Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Speaking of Bodies in Justice-Oriented, Feminist Teacher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Speaking of Bodies in Justice-Oriented, Feminist Teacher Education

Article excerpt

My body, the body of the teacher, is inseparable from the curriculum. Perhaps the body of the teacher is the curriculum.

Mimi Omer, 2002

The United States is a society that is simultaneously consumed and repulsed by the body; a society where obsession over a constructed obesity epidemic runs alongside obsession over thinness; a society where advertisers manipulate digital images of bodies to present two-dimensional versions of ideal male and female physiques; and plastic surgeons cut, suck, tuck, and fill three-dimensional fleshed versions of those digital images. These contradictory, obsessive, and unattainable expectations and experiences with and about the body are intimately linked with neoliberal and market-induced goals of the exercise-industrial complex (Newman, Albright, & King-White, 2011)--a system that historically focused on girls and women, but now leaves everyone wounded. Bordo (2003) described this as a "cultural tidal wave of obsession with achieving a disciplined, normalized body" (p. xx) in American culture, and, paradoxically, we live through the silencing of those same bodies in public and education spaces.

The body and of particular importance in elementary education, the female body is manipulated and shaped to the ideological contours of whatever existing hegemonic power is in place. This is a story about those bodies in educational spaces: big bodies, scrawny bodies, chiseled bodies, abused bodies, self-stimulated bodies, self-deprecating bodies, bodies that are desired and bodies that are repulsed, and bodies that are observed and disciplined and cultivated and obsessed over. It is a story about bodies in teacher education classes on campuses all over the United States teaching and learning about the raced, gendered, sexed, abled, and classed nature of power (e.g., Allen & Hermann-Wilmarth, 2004; Cochran-Smith, 2004a, 2004b; Conklin, 2008; Hermann-Wilmarth, 2007; Jones, 2006c; Lowenstein, 2009; McDonald & Zeichner, 2008; Miller & Kirkland, 2010; Sleeter, 2008; Vavrus, 2009; Villegas & Lucas, 2002; Zeichner & Conklin, 2008), while they simultaneously negotiate the pressures of how and where they fit in a body-obsessed society. As preservice student bodies read articles and books about creating powerful educational spaces where their future students can challenge claims of truth and remake the world in more just ways, some of them are sidetracked by the oppressive pressure to be/become a certain kind of body: thin, beautiful, and feminine.

Drawing on a long history of feminist pedagogies (Cohee et al., 1998; Ellsworth, 1993; Grumet, 1988; Hicks, 2002, 2004, 2005; hooks, 1994, 2000, 2003; Jones, 2006a, 2006c, 2009, 2010; Maher, 1999; Orner, 2002; Shapiro, 1999; Vavrus, 2009; Weiler, 1987, 1994) and feminist perspectives of the body (Bordo, 2003; Butler, 1993; Orbach, 2009; Youdell, 2006), we aim to capture a sustained look at, and listen to, the students in our teacher education classes--and ourselves--to explore what a critical pedagogy of the body might look like in teacher education. Each of us has worked for the past 10 and 5 years, respectively, to engage university students in critical pedagogies aimed at educating future teachers who would work against injustices and toward a fuller and more humanizing education for all children. We have engaged critical, feminist, and postmodern theories and pedagogies; immersed ourselves in literature about justice-oriented teacher education; critiqued monolithic and homogenizing characterizations of teacher education students; resisted perpetuating patterns of anti-intellectual practices in teacher education; and closely studied individual assignments, courses, and students/teachers across long stretches of time, wondering how things were going and if we knew where we were going. But somewhere along the way we heard the faint whispers of bodies: what they were eating and not eating, how that person looked, how this person wanted to look, what guys said about girls behind their backs, what girls said about girls behind their backs, how much they were exercising, how much more they should be exercising, and the guilt and shame for not doing everything they could do to be more. …

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