If you would like to be the kind of person who never stops learning, the best advice I can give you is to become a high school teacher. Some days, you learn just where your limits are and then promptly go right past them, until you're saying words you know you're going to regret. (My personal favorite: "Of all the things you can choose to be in this world, why would you choose to be an asshole?") Some days, you learn about Classical Conservatism from no less an authority than Klemens von Metternich himself. And some days, you see the future, and you learn that humanity might still be OK.
All three of those things happened today. Two of them have the potential to be blog posts (I plead the Fifth on that first one), but it's International Women's Day, so I want to say a few brief words about my Women's Studies class. (Yes, I'm a guy. Yes, I teach Women's Studies. Yes, it's a long story. Suffice it to say that the only reason I teach it is because three little sisters asked me to.)
We've been moving through the herstory of women's rights in America, from the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848, through the long trials of the fight for suffrage, with stops in both World Wars and then on into the 1960's. We're now firmly entrenched in Second Wave Feminism. We've read from The Feminine Mystique. We've had group discussions on a host of poems and articles, and beginning at the tail end of last week, we began creating the Feminism Hall of Fame.
It's a simple exercise, based on the plaques from the Baseball Hall of Fame, which have an image of the player, their years in the Major Leagues, and their accomplishments. I altered it so that the students were assigned one Second Wave Feminist and needed to include her picture (preferably from the time period), her date of birth (and, if applicable, death), and then a 300-500 word essay about her accomplishments, all of which should fit on an 11x17 poster. We created the posters last week, and I hung them up outside of my room today.
During class today, we did a Gallery Walk. If you're unfamiliar, you simply display a number of items (in this case, the posters), and then have the students pretend each is an exhibit in an art gallery, and they walk from one to the next and view the exhibits. I asked them to view at least a dozen posters outside of their own, write down a few pieces of pertinent info about the feminist covered in that poster, and then write a brief paragraph about the experience. I reminded them that due to spacing and other issues, the posters were in the hall, and reminded them that other classes were in session in other rooms, and then I turned them loose to work on their assignment.
I've done this exercise before. I almost always have to redirect--not a lot, but on occasion--or point out that there's no waiting at this exhibit while six friends all gather at that one. I didn't have to do that today; not once. This is the first time I've done the lesson in a COVID world, also. Were we always socially distanced? No. Were we ever within six feet of someone else for 15 minutes? Also no. And let me tell you: you could have heard a pin drop. Every student was reading the essays, looking at the pictures, finding out who was still alive, or expressing dismay that someone else had passed away so recently. There were more than a few comments to me: "She was in the movie!" "I remember her!" "I didn't know she was a member of Congress!"
There are moments, being a teacher, when the lesson goes well, or when both you and the students are having fun, or when you get that feeling of, "Hey, it's possible I know what I'm doing!" This was all of those things, and on top of that, it was beautiful. About twenty little sisters (and a couple of fine young feminist little brothers) spent forty minutes in silence, observing positive female role models who, once upon a time, changed the world.
The National Women's Hall of Fame is in Seneca Falls, New York, where way back in 1848 the Declaration of Sentiments was both presented and signed. But for three-quarters of an hour today, the Feminist Hall of Fame was outside my classroom, and its opening was a smashing success.
Happy International Women's Day, one and all. Humanity might still be OK.