20 Questions for Peggy McIntosh: Questions 6 and 7
This continues our series of 20 questions that SEED Founder Peggy McIntosh answered about SEED for the Wellesley Centers for Women's Research & Action Report. This week, she talks about standardized testing, bringing teachers and students' own experiences into the classroom, and the "hard questions" of equity and diversity.
In last week's post, she said that, "SEED work helps [teachers] to repair the damage done to them by the requirement that they leave so much of their actual experience and passion behind and teach from a small segment of their perceptions, knowledge, and capacities."
Are you referring to teachers having to teach to a test?
That is only part of the problem. It is true that preparing students for standardized tests and unspeculative, normative ways of thinking can be exhausting for teachers partly because it is usually deadening for teachers and students alike.
But in SEED work we also quote co-director Emily Style, who coined the phrase, “making textbooks of our lives,” by which she means bringing students’ and teachers’ own experiences into classroom discussions and course content. I feel that the omission of student knowledge from curricula is a major source of alienation for them and contributes to the fact that so many do not learn to read, write, or think with intellectual curiosity and respect for evidence.
In addition, the omission of the subject of power of all kinds is another deadening aspect of the curriculum. I have found that in SEED seminars, teachers who engage with hard questions of equity, diversity, and social justice by bringing their own perceptions in and listening to the experience of others feel they are recovering something they lost in schooling. Their human breadth comes back, along with their longing to help shape a world that is not torn apart by conflicts, denials, suffering, and isolation.
What do you mean by “hard questions” of equity and diversity?
Well, one hard question is “What messages does our curriculum, or my own teaching, deliver with regard to gender, race, class, culture, sexuality, religion, nation, and the world?” It is hard to face the answers. But to do so in company with others and to develop the ability to see the curriculum in terms of its assumptions and values is a step forward. It is also a relief, for many of us as teachers didn’t feel that we were teaching in a very coherent frame of reference, but we had no one to talk to about that. Many of us didn’t know, at a deep level, what we were doing in the classroom, but this was not something we were supported to discuss.