The Only Way to Win


Lauren Schiller quoted a development specialist in a May 30, 2016 article for Fortune on how office politics can hold women back:

“I don’t know that they need something special, (special professional development programs) but I do think they need something that’s different than their male counterparts, especially if they’re seeking to advance their careers. Women have a different experience in the organization than their male counterparts, mostly because the organizations’ dynamics were designed by the people who founded them—basically white men. (my emphasis) And since we have different expectations than our male counterparts, we need help decoding the organizational landscape that we’re a part of. So that’s what development programs can help women understand.”

Wow, it’s great that women seeking high stakes positions in corporate America have recognized the same plight that teachers have labored under since the beginning. Our review of the history of public education’s development supports one conclusion: the women who retained professional authority and autonomy had to found their own schools.

Let’s begin the review in the early 1900s, where the male privilege was already in full swing.stove

The schism between male assumption of authority in education, housed in universities through teacher education program, and women educators began early. Prior to the early 1900s, education was largely administered to the upperclasses through private schools or tutoring. During Westward expansion, rudimentary lessons were conducted in a church or a “one room” building that also served for community meetings. The idea of free public education for the majority was not robust since children were still needed for agriculture and women, especially, were not believed to need formal education.

That being noted, it is all the more remarkable that any women at all emerged in leadership roles through founding schools. We see 1915 embodying the gender dichotomy with the publication in the same year of “Rules for Teachers” for women ( and John Dewey leading a university movement for academic freedom (only men taught at universities). Most men publishing thoughts about what teachers or education should came involve came from psychology and philosophy at the university.

The problem is not that men should not study education. The problem is that the practitoners, overwhelmingly women, have not been able to share their expertise. Thus the entire field of what they know from teaching has been excluded for the most part. And if women educators and university professors do sit down, the male privilege mindset often overrides the voices of those who are actually more skilled. For example, the idea of “action research” became popular: the planning, analysis and evaluation loop of teaching, a “discovery” by Donald Schon in 1983. Women had been doing action research in their classrooms from the beginning. It wasn’t labeled as such and tended to be discounted. Or publishers were reluctant to publish women’s work.

Horace Mann, 1796 – 1859, like most men directing education, was not a teacher. In 1837 he was elected to the Massachusetts Board of Education, advocating for the primary task of public education to to teach unruly children discipline. In the male mind, children’ were women’s work and it was a short move from the house to the schoolroom. Thus behavior,, not thinking, was the primary concern. As a beginning teacher, my first principal told me to not bring any student to his office for disciplining if I wanted to keep my job. My job was to keep children disciplined. That was in 1978.

Following in leading education thought was Jean Piaget 1896-1951  a psychologist, also not a teacher, and  Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) who headed Tuskeegee as a young man in spite of having never taught. He believed education was the best hope for African Americans.

During this time two women emerged and were given some recognition. Margaret Bancroft (1854-1912) was special education pioneer and teacher. She began a boarding school for them 50  years before the Supreme Court cases mandated education for developmentally disabled.

Maria Montessori (1870-1952)  was a medical doctor who began to focus her attention on the importance of changing developmental delays through early education. Her work continues to this day as a viable structure for developing self- direction and a love of learning in young children. Public preschools have adopted her methods. Fortunately she was able to retain proprietary control over her methods by requiring the complete adoption of her entire approach before a school can be designated as Montesorri.





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