Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward
reviewed by Clare Walsh - September 28, 2009
Title: Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward
Author(s): Robbin D. Crabtree, David Alan Sapp, and Adela C. Licona (eds.)
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore
ISBN: 0801892767, Pages: 280, Year: 2009
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Feminist pedagogy is a philosophy of teaching with a concern that looks to create a democratic, student-centered learning environment. Students in a feminist classroom are encouraged to find their own voice and be active participants in their own learning as they confront systems of power and inequality. Instructors in a feminist classroom are called to think not only about what is taught but how it is taught. Unfortunately, many teachers, including those who call themselves feminist or who teach womens/gender studies, find implementing the techniques of feminist pedagogy too challenging and formidable. Robin Crabtree, David Sapp, and Adela Licona provide a practical guide to remedy this situation.
Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward is a National Womens Studies Association Journal Reader that brings together articles published in NWSA Journal (NWSAJ) from its inception in 1989 through 2002. It is fitting that the editors selected the NWSA Journal as the source for their reader on feminist pedagogy. In its mission statement, the National Womens Studies Association (NWSA) notes a commitment to the field of women's studies and gender studies, as well as its teaching, learning, research, and service (NWSA website). Crabtree and her colleagues have collected NWSAJ pieces that not only highlight the development of theory as it relates to feminist pedagogy, but also illustrate its realistic application in the classroom.
The collection is divided into four sections, each one illustrating a different facet of feminist pedagogy. Part I, Feminist Pedagogical Theory and Praxis, contains six readings that discuss the development of the theory of feminist pedagogy. These readings also include reflections by the authors as they describe implementing the tenets of feminist pedagogy in their own classrooms. Part II, Pedagogical Practices in the Feminist Classroom, also has six readings and provides empirical articles that give practical examples from instructors in various disciplines. Teachers discuss using methods like small group discussions, whole-class discussions, student reflection papers, panels, and social action projects. They discuss ways to create a safe classroom environment where everyone has the opportunity to be heard and where everyone has the opportunity to learn. Part III, Race Matters: Intersectional Analysis of Classroom Dynamics, consists of two readings. The authors of these most recent pieces recognize the influence critical race theory has had in broadening feminist thought. Feminist theory has been challenged to include not just gender, but also to include race, class, and sexuality as vectors when critically analyzing systems of oppression. Finally, Part IV, Bibliographies, has two bibliographies that were published in NWSAJ. These bibliographies have little overlap and include readings important in the development of feminist pedagogy in womens studies. Crabtree notes that these bibliographies were included to fortify the practical value of the book (p. 15).
The introduction to Feminist Pedagogy, The Passion and the Praxis of Feminist Pedagogy, also adds to the practical value of the book. In just twenty pages, Crabtree and her colleagues take the reader from a definition of feminist pedagogy to a discussion of its development and characteristics; from its application in the classroom to a discussion of their vision of the future of feminist pedagogy. The collection is a concise introduction to feminist pedagogy and is so inclusive and well-written it could easily stand on its own.
The core of Feminist Pedagogy is the empirical and reflective pieces that discuss the more practical applications of feminist pedagogy to the specific contexts found in the classroom. The authors offer successes and failures as they discuss what has worked and not worked in their classrooms. When these instructors discuss their failures they give suggestions as to what went wrong and what might be done to be successful. They also discuss challenges that others might face in particular situations as they apply feminist pedagogical techniques. Fellow instructors are encouraged to explore the different approaches a feminist pedagogy offers. These essays give the sense that feminist pedagogy is challenging and perhaps at times frustrating. In the end, it is definitely worth the effort as students are empowered to transform thought into action.
The bibliographies in Part IV provide a convenient place to find many important writings on feminist pedagogy. And as the editors note, when taken with the references found throughout Feminist Pedagogy, many foundational and historically important works are collected in this one book.
The only criticism I have of Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward is the lack of readings in Part III, Race Matters: Intersectional Analyses of Classroom Dynamics. This should not be taken as a reflection on the quality of the pieces included in this section, but Part I and Part II each include six essays. Why not at least as many in Part III? Perhaps other articles were not available. The books editors should make note of this fact since the lack of readings in this section implies that race does not matter.
Feminist Pedagogy: Looking Back to Move Forward is a great resource for a graduate level course in feminist pedagogical techniques or for anyone looking to add to their teaching toolkit. It is a practical and comprehensive reference highlighting the development and application of feminist pedagogy.
National Womens Studies Association. (n.d.) About NWSA. Retrieved September 6, 2009, from NWSA Web site: http://nwsa.org/about/index.php