Thursday, October 14, 2010

Think About It...

So, I'm co-teaching a class on diversity with my coworker Tai. I'm super excited about it, and we're talking about privilege, that meaning that there are certain things that I don't have to think about/get treated differently/might be easier because of my race, my social class, my able-bodied-ness [I have no idea how to spell that], my heterosexuality, etc. Anyways, Tai and I got on the subject of the education system and she mentioned that one of our students of color had stated that she had never had a teacher/professor of color. That was shocking to me, and again, I take it for granted that as a white person I have seen plenty of people who look like me in positions of power, however I decided to reflect on my own teachers throughout my education from a gender perspective. Granted, this is not highly methodical because this is based off memory minus college where I was able to look at my transcripts and actually count who I had based on what classes]. Granted, I have to acknowledge that the particular area I grew up in [Boise, Idaho] is mostly white, so when dealing with the question of race I do acknowledge that in general there simply are not that many people of color in Idaho.

Elementary school: all white women. I believe I had ONE male P.E. teacher, and maybe one male art teacher.

Middle school: all white teachers, [7 women 6 men from my memory], fairly egalitarian

High school: all white teachers, gender differentiation actually fairly egalitarian from what I remember, and actually very egalitarian right down to the subject matter: [Total: 9 women, 10 men, from the classes I remember]
Math: 1 woman, 1 man
English: 2 women, 2 men
Science: 2 women, 1 man
Social Studies/Government/History: 2 women, 2 men
P.E.: 1 woman
Art/Photography: 2 men
Speech: 1 man
Cooking/Foods: 1 woman
Band: 1 man

College: 24 white men, 4 white women, 2 men of color

The good thing about my secondary education was I had several women teaching math and science classes in middle school and high school, as women are not typically associated with these subjects. Notice though, how the gender dichotomy changes as the level of education increases... ALL women in elementary school, to virtually ALL men in college. Which do we associate more power and intelligence with...elementary school or college? I will acknowledge that this of course will depend on what field you are going into, such as if you are in the nursing field you are probably going to see a lot of female professors, but again this says a lot about gender as well that is far to complicated for the purposes of this blog post. Anyways, the results aren't terribly shocking.

Why does this matter? I would ask this question: if you never see someone who looks like you teaching or in a position of power, and had no one to model the way for you, would you strive to/believe you could do that particular job? Would you develop beliefs about yourself that may or may not be true based on who it is you see performing different tasks? Could you believe this might influence your own development in SOME way? Might it be more difficult to find a mentor you connect with? I'm not saying that it's not POSSIBLE, but is it PROBABLE that you might pursue a position that you see a lot of people like you doing said position? Furthermore, would we be more likely to develop stereotypes or beliefs about other people groups if we've never seen competent professional examples [Chances are we would have stereotypes, but these at least might be discredited or altered upon interaction]? I only say this because sometimes I question my own ability to pursue a PhD, and upon reflecting on my own college experience, I can see why that might be so. Now granted, there are obvious method issues here, as this is my own personal experience and may or may not be representative, but I thought it was very interesting. My sociological thought of the day...

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