Academic journal article Family Relations

Family Science Faculty Members' Experiences with Teaching from a Feminist Perspective

Academic journal article Family Relations

Family Science Faculty Members' Experiences with Teaching from a Feminist Perspective

Article excerpt

Family Science Faculty Members' Experiences With Teaching From a Feminist Perspective*

Telephone interviews were conducted with 25 family science faculty members who were self-identified feminist teachers to explore how they conceptualized teaching, translated feminist theory into classroom practice, understood their own and students' reactions to teaching, and responded to challenging situations. Their accounts illustrate a commitment to students, the centrality of dialogue as a teaching strategy and as an indication of successful teaching, and the congruency in personal and professional ideology offered by a feminist perspective. These results highlight the opportunity for teachers to focus sincerely on the interpersonal dimension of the classroom, acquire the interpersonal skills to promote dialogue and to convey respect and care of students, encourage the practice of reflexivity, and approach teaching with integrity.

Key Words: family science, feminism, pedagogy, teaching.

The field of family science contains exemplary accounts of feminist approaches to the scholarship of teaching. Scholars have described the assumptions and values of feminist praxis (Allen, 1988; Walker, Martin, & Thompson, 1988); the continuing need for a feminist-informed vision for family life education (Allen & Baber, 1992; Walker et al.); the concern for "what is taught, how it is taught, and whom is taught" (MacDermid, Jurich, Myers-Walls, & Pelo, 1992, p. 31, emphasis in original); the feminist processes of reflexivity and self-- disclosure as teaching tools (Allen, 1995; Allen & Farnsworth, 1993); the importance of including race and class diversity with gender when teaching about contemporary families (Walker, 1993); decentering the instructor (Marks, 1995); and the value of using a postmodern feminist approach as a theoretical base from which to teach (Baber & Murray, 2001).

The goals of feminist teaching have been described by several scholars. They include (a) fully incorporating women into classrooms (Allen, 1988); (b) promoting equality and respect for all people and families (Allen & Baber, 1992); (c) involving and challenging students in the learning process so that they assume responsibility for their own learning (Allen, Floyd-Thomas, & Gillman, 2001; Walker, 1996); and (d) empowering students to develop understandings and actions that benefit themselves, their families, and others (Baber & Murray, 2001; MacDermid et al., 1992). Feminist teachers assume that teaching is a value-laden activity; that content and process are inseparably connected; that teaching must be relevant to students' lives; that oppression exists; that critique of the social system is paramount in understanding individual lives, and personal experience is key in the development of this critique and in the promotion of social justice; and that action toward changing unjust situations and institutions must follow understanding (Allen, 1988; Allen & Baber; Allen et al.; MacDermid et al.).

Individual accounts about teaching offer valuable direction to those interested in anchoring their teaching in a feminist theoretical foundation. However, to date no study on feminist pedagogy has explored teaching in family science. For example, family science was not represented in Maher and Tetreault's (1994) ethnographic study of 17 feminist teachers from nine disciplines or in Deats and Lenker's (1994) edited book on gender and academe. Additionally, disseminating information on teaching techniques and assessing their effectiveness remain important tasks for family science (Sollie & Kaetz, 1992) and academe in general (Stage, Muller, Kinzie, & Simmons, 1998).

To further feminist praxis and knowledge about teaching, the present study explored how feminist family science teachers conceptualize teaching, translate theory into classroom practice, and handle challenging situations. It complements and extends the individual accounts of feminist teaching by offering empirical support to the literature. …

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