Women and the Politics of Empowerment

By Ann Bookman; Sandra Morgen | Go to book overview

plex nature of women's lives and consciousness that emerges in the Edison School story. In the end the Edison School struggle is a story about the changing texture of a working-class community and the changing of working-class consciousness. But it is also a story that challenges one-dimensional and narrow conceptions of working-class political demands. The demands of the Coalition for a New High School for quality, desegregated education cannot be understood only as a demand for equal educational opportunities and "rights" for white, Black, and Hispanic children. The struggle for a new Edison High School was also more than a fight for a safer, better-equipped facility. The women I interviewed did not see themselves as simply fighting for what their children would get but what their children and they themselves would be allowed to become.

Throughout the interviews the women emphasized the importance of their children's seeing themselves as having options, being able to have the broadest possible choices about who they would become in the world. As one coalition leader explained, this requires involvement and change:

Actually, my whole attitude about college has changed since I first started at the women's program and got involved in the Coalition. At first I wanted to go back to school and go to college to do better for my family and get a better job -- so I could be better off financially. I'm just trying to use my education now to make it a little better for a whole lot of us here in Kensington.

The desire for increased options that these women attribute to better quality education cannot simply be seen as their acceptance of the prevailing ideology of American education as a ticket to upward mobility. It must also be seen as an attempt to redefine personal opportunities, rights, and achievements. As the parents and students of District 5 face new options at the new Edison, they will have to reshape the constraints of working-class education to fit their own workingclass heritage, values, and concerns. As one coalition leader concluded:

My daughter keeps asking me "Mom, why are you working so hard when we are not even in high school yet?" I have to explain to her, "Someday, when you get to be somebody, when you grow up and are your own proud person it will be because a lot of mothers got together and made some changes.


NOTES
1.
Much of story of the Coalition for a New High School first appeared as a curriculum piece: Wendy Luttrell, "The Edison School Story", in Women in the Community: A Curriculum Guide for Students and Teachers ( Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Department of Education, 1981). Inquiries about this manual for adult basic education classes, which includes units on patenting, education, and unemployment, can be made to the Lutheran Settlement House Women's Program, 1340 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19125.

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