Bitter Milk: Women and Teaching

Bitter Milk: Women and Teaching

Bitter Milk: Women and Teaching

Bitter Milk: Women and Teaching

Excerpt

In Sri Lanka, young women sometimes experience psychotic responses to adolescence as they struggle with the ambivalence provoked by the separation from their families. In Medusa's Hair the anthropologist Gananath Obeyesekere tells us that these periods of distress are called "dark night of the soul" experiences. He describes a ritual tonic that the afflicted girls drink to release them from their trouble. It is called bitter milk and is a mixture of milk and crushed margosa leaves, the same bitter potion that mothers apply to their nipples when they wish to wean their babies.

Bitter milk, fluid of contradictions: love and rejection, sustenance and abstinence, nurturance and denial. I first heard Obeyesekere speak at the University of Rochester years ago, and the phrase has stayed with me ever since, for it contains the contradictions of my work and of the work of many other women and men who teach. I have written this book to explore these contradictions. In this text I am attempting to understand what teaching means to women. Women constitute the majority of all public school instructional personnel; nevertheless, our experience of this work is hidden. You will not find it in the volumes that record the history and philosophy of education. You will not find it articulated in teacher education texts or administrative handbooks. It is hidden from our students, our colleagues, even from ourselves. Its absence is not a mere oversight. Nor is it that we have been so busy doing it that we haven't taken the time to think about it. There is something about the task itself, the way it wedges itself into our lives, the way we place it somewhere between our work and our labor, our friendships and our families, our ambition and our self-abnegation, that has prohibited our speaking of it.

Sometimes it seems to me that it is everything that could possibly matter to us.

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