I was in grade six of my all-girls school. It was the biology class, and we were learning about human muscles, glands, and tissues. I really liked my biology teacher. She was assertive, amiable, motherly. I was always an introvert and struggled to ask questions in class. As she was teaching us about different glands and tissues and explaining her notes, I asked: “What is a mammary gland?”
The entire classroom burst into laughter. But, what was worse is that my teacher looked visibly cross. She explained, “Mammary gland is a gland in our body”. Period. Judging by the pinch I got from my friend sitting beside me, or the overall reaction, I realized I had committed a mistake.
And I never asked any questions in my biology class again. For some warped reason, discussing a purely scientific topic about a woman’s body part was considered shameful back then. I would have liked to believe that the traditional patriarchal classroom of India is long dead. Unfortunately, that’s far from the truth. The following is my reasoning on why we desperately need a Feminist pedagogy:
Teacher as a Center of Power instead of a Guiding Light
Simply explained, Pedagogy is the theory and practices of teaching. Popular Indian culture has placed the Teacher or the Guru on the same pedestal as God. We are told to respect our Guru and follow his advice. Questioning him is showing disrespect. With that cultural background in place, when schools and educational institutions opened up, teachers assumed the role of the Guru. With the dawn of industrial age and consumerism, schools and classrooms evolved into unidirectional education exchange centers.
It is obvious, therefore, that the teacher in the Indian context, is the power center of the classroom.
At the heart of Patriarchy lies inequality. And that is exactly what our classrooms symbolize.
The teacher teaches standing/sitting in a chair placed on a pedestal. The students face the teacher. Within most traditional educational settings, the dominant power structure situates instructors as superior to students.
- Conversations are strictly prohibited.
- Questions are considered a disturbance.
- The teacher can never be wrong!
- The teacher provides instructions and students follow them.
- Taking help from peers is called “cheating”.
- Tests only focus on individual skills and knowledge. The one with the most shallow knowledge wins!
- The classrooms promote completion: If you fail, you are bad. You deserve to punished, left alone or treated with disrespect!
No wonder when we enter the society after completing education, either we are terribly lacking self-esteem and self-worth, or have highly inflated egos!
Go away Patriarchy, Welcome Feminist Pedagogy
Feminist Pedagogy is a teaching practice where knowledge is fluid, non-universal, and experiential. The teacher and the students participate actively in that experience. Differences in opinions are respected, questions are welcomed. Knowledge is looked from the angles of gender, race, and class.
Let the students have a voice: As a teacher, encourage them to speak up. Not just the one you know has done his/her homework, but everyone. This does not mean you allow chaos in your classroom, but an organized democratic learning environment where no one should be afraid to speak their minds.
Equal Respect: Although it seems like a common knowledge, we often fail to acknowledge another human being beyond their degrees (or lack of) and achievements. Everyone deserves respectful behavior irrespective of their physical and mental capabilities
Encourage Representation: Encourage your students to think about marginalized groups. Inculcate representation of all groups. Although it may not even be related to the subject, it matters.
Encourage group activities and peer learning: As we all have experienced, it is from our friends we learn the most. Why not make it a practice in your classroom? Design group activities to promote social learning and make learning fun!
Finally, remember that as a teacher you are a human being too. Apologize if you make a mistake. And most importantly, have a great time learning with and from your students!
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