Sunday, 19 October 2014

Lost pioneers

'Behind every man, there's a great woman.' Or so the tired, old cliche goes. As I looked at the reading list for the Cert Ed/PGCE qualification that I teach, I found myself asking - do we only read men because they were the best, most insightful theorists - or are there actually many women, standing just beside them, whose voices have been lost or edited out over the years?

I know what I believe.

Two weeks ago I watched the film 'Pride' at the cinema and asked myself a similar question.  How many amazing stories of the miners' strike have been lost due to what is filtered down to us? I had never heard the story of 'Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners' and the way in which the bravery and compassion of one small group changed the face of trade unions and the Labour party.  It is a phenomenal story of hope and belief.  But who decides what makes a story? Why are some voices louder than others?

In the beautiful grounds of Northern College stands a memorial to Lady Mary Montagu. Mary was a writer, traveller and critic of the treatment of women in the Georgian era.  She was responsible for bringing the Ottoman practice of variolation to England and undoubtably preventing a smallpox epidemic. This happened ten years BEFORE the birth of Edward Jenner, the physician who later pioneered the vaccine and is now known as the 'father of immunology'. (It's unlikely that you will have heard of Mary. She kept her extensive writings under wraps, most probably for fear of public retribution. You can find out more about her here).

In my teaching I encourage students to consider 'absent identities'.  Who isn't in your classroom? Why aren't they there, and how can you bring them into the room?' For them, it could be women, in a motor mechanics lesson. Men in a parenting class about breast-feeding. Students with disabilities, who can't even access the building you teach in. Black writers, in a literature class.

This blog is my attempt to discover and share the influence of another often absent identity - women writers on education.  Every month my reflections on my teaching practice will be based around the writing of a 'lost woman'.  Please share your ideas and suggestions so that I can expand my knowledge further, and get their voices heard.

November will feature John Dewey's contemporary, Helen Parkhurst.

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