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Coming Into Her Own: Educational Success in Girls and Women

reviewed by Elisabeth L. Woody - 2001

coverTitle: Coming Into Her Own: Educational Success in Girls and Women
Author(s): Sara N. Davis, Mary Crawford, Jadwiga Sebrechts, Editors
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787944904, Pages: 416, Year: 1999
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For the last several decades, feminist educators have engaged in teaching practices which seek to address the needs of women and girls in the classroom. While much has been written on the theoretical foundations of feminist pedagogy, sadly, there exist few publications on the challenges and realities of classroom practice. Coming Into Her Own helps to fill this void in the literature, providing an excellent resource of course descriptions and teaching strategies for what the editors call a "women-centered education." This book represents an important step in joining the efforts of theorists and practitioners, providing concrete examples of strategies to address gender bias in educational institutions.

The editors, two Women’s Studies professors and the President of the Women’s College Coalition, draw on the Nag’s Heart conference, whose goal was to analyze "the characteristics of females who survived and thrived in the classroom" (p. 7). Many contributors to the volume were participants in this conference, and many are professors in various disciplines at women's colleges. The editors explain the focus on women’s colleges as "the only higher educational environments that unabashedly and unapologetically make the education, advancement, and achievement of women their first and only priority" (p. 20). Further on, they suggest that the women’s college provides the "optimal" model of education for women. This strong emphasis on women’s colleges raises questions of the possibilities for woman-centered education in co-educational institutions. Such a focus may also lead readers to the false assumption that feminist pedagogy is only relevant within women’s colleges or in the context of women’s studies.

Coming Into Her Own is divided into five sections, highlighting women-only educational institutions, feminist pedagogy, women in math and science, mentoring programs, and gender issues beyond the classroom. The strength of this book lies in each chapter’s detailed outlines of specific strategies and practices. An early chapter gives checklists for the goals and practices of feminist pedagogy, putting concrete examples to theoretical constructs (Kimmel). Other chapters provide details of courses or programs, with clear explanations of assignments and discussion techniques. Descriptions include an interdisciplinary religious studies and psychology course (Davis & Ratigan), an introductory statistics course (Harris & Schau), and an innovative program to prevent dating violence on college campuses (Mahlstedt & Corcoran).

However, many chapters are weakened by a lack of attention to the challenges faced or the feasibility of duplicating courses or programs in a variety of settings. The majority of courses described are unique; instructors had the freedom to design specialized syllabi and assignments, and taught in small, private or Catholic all-women’s colleges. What then are the possibilities and limitations of similar courses with a larger, co-ed student body? And what might such pedagogies look like in courses with less flexibility in curriculum design or requirements? Interestingly, the one chapter on a course at an urban, public school does give attention to alternative situations, providing thoughtful suggestions to those who may be teaching in larger classes. The essays in the final two sections on mentoring and "creating healthy environments" may prove most relevant to a variety of settings, as the original programs are not constrained by an academic classroom structure. If the editors seek to encourage transformative practices among readers in an effort to improve the educational experiences of all women, then further consideration of different contexts is needed. While it is impossible to predict another instructor’s experience in a different situation, more discussion of foreseeable challenges would be a welcome addition to the book.

On another note, most authors pay little attention to the perspectives of the students in their classes. While it is useful to hear the experiences of women-centered education from the instructor’s perspective, we rarely hear the voices of those women and girls whom the authors seek to influence. When students are discussed, they are treated as a monolithic entity, ignoring the complexities of student responses to and experiences of women-centered pedagogies. As one author acknowledges, "more systematically gathered reactions from students are sorely needed to begin to appreciate their realities" (p. 70).

Coming Into Her Own will be useful to current and future educators concerned with issues of gender throughout the academy, providing a rare look at the practices of transformative education. While the strategies outlined in this book were created with women and girls in mind, many suggestions will be relevant to instructors and students across a range of contexts. The editors succeed in their goal to document successful approaches to teaching girls and women, moving the discourse of gender bias beyond a theoretical discussion to highlight the experiences of practitioners.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 103 Number 1, 2001, p. 125-127
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10525, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 12:01:23 PM

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About the Author
  • Elisabeth Woody
    University of California, Berkeley
    E-mail Author
    Elisabeeth L. Woody is a doctoral student in the School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley. She recently received the Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award for her work in two different classes: Gender Issues in Education, and Current Issues in Education.
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