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The University of Chicago Press Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact The University of Chicago Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Signs. The Teachers, They All Had Their Pets : Concepts of Gender, Knowledge, and Power Wendy Luttrell Tell me what you remember about being in school. What I remember most about school was that if you were poor you got no respect and no encouragement. I mean if you didn't have cute ringlets, an ironed new uniform, starched shirts, and a mother and father who gave money to the church, you weren't a teacher's pet and that meant you weren't encouraged. What I didn't like about school, the teachers they had their own pet. If you were a pet you had it made, but if you weren't they didn't take up no attention with you. Everybody knew that the teachers treated the kids who were dressed nice and all better-the teachers all had their pets. Introduction - T H I S A R T I C L E is about what two groups of women remember about being in school and what their stories tell us about the twisted relations of gender, knowledge, and power. It is part of a larger research project that illuminates the ways in which gender, race, and class together shape the knowledge that women define I would like to acknowledge the women who shared their school memories with me, especially those who read and responded to portions of my manuscript. I am indebted to many others who have read versions of this paper; special thanks to Mary Hawkesworth, Nancy Hewitt, Dorothy Holland, Naomi Quinn, Robert Shreefter, Jean Stockard, and John Wilson for their insightful and critical comments. Finally, I would like to thank the Signs editors and anonymous reviewers for their help revising the manuscript. [Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1993, vol. 18, no. 3]? 1993 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved /93/ $01.00 Spring 1993 SIGNS 505 Luttrell THE TEACHERS ALL HAD THEIR PETS and claim for themselves. My goal in the project is to draw new boundaries for the by-now familiar discussion of women's ways of knowing that will allow us to move between more theoretical discussions about women as knowers and more empirically grounded discussions about how social differences make a difference in women's knowing and, in so doing, to revitalize discussion about how to improve women's education. Since the pathbreaking work of Nancy Chodorow (1978) and Carol Gilligan (1982), many compelling yet incomplete claims have been made about how women construct and value knowledge in ways that are relational, oriented more toward sustaining connection than achieving autonomy, and governed by interests to attend to others' needs.1 Similarly, some feminist accounts have invested women with distinctive intuitive and/or emotional capabilities, citing women's exclusion from other ways of acquiring knowledge under patriarchy and locating women's knowledge in the body, or female sexuality.2 Still others have written about women's epistemic advantage in viewing the world more wholistically based on their particular standpoint. 3 In contrast, men's ways of knowing have been associated with instrumental reason and abstract rules, oriented toward gaining mastery over nature, and governed by interests in dominating others; by this account, men's social position intrudes on their ability to see the world accurately.4 The dangers of this gender symbolism within feminist discussions of epistemology have been noted by several scholars, one of whom warns against claims that unwittingly reproduce patriarchal stereotypes of men and women-flirting with essentialism, distorting the diverse dimensions of human knowing, and falsifying the historical record of women's manifold uses of reasons in daily life (Hawkesworth 1989, 547).5 These theoretical speculations and debates notwithstanding, however, very little empirical work has been done that either maps out women's diversity as knowers or describes the varied and changing conditions under which different women claim and construct knowledge.6 1 There is an ongoing dialogue about how gender shapes what and how women know. This debate has spanned the disciplines, including philosophy, psychology, sociology, and education (Chodorow 1978; Gilligan 1982, 1988, 1990; McMillan 1982; Harding and Hintikka 1983; Lloyd 1984; Martin 1985; Belenky et al. 1986; Smith 1987; Levesque-Lopman 1988; Bordo and Jaggar 1989; Ruddick 1989; Collins 1990). 2 See Daly 1973, 1978; Cixous 1976, 1981; Griffin 1980; Irigaray 1985; Trask O'Brien 1981; Jaggar 1983; Rose 1983; Hartsock 1985; Smith 1987; and Collins 1990 represent the range of feminist standpoint theorists. 4 See Gilligan 1982; Keller 1984; Bordo 1986; Harding 1986; Tronto See also Harding and Hintikka 1983; Grant 1987; and Heckman Women's Ways of Knowing (Belenky et al. 1986) is a noteworthy example of research that considers the different contexts within which women claim and/or deny knowledge (as children in abusive relationships, as female students in school, as new 506 SIGNS Spring 1993 THE TEACHERS ALL HAD THEIR PETS Luttrell My research seeks to fill this gap in the scholarship by juxtaposing the views, values, and schooling experiences of two groups of women who have been underrepresented and misrepresented in the literature: learners in adult basic education classes. I was interested in exploring what skills and knowledge these women learners claimed, dismissed, denied, and minimized in themselves and what skills and knowledge they sought to acquire by returning to school. School was by no means the only site where these women defined, valued, and/or claimed knowledge.7 Through their past and present schooling experiences, however, they had developed certain views about themselves and others as authoritative or deficient knowers that I sought to untangle.8 I was particularly concerned about how the women saw themselves as knowers, as the literature characterizes them as dropouts who had been damaged by or failed at school and as individuals seeking a second chance by participating in adult basic education. My experience as an educator of adults made me question this oversimplified characterization. Instead, I had heard adult basic education learners, particularly women, define their relationship to schooling in ambivalent, sometimes oppositional, and often contradictory ways. Moreover, I had heard adult learners talk about the gaps between schoolwise and commonsense knowledge and knowing, and I wondered about the consequences of these distinctions for adult literacy learning and teaching (Luttrell 1989). Through extensive classroom observation and in-depth interviews, I sought to provide a more complicated and rich account of women's paradoxical relationship to schooling, knowledge, and power. Research process My research can best be described as a comparative ethnography of two adult basic education programs: the first a community-based pro- mothers raising children, e.g.). The conclusions they draw, however, have more to do with developmental stages of knowing than with the historical, political, or ideological conditions that shape women's knowing. 7 I have been influenced by Mary Hawkesworth's suggestion that feminist theories of knowledge would be improved if we focused more on the process of knowing than on the knowers themselves. She defines knowledge or a way of knowing as a convention rooted in the practical judgments of a community of fallible inquirers who struggle to resolve theory-dependent problems under specific historical conditions (1989, 549). I am interested in how the women came to define themselves as a community of fallible inquirers with specific problems and in how these communities and problems are shafed by gender, race, and class. Indeed, as several black feminist scholars have noted, school may not be the best site for exploring African-American women's claims to knowledge. Instead, black churches and/or black community organizations serve as more informative contexts for how African-American women develop their authority and knowledge. See Grant 1982; Giddings 1984; Gilkes 1985, 1988; Collins Spring 1993 SIGNS 507 Luttrell THE TEACHERS ALL HAD THEIR PETS gram in Philadelphia and the second a workplace literacy program at a North Carolina state university. I interviewed three hundred women about their reasons for returning to school, observed several classes in each program, and selected fifteen women from each program to interview in depth about their school, family, and work lives. In 1980 I began collecting data from the community-based program in Philadelphia that I had helped organize in 1976 as part of a larger program serving the needs of local women as they faced changes in the community. Once stable and vibrant, this historically white, ethnic (mostly Irish and Polish), and working-class neighborhood had lost its industrial base, suffering economic decline and rising unemployment. In addition, the community had long been ignored by public institutions. Local residents complained about poor health services, nonexistent childcare facilities, a lack of recreational facilities, increased rates of drug and alcohol abuse, environmental hazards, and a rising crime rate. In the face of city, state, and federal cutbacks, neighborhood women were taking on new or additional burdens to make ends meet. Some women were entering the labor force for the first time, while others were seeking more lucrative employment so they could support their families. For everyone, the integrity and quality of community life was being called into question. This questioning included a profound shift in what had traditionally been expected from women residents. In response to these changes, the Women's Program offered a wide range of educational opportunities, counseling services, on-site child care, vocational training, and a battered women's hotline. In developing new adult education curriculum materials for the program, during I interviewed 180 women who had grown up in the neighborhood and had participated in the program. These interviews were loosely structured to elicit discussion about the women's views about community needs and why they had returned to school.9 At the same time I observed several classes noting student-student and teacherstudent interactions and student responses to the coursework and its demands. After a year of observation I conducted three in-depth interviews over a year's time with selected women in their homes. In the course of these interviews, I met family members and friends, observing the women in an environment outside of school that enabled me to better elicit and 9 The purpose of these interviews was to develop a curriculum guide for adult basic learners that identified certain generative themes. The concept of generative theme is drawn from the work of Brazilian educator and political activist Paulo Freire 1970, 1973, The two most talked-about concerns that emerged in these interviews were parenting and unemployment. The curriculum guides that I wrote based on these generative themes are titled Women in the Community: A Curriculum Guide for Students and Teachers (Luttrell 1981) and Building Multi-Cultural Awareness: A Teaching Approach for Learner-centered Education (Luttrell 1982). 508 SIGNS Spring 1993 THE TEACHERS ALL HAD THEIR PETS Luttrell contextualize the women's educational experiences, views, and values. I tape-recorded and then transcribed each interview.10 My stratified, selective sample represented the basic demographic profile of women in the community, including marital status, occupation, income, educational level, religion, and race. The sample also reflected the basic profile of program participants in terms of age, family situation, past attendance and type of school, academic achievement, and level of participation in the classroom, program, or community. In addition to these sampling guidelines, all the women I interviewed were mothers with children still living at home. This decision was based on the results of the unstructured interviews with program participants and/or graduates in which the overwhelming response to the question, why are you returning to school, was the general statement, to better myself. Upon further probing about what it meant to better oneself, 80 percent of the women volunteered that they were returning to school to become better mothers. Less than half of these same women explained that they were in school to secure better jobs and roughly a third mentioned that a high school diploma would increase their willingness and confidence to converse with family members, particularly husbands. I wanted to explore these findings more fully in the in-depth interviews.11 The Philadelphia interviewees were all white and had been raised in the neighborhood. Most still lived within blocks of where they had been born and where extended family members still resided. They had all attended neighborhood schools during the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s. One-third had gone to parochial school, and two-thirds had gone to public school.12 Five of the fifteen women had graduated from high school, and the rest had dropped out either before or during their sophomore year of high school. They had all moved in and out of the work force as factory hands, clerical workers, waitresses, or hospital or teachers' aides. Two-thirds of the women were married at the time of the 10 The focus of each in-depth interview was loosely defined and depended on how each woman responded to the opening question. In the first interview I asked the women to tell me what they remembered about being in school; in the second interview I asked them to describe themselves as learners; and in the third interview I asked about why they were returning to school. As we talked about their schooling experiences, the women offered detailed accounts of their work and family histories as well. 11 I elaborate elsewhere on the range and thematic content of the reasons that the women gave for returning to school (Luttrell 1992). Briefly stated, my argument is that the women's shared reasons for attending adult basic education programs illuminate the hidden structure of schools that are organized around women's work as mothers and the ideology of maternal omnipotence. 12 The Philadelphia women's school careers varied. While a third had at one point attended Catholic coeducational grammar school, only two of these had attended Catholic all-girl high schools. Of the women who had attended public coeducational grammar and high schools, two had attended the public girls' high school before it had become coed. Spring 1993 SIGNS 509 Luttrell THE TEACHERS ALL HAD THEIR PETS interviews, although over the course of the study half of these became divorced single mothers. (Of the unmarried women, only two had never been married.) In 1985, I began the second case study in which I followed the same research protocol as in the first. Again I entered the field as a teacher, curriculum-development specialist, and researcher. The second program was considerably smaller than the first and offered only literacy and high school equivalency classes to selected members of the university's maintenance staff. This program had served approximately two hundred people over a ten-year period, including janitors, housekeepers, painters, electricians, landscapers, and members of the motor pool. The majority, however, were black female housekeepers. I interviewed fifty women participants, and a year later selected fifteen women to interview in depth. The North Carolina women were all black and had been raised in southern rural communities, although they now resided in communities close to the university. Most had grown up on tenant farms, and all but two had tended tobacco and picked cotton in their youths. All had attended segregated rural grammar schools, often in one-room schoolhouses, and reported sporadic school attendance for reasons I will discuss later. All were employed as housekeepers at the university and shared similar work histories that included domestic work in white people's homes. Throughout the interviews they offered accounts of the tremendous social and political changes in the South that had fundamentally challenged their expectations and roles as black women. In responding to the question about why they were returning to school, the North Carolina women also replied that school would help them to better themselves. Upon further inquiry, 85 percent of them mentioned their desire to become better mothers ; half explained that while it was unlikely, perhaps a high school diploma would translate into a better job; and slightly more than half said they had always meant to finish school but that extenuating circumstances had made this impossible. To elaborate on these findings, my sample included only women who were mothers with at least one child living at home. There were significant differences in the two samples of women. While equal numbers had gotten pregnant as teenagers, a higher proportion of the Philadelphia women had gotten married as a result. Whereas twothirds of the Philadelphia women were or had been married, two-thirds of the North Carolina women had been single heads of households for most of their lives. Because of life cycle differences, several of the North Carolina women but none of the Philadelphia women were grandmothers raising school-age grandchildren. While the two groups of women attended school during the same historical period, their schooling experiences were quite different, as I 510 SIGNS Spring 1993 THE TEACHERS ALL HAD THEIR PETS Luttrell will elaborate later in the article. While a third of the North Carolina women had changed grammar schools several times during their childhood, only one Philadelphia woman had experienced such transitions. Although most of the North Carolina women had attended rural high schools, there were three who had attended small city public high schools, with two of them graduating. One of these women had attended an all-black college for one year. None of the Philadelphia women had attended college. Worth noting is that the educational skills of both groups of women ranged from roughly third grade to ninth grade level. Finally, whereas none of the North Carolina women had spent any time out of the labor force since becoming mothers, roughly half of the Philadelphia women had been out of the paid labor force when raising children under school age. The North Carolina women on average earned less than the Philadelphia women, but all the women's family incomes had fluctuated considerably over the past fifteen years. Interpretive methodology My intention in contrasting the accounts of both groups of women is to shed light on the problem of interpretation rather than to generalize about either group. I share Gilligan's interest in the interaction of experience and thought, in different voices and the dialogues to which they give rise rather than in the origins of the differences described or their distribution in a wider population, across cultures, or through time (1982, 2). Indeed, there are many layers of contrast in the life experiences of the women I interviewed, including race, region, ethnicity, religion, schooling, levels of economic deprivation, and political participation, to name just a few, and all of these variations give rise to the different voices and dialogues. Documenting, describing, and analyzing these va
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