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Workshop on "engendering" the curriculum

STANFORD -- Freshmen studying Aristotle's politics also are learning about the Native American social order, in which women ­ "as famous in war as powerful in the Council" ­ are included in Cherokee delegations that negotiate treaties.

That addition to the "Europe and the Americas" track of Cultures, Ideas and Values (CIV) is just one of the ways in which Stanford's curriculum is becoming "engendered" and including more varied points of view and experience, according to participants in a day-long workshop, "Engendering the Curriculum: Textual and Pedagogic Strategies," held Sept. 19 in History Corner.

"The topic of gender has been difficult to present to students in the past without incurring accusations of 'pc-ness,'" said Cheri Ross, who coordinates the Great Works track of CIV and has taught in the program for 10 years. "One thing that came out of the workshop was a shared sense that the topic isn't nearly as charged or as difficult to broach as it used to be. If anything, students sometimes feel it's not discussed enough."

Co-sponsored by the Program in Feminist Studies and the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), and modeled on a panel sponsored last winter by faculty and graduate students of the East Asian Forum on Women and Gender Studies, the workshop drew almost 50 participants, about equally divided between faculty and graduate students. Panelists in the morning sessions discussed theoretical and pedagogical issues. In the afternoon workshops, professors and lecturers in history, CIV and East Asian studies compared notes on teaching strategies.

"It was a rare experience for faculty and graduate students in the history department to sit around and talk pedagogy," said Estelle Freedman, professor of history and chair of the Program in Feminist Studies, who helped to organize the workshop with Michele Marincovich, director of CTL. "It would be wonderful if we could do it more regularly."

David Palumbo-Liu, associate professor of comparative literature, suggested in his opening remarks that mandating inclusion of gender issues is "the most expedient" way, "at least superficially," to engender the curriculum. The more challenging approach, he said, is to reorient the curriculum in a way that "actually reshapes knowledge."

To encourage students to consider gender issues, Palumbo-Liu often draws on his own research of the 1920s to supplement the syllabus for the CIV track he teaches. A telling example is the Cable Act of 1922, which mandated that any American woman who married someone who was ineligible for naturalization could be tried for treason and have her citizenship taken away.

"It was one of several pieces of legislation passed in the early 20th century that tried to 'protect' the American nation as if it were a human body," he said. "In this case, the female body was subordinated to that image, and indeed became property of the state."

Palumbo-Liu was one of several faculty members who described the resistance students sometimes have to considering different points of view. Those "who have been taught to want to absorb knowledge in a very particular way," he said, are engaged in a "kind of mimetic project," trying to match what an instructor says with what they think they will be required to reproduce on a term paper or exam.

As a result, Palumbo-Liu said, teachers have to find ways to reward thoughtful questioning at the same time they may be telling students there are no clear-cut answers.

"Some students say, 'You've taken away everything I've held precious, and what are you giving me back?' And what I'm saying is, 'I'm giving you back certain ways of thinking that you have always deemed uncomfortable. Life will present all sorts of complexities that you're unable to handle as long as you want to retain a particular sense of self.'"

Palumbo-Liu spoke to theoretical issues of engendering the curriculum on a panel that included Bernard Faure, professor of religious studies; Michael Thompson, assistant professor of history; and Miyako Inoue, assistant professor of anthropology.

Inoue suggested that gender should be incorporated in the curriculum not as an object of study in itself, but because of a genuine concern for women's lives and experiences.

She described the "power-laden relationship" that often exists between anthropologists and informants as it was played out in a course she taught at Portland State University. After looking at media representations of Japanese women, Inoue's students then interviewed Japanese women living in the Portland area about their school background, marriage and family life, and wrote up the interviews in term papers.

When Inoue asked the students to show their papers to the informants they had interviewed, however, "half of them got pale," she said. Some students felt the women would contest or resent what had been written about them.

"Through this exercise, I wanted students to see how difficult it is to speak for others and what kind of responsibilities one assumes when she sets out to speak for others," Inoue said. "I also wanted students to see the importance of including themselves in their descriptions of others. . . . I wanted them to get the material connectedness between their world and that of their informants, or the larger social, historical, political context in which both we and others are situated."

The pedagogy panel featured Doree Allen, a former lecturer in CIV who is piloting a new project in oral communication for the Center for Teaching and Learning; Eileen Chow, a graduate student in comparative literature who teaches a course in contemporary Chinese films; and Mary Louise Roberts, assistant professor of history.

In a presentation that recounted memorable classroom encounters and drew frequent laughter, Roberts argued that the danger of integrating material by or about women on a syllabus is that it can just as easily be excluded.

"So we need more than a strategy of engendering," she said. "We need to see gender in everything we do."

When Roberts teaches about European liberalism in the history CIV track, she suggests to students that women in the domestic sphere "became repositories of morality in modern society" and established the social continuity that allowed democratic freedoms and economic capitalism to flourish.

As Roberts' students read Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness and Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, they discover key moments in both books when male protagonists lie to female characters rather than tell them about the horrors of death and war.

"Once you give students the information that women had come to play a pivotal role as centers of moral stability . . . that [literary] moment becomes a gendered moment that clarifies the crisis of liberal culture at the turn of the century, when the fiction of Western civilization was beginning to unravel," Roberts said.

"It's one example of the way in which giving students some basic information about how gender works in society can really enrich the literature that we don't normally think of as about or by women."

In the afternoon session, faculty and graduate students broke into small groups to talk about how they might implement some of the suggestions they had heard in the morning sessions. Participants in the CIV workshop also looked at issues of authority in the classroom.

Roberts added a note of perspective to the discussions when she noted that many of the students entering Stanford this year as freshmen were born in 1978.

"Most of them had feminist mothers and mothers who worked," she said. "These kids are much more receptive to these issues. They are ready for this, they expect it, and we are not going to shock anybody."



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