Thursday, September 1, 2011

Prehistoric Matron

The Matron LOVES her Gender and Women Studies class! In fact, the Matron LOVES the entire GWS department -- because she is the only person in it! Yes, yours truly gets to play Department Czar. Good times. What's not to love about Total Control (okay, okay, within institutional guidelines), her favorite state of being.

Most of all, she loves her students. This class is, coincidentally or not, entirely female. They are mostly young -- certainly, all younger than she is. With just 20, she can do more than memorize names but actually know people. Amazing, all around.

Just two weeks in, the students are lapping it all up: feminist theory, Marxism, post-structuralism, all drawn in introductory, broad Matronly strokes designed for the eager but uninitiated. Wonderful. All is good. There is much discussion of 'micropolitics' and how those everyday exchanges regarding gender, sexual preference, class and race are related to and help create larger social and economic processes and ideologies. Perfect attendance and nobody bolts for the door the second the class leaves.

Today, the discussion turned toward identity politics.

Matron (note the careful use of 'in part' which is a handy phrase in case you forget something or get it partly right): "Identity politics, in part, grew out of the political movements of the 1960s and early 70s. Political, economic and social change was changed fueled by activists' identification with a certain group of people: African-American and to a less visible and less applauded extent all other groups of non-white people, female, workers, etc. This is a generalization, but whereas we see a lot of political fervor today about the economy, in the sixties there was political fervor over identity and the rights of people defined by certain identities."


Student raises hand: "Do you mean the NINETEEN sixties or an earlier century?"

Here, picture the Matron with raised eyebrows, lecture paused.

Matron: "Of course, the 1960s. Everyone here is familiar with the political upheavals and social transformation of the sixties and early seventies, right?"


Matron, who is a big believer in cutting to the chase in the classroom: "Who here has never ever heard of an era called 'the sixties' and the political changes that happened then?"

Every hand shoots up.

Guess who is constructing a history lesson about waaaaaaaaaaaay back when in the last century and feeling like the dinosaur who belongs there.


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Someone needs to slap their parents--my kids damn well know about "the sixties" (which also means the early seventies) I mean there were some biggies in that decade--civil rights, women's rights, Vietnam . . . Wow.

MJ said...

What astonished me when I was teaching University a few years ago is that this generation (at least of Canadians) have no understanding of the Cold War. They've barely heard of the fall of the Berlin Wall. There's a reason why my kids learn history regularly in the evening when I read to them at bedtime. They think it is just a relaxing way of readying for bed (wink).

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience to MJ's concerning the Cold War... I offered an A in the class to someone who could tell me the parameters of the Cold War and nobody could do it.

The ex has a theory that history is taught chronologically. With standardized tests, snow days and days off for pep rallies, the history classes get behind and they stop someplace at or just after WWII -- Since their parents don't teach them stuff, they don't know about the 60s...

I love to use an episode of Mad Men (really, any one) to introduce the need for feminism in general. One episode shows them the reason women thought that they needed to be equal :).

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...


Anonymous said...

I would guess I'm only about 6-8 years older than most of your students. I certainly know about "the sixties". Though, I did not learn about it in school. Philosophyfactory's comment about that theory reminds me of 10th grade (about 10 years ago for me). I took World History, with the teacher of the course leaving midway through. The new teacher preferred going from present time back. So, I never learned about anything between the start of the Chinese civilization and the Cold War. Luckily, my father encouraged me to take responsibility for my own education. That and he liked to watch a lot of documentaries and movies on Vietnam and that time period.

Jan said...

My 23 year old son learned about the 60s in high school and did a research paper on the 1968 Democratic convention. Of course, he also learned about those times from us too. As I hear people (Presidential candidates!) tell us that we don't need the federal government to be involved with disaster assistance and that we can continue to dismantle the safety net for the poor in our country, I wonder how many of our young people understand how bad the Depression was. Did their families not tell those stories either?

Jocelyn said...

Oh, sweet mother of Steinem: really? I mean, I pretty much teach this same population, yet I'm still stunned. You'd think their grandpas (er, great-grandpas) might have been draft dodgers during Vietnam, at the very least.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

I read the first line of Jocelyn's comment and forgot what I was going to write in my comment. "Oh, sweet mother of Steinem . . ." It probably sums up what I was going to write better than whatever it was that I was going to write. :-)


Xtreme English said...

The comments on your blog are an especial delight...."Oh, sweet mother of Steinem"!

I just hope nobody asks ME about the 60s...I was just married and having 4 babies in 6 years. All I remember was the Kennedy assassination because we had to RENT a TV to watch the news.

Karen ~ said...

Next week ask them what year they think the ERA passed.

(and thank you for taking this detour in your class. This will be the class they will - hopefully - remember forever.)