Re-Educating the Imagination (whether as literary theorist, researcher, or practitioner), one is likely to respond with gasps of recognition and close attention as Bogdan scrupulously constructs and situates critical assumptions underlying the book. These assumptions are that literary experience is a form of real experience, that literary response is an embodied form of knowledge shaped by each reader's personal and sociopolitical background, and that literature has the power to evoke deep political and social effects.

The title of this book is quite provocative and, no doubt, as painstakingly thought through as the foundation and development of its key premises; our own imaginations are, in fact, being re-educated as we read. We are led to recognize the significance of classroom experiences that, in a feminist and multicultural world we cannot have escaped. The "re-educated imagination" is one that melds the direct and embodied literary response and objective critical response; conjoins the political and the literary; and unites the worlds of ordinary existence and imaginative experience. Without discounting the literary world of imaginative experience and the objectively critical-even anatomical-appraisal of literature (literary literacy), Re-Educating the Imagination insists that the flesh and blood, real-life political realities of "ordinary" readers are to be given logical priority and importance. Reader's direct and embodied responses to literature (literary experience) bring us face to face with decisions about what we teach, why, and how, and the feelings, power relationships and locations in which that teaching is conducted. Our "re educated imaginations" are aligned with a Platonic literary universe. According to such a world, the imagination could be all too easily bewitched and thus demoralized by the power of poetry. Censoring, justifying, and responding to literature were, then, matters linked to whether or not and how the literary text represented the values promulgated by "the state." We are led, then, to appreciate Sidney's imaginative domain, wherein literary text is responded to with the assumption that it represents, upholds, and reinforces the ethics and aesthetics of a Christian worldview. And onto Shelley and the Romantics where the literary imagination is broadened to become a world of its own-one less tightly linked to a societal ethic and much more a magical world of its own making. Bogdan then visits the literary critical domain of the man whose work she has studied most closely, Northrop Frye. For him, we learn, the literary text is an order of words, a mythological imagery to which we respond with an "educated imagination" -- a detached, objective and critical attention that acquaints itself systematically with the verbal structure as well as the world outside that literary text. It is after these views of the literary imagination are rendered that Re-Educating the Imagination becomes most vibrant, most brimming with the passion and verve of the writer's beliefs.

Bogdan tells us that "[p]art of my purpose in writing this book is to make a case for reversing the logical priority of the critical response --on ontological and ethical grounds as well as psychological and pedagogical ones" (p. 111). We read about feminist readers who have, with great pain, lived and responded to a life-text that has disenfranchised and angered them. As Deanne Bogdan writes about how such readers respond to literary texts that do the same thing, we are brought fully round to an appreciation of literary experience as all too real, literary response as shaped by each reader's personal and sociopolitical background, and the power of the literary text to evoke deep political and social effects. A feminist reader does not accept a literary text that represents a patriarchal "state," nor will she respond with the demure assent that literature reinforces an accepted moral and aesthetic fiber. It is particularly the feminist reader who would read a sexist text and become enraged by it, who would disclaim Frye's educated imagination -- an educated imagination that could hold that text at a critical remove and dispassionately critique its mythological order of words. The flesh and blood readers introduced by Deanne Bogdan are the same readers we all work with in our culturally and sociopolitically diverse classrooms. They teach us that literature is not simply an order of words or a keeper of "the" norm; it is virtual experience that can influence for good as well as for ill. As Bogdan puts it, "[i]f the educated imagination positions the reader within the interpretive process of the verbal universe, the re-educated imagination makes the material reality of the reader's subjectivity a primary condition of incarnating the Word" (p. 208).

Re-Educating the Imagination is a probing exploration of the role of the reader set against a detailed backdrop of consideration. Ultimately we are led to recognize the incredible complexity entailed in questioning what literature we teach, why we teach it, and how it should be taught, especially as we follow that "meta-problem" into the post-structuralist territory of feminism. This is an important book.

M. Alayne Sullivan

Missing Chapters , Virginia Monseau and Jeanne Gerlach, Eds., NCTE, 1993.

The effect on future teachers and practicing teachers who use this text will be positive: inspiring and informational. These essays about English educators who are women serve to reinterpret some of English education and the history of the National Council of Teachers of English, precisely because they are about women. Nick Hook points out that the Council was never very sexist, saying that 14 of the 40 presidents between 1929 and 1968 were women, although the Executive Committees had relatively few women in them ( A Long Way Together , 232). However, what we haven't seen before is what the nature of those experiences was for women who were leaders in the years 1929-1960. It is, therefore, important for our students, both male and female, to read these essays so that they can see what women are like who gain equality with men in the career they have chosen ( No, I don't think we have come very far in that regard in either secondary schools or colleges) and so that they will be better able to contribute to the profession and to their own students. This volume may contribute towards women increasing their confidence and participation in controlling what they teach. It is as important for men to read it. Male students represent a small percentage of incoming teachers; however, the two or three males in every methods class carry far more weight than their numbers when they get into secondary schools. Males have generally had more say in curriculum matters and become department heads, curriculum directors, and administrators more quickly than women. This volume may tacitly help males understand that the profession reflects the larger culture in its discrimination against women.

Missing Chapters is good reading, partly because it is various and partly because it shows women in the context of a history that matters to anyone connected to teaching and especially to those who look ahead to the profession of teaching as a powerful mission. The book is various in the ways that it sometimes centers on the women leaders' personal lives, most often of professional lives, and steadily on the issues lived through their publications and activities. One of the authors interviewed Lou LaBrant just after her 100th birthday. And to learn more about Rewey Belle Inglis, Dora V. Smith, Luella B. Cook, and Louise Rosenblatt, for example, is enough justification to read the book all by itself.

This is a very fine volume which at this point only a few of my students have read. All of the readers have been women, and all have liked it very much. This coming winter quarter I plan to use it in my methods class (along with Milner and Milner, Bridging English, and Christenbury, Making the Journey ). Our preservice teachers need to know the history of their own profession to learn a significant part of their own origins. I recommend it to you with enthusiasm.

H. Thomas McCracken

Failing At Fairness: How America's Schools Cheat Girls. Sadker, Myra and David. Charles, Scribner's Sons: New York, 1994.

Throughout the history of American Education, girls and women have worked hard to find equitable educational opportunities. In the earliest times, women were barred from school attendance; however, existing letters and journals dating form the 1700's reveal young women's desires for formal learning. During the past two hundred years the climate appears to have changed radically, and women are able to pursue an education of their choice. But such freedom in choosing does not, the Sadkers caution the readers, result in fair schools. Rather, they warn the audience that today's schoolgirls face subtle and insidious gender discriminations that have a powerful impact on girls' achievements and self esteem.

Drawing on over 25 years of research, the authors show the audience how gender bias in the schools makes it impossible for girls to receive an education equal to boys'. From classroom observations in elementary and secondary schools as well as in colleges and universities, interviews, and individual stories, the Sadkers show the readers how girls are routinely denied opportunities in areas where boys are encouraged to participate and excel. For example, girls and women are often taught to speak quietly, to defer to boys and men, to avoid math and science courses, to value neatness over innovation, appearance over intelligence. As a result, the Sadkers found, that while girls and boys enter school roughly equal in ability levels, by the time they graduate from high school, girls have fallen behind. Girls score lower on standardized tests where high test scores are crucial for entrance into most colleges. College women continue to score lower on all portions of the Graduate Record Exam which is necessary for graduate school admittance, the GMAT for business school, the LSAT for law school, and the MCAT for medical school. The Sadkers' research results indicate that women continue to trail men on most tests because from elementary school through higher education, female students receive less instruction, both in quantity and quality of teacher time and attention.

Sexism at school not only sabotages girls academically, it increasingly complicates their lives in a variety of ways including eating disorders, incidents of school-based sexual harassment, teenage pregnancy followed by school drop out, low self esteem often accompanied by severe depression, and economic penalties after graduation (e.g. low paying jobs, salary discrimination based on gender, etc). What all this means, the Sadkers concur is, "If the cure for cancer is forming in the mind of one of our daughters, it is less likely to become a reality than if it is forming in the mind of one of our sons. Until this changes, everybody loses"(p. 14).

Professors Myra and David Sadker have written a candid account of how schools fail girls. They hope that understanding how females have been cheated in the classroom will encourage people to work for change. Readers come to understand that in a society where men and women both make up the labor force, women can no longer be denied an equitable education. "Schools that fail at fairness deny boys a wide range of options and prepare girls for poverty" (p. xi). The authors are optimistic, however, in their belief that most educators want to provide opportunities for personal and intellectual growth for girls and boys and men and women. The book, then, not only points out the existing classroom inequities, but provides strategies, activities, and other resources designed to help educators succeed at fairness. Much of the effort educators make to accomplish this goal, the Sadkers believe, will determine how we as a nation will thrive in the future.

Jeanne Gerlach