Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Girls and Schooling: Their Own Critique

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Girls and Schooling: Their Own Critique

Article excerpt

Paula Bourne, Liza McCoy and Dorothy Smith

Centre for Women's Studies in Education

The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

University of Toronto

Toronto, Ontario

Dans cet article, les auteures presentent les experiences de jeunes filles et femmes par rapport a leur scolarisation. A travers des entrevues menees avec des etudiantes au postsecondaire a travers I'Ontario, elles ont demande aux jeunes filles et femmes de parler des aspects sexistes de leur education et la facon dont elles en ont ete affectees. En employant les voix de ces jeunes femmes, les auteures presentent les resultats de cette recherche dans cet article afin de permettre aux jeunes femmes d'articuler leur propre critique de leur scolarisation.

In this article the authors present the experiences of girls and young women in relation to their schooling. In focus group interviews with female students in post-secondary schools across Ontario, girls and young women were asked to speak about the gendered aspects of their education and how it affected them. The findings from this study are presented in this article, using their own voices, to allow for a critical and gendered view of schooling from the students' own point of view. The girls and young women who participated in the study spoke about what they liked about their schools and their teachers, as well as about the practices and situations they found unfair, discriminatory, silencing, and scary - as girls. Feminist educators can gain many valuable insights if they listen closely, respectfully and sensitively to the voices of their female students.

Feminist educators in Canada, as in other countries, have identified two major ways in which schooling contributes to women's unequal access to economic opportunities. The first is by steering girls into courses that make it difficult for them to enter the kind of post-secondary courses and programs that lead to better paid jobs. (1) The second is the school's "hidden curriculum" that teaches girls that they are less important than and subordinate to boys -- thus creating among girls an inner sense of inferiority that is self-silencing. These aspects of education have been examined in many studies. (2) Yet, little of this critical writing on girls and young women and the school system is based directly on the experiences of girls and young women. (3) This study is. It is not a study of the girls and young women or even their typical experiences in schools in Ontario. Rather it brings together the voices of girls and young women who take a critical and gendered view of schooling from their own point of view.

The girls and young women told us what they liked about their schools and their teachers; they also described practices and situations they found unfair, discriminatory, silencing, discouraging and scary -- as girls. Through the involvement of young women of colour or/and lesbians we heard how gender discrimination intersects with racism and heterosexism. We were struck by how sharp, detailed and informative were the accounts participants provided of everyday school practices they found troublesome. It is clear that here is a critical resource, but one that goes largely untapped within the school hierarchy. Feminist educators can gain many valuable insights if they listen closely, respectfully and sensitively to the voices of their female students. (4)

Methodology

The methodology used to capture these voices was that of focus group interviews with female students attending schools in Ontario. In total we worked with 12 student focus groups and these, in turn, represented over 20 schools currently, or previously, attended by the participants. Focus group methodology was developed originally to learn about audience response to mass media. (5) It involves bringing together a small group of people who share a common experience to discuss their reactions or responses to it or to make evaluations or critiques. …

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