By questioning basic and fundamental assumptions, transformative knowledge challenges mainstream academic knowledge. In order to effect social change both locally and nationally, Bethune challenged the popular knowledge of her time. As a black feminist, she focused on justice and equality for all human beings, not limited to African American women. In this way, she was a contrasting presence of transformative philosophy compared to white suffragettes who focused primarily on winning the vote for white women. Bethune was particularly concerned with educating local black women and was committed to women’s issues especially those of the working-class and poor. Bethune believed it was essential that the thoughts and perspectives of the black community be represented nationally in order to affect policy making and program planning and to that end, she worked to get African Americans hired in federal jobs.
Bethune artfully walked the line between the mainstream culture and the local community. This philosophy was ever present in her school where her curriculum focused on vocational skills that would prepare students to find and maintain jobs, while also educating African American youth to take their place neither in front nor behind, but alongside their white contemporaries. As a feminist, educator and social activist, Bethune’s transformative power stemmed from an understanding of the restrictions and confines placed on her by racial and gender mainstream assumptions, and the ingenuity to use those to her own advantage. And in that spirit, she worked to undermine and unhinge strictures of class, race and gender.
In some ways similar to Bethune, Eleanor Roosevelt’s power as a champion for civil rights stemmed from an artful and intuitive balance between the local and mainstream culture. She recognized her limits and the constraints of the White House and when it came to issues of civil rights, she thoughtfully responded—sometimes as a national symbolic forerunner and other times applying pressure behind the scenes. Both women courageously held to their convictions and worked tirelessly to find the most effective way to implement their commitment to universal equality. In terms of education, using discernment regarding implementation of ideas is key. Understanding one’s current climate and the restrictions one faces provides the necessary context to combat limitations and implement change. So to this end, we must continually seek to understand who we are as educators as well as those we seek to influence.
I can only imagine the insight I will glean regarding gender issues and the gender gap after having spent a few years in a classroom. But according to Hofstede’s Intercultural Dimensions, the United States has a mid-range score when it comes to “Power Distance.” With a score of 40 out of 100, the United States is not a caste system based society such as India. However, that “40” suggests a presence of inequality and limitations in terms of upward mobility. Infrastructures continue to accept and perpetuate inequalities of gender, status, power and wealth. As a future educator, establishing and promoting a classroom in which each student, has equal opportunity to contribute is essential. A collaborative environment not only establishes self worth, but also teaches students the value of their peers. Understanding and being mindful of how and when male and female students develop socially, mentally, physically and emotionally is a basic and invaluable way to begin understanding and relating to students. For example, research suggests that in elementary school, girls have advantages in social skills which translate to classroom behavior. Creating a variety of activities to suite varying needs between boys and girls at different stages of development is essential. In reading the article Gender Inequalities in Education, it is evident the ways in which popular notions of gender performance affect the ways in which students view their own capabilities. The article suggests that due to conventionalist ideas about men outperforming women on standardized tests, especially in math, women experience heightened anxiety during test taking that interferes with their test performance (p. 324). As educators, we must be sensitive not to reinforce negative gender differences and notions. Although many aspects affect the performance of any individual student, I wonder if gender inequalities will always exist manifesting in different ways.