Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Hello. I am pleased to accept the invitation to participate.

My name is Kathryn McCormick Benson. I am a graduate of Louisiana State University, 1994, Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction. I began teaching at the age of 20 in Jefferson Parish at L.W. Higgins, an all-girls public school on the West Bank. I have taught secondary English and Spanish, off and on, for the past 30 years of so, most of those years in north Louisiana. I began graduate studies at Louisiana State University in Shreveport in 1986, studying with Joe Green and Joe Kincheloe. Thus began my study of the philosophy and history of education. Between completing the Ph D and accepting a position at SAU, I taught English, and sometimes Spanish, in the local high school where I had done the research for my dissertation. I began teaching in the graduate programs at Southern Arkansas University in 2001.

I am quite new to blogging but have enjoyed following the discussions posted so far. I hope that I will have something to contribute; at the least, I will take advantage of the postings and comments. I hope that this experience will not become similar to an early morning van ride to an airport following a curriculum conference in which my co-presenter and I sat silent in the back seat while the two scholars in front of us conducted a quite interesting academic discussion. Upon arriving at the airport, the two exited the van shutting the door behind them. We sat still, silent. What does it mean to be a southern woman in higher education? This is a question which a co-worker at another university and I are contemplating as we think of and research the subtleties and complexities of women, place, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, race, and other aspects of our lives that form our consciousness and worlds.

I look forward to participating in the conversations and learning from the back-and-forth comments following the postings – better than footnotes!



Craig A. Cunningham said...

Kathryn: Thanks for joining us! I'm not sure I understand the significance of your story about the van ride after the curriculum conference. You and your co-presenter had run out of things to say to each other? Was this somehow relevant to your questions about southern women in the field?

A. G. Rud said...

I think Kathryn and her companion were hoping that by being quiet, the garrulous two in the front wouldn't notice them and would pick up the van tab.

Seriously...I agree with Craig that it is unclear what you mean, Kathryn, but let me take a stab: You and your friend are women. The two in the front were men. They were so intent on their own conversation that you and your friend became invisible. Am I close?

Such is not only the experience of southern women. Any academic conference is rife with posturings, small indignities, and self absorbed behavior for practically anyone except the current executive board members of such. There HAVE been though discussions about how blogging is more male-driven and not as accomodating to women. But now I am getting into an area that I just had musings about and read a snippet here and there.

Glad to have you on the Wall, Kathryn, welcome!

Barbara Stengel said...

As I reply, I am sitting on the first fairway at the US Open Golf Championship at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, NY. A.G. puts it well when he suggests that many professional settings are "rife with posturings, indignities, and self absorbed behavior for practically anyone except the current executive board members . . ." (I mention my current location because I have been struck this week -- as a pseudo-insider working with/supporting family members who are responsible for aspects of this "event" -- by the posturings and indignities of this particular location based certainly, but not only, on gender and SES). This is true of all kinds of educational settings as well -- schools and universities, yes, but also churches, political arenas, youth soccer leagues, media, etc. Kathryn is right to note that sex, gender, SES, sexual orientation, race and other points of "difference" (including, I would argue, relational descriptors like institutional role/status) create interactional spaces that render other human beings invisible. Some persons in the space "count" as truly human and others do not. Some gain entry to "sacred spaces" and halls of power; others do not. Some are treated like kings; some are herded like cattle.

I don't know the two men who closed the door of the van. This behavior may have been an anomaly for them. Kathryn's story is not transparent and we should no doubt be careful about the stories we choose to illustrate important observations.

But it is also true that this kind of behavior pattern (seeing some persons and not seeing others as persons) is a pattern, a habit, and that these habits are externalized, legitimated, and internalized (cf. Berger and Luckmann) in a social process. If we construct these habits socially, we can deconstruct them and alter them (though, of course, this too is a complex social process requiring courage and resistance).

As I read Kathryn's post, she is involved in work that engages in this kind of revelation and deconstruction. However, her story suggests to me not only the ways some persons are rendered invisible, but also the challenge each of us faces when we experience invisibility.

Yes, there is a danger that "blogging" can be hijacked and/or dominated by males (the source of Kathryn's warning??), but also by persons who are quicker with a phrase, by those who have more time on their hands to reply, by those who are pretty sure they (and only they) have the right answers, and by a host of others. "Power over" is not always what it seems to be, and its sometimes multi-faceted source can be uncovered if we are careful in our analysis and interpretation. Acknowledging the perception of putative power over seems to me to be the first step in responding to another's action in a way that simply does not accept that perceived state of affairs as reality.

I see this set of questions -- "power over", "power with/to", empowerment -- as pivotal to the fitting response by educators in all settings. The more clearly we see the factors at work (race, class, gender, etc. but also time, place, space . . .), the better we interpret the dynamics of interaction, the more accurately we understand the actions of others in context, the more fitting (and therefore, more morally and educationally justifiable) is our action in response.

It seems that Kathryn is interested in these kinds of questions/issues and expresses some concern about THIS interactional space. Those engaging in the dialogue in the front seat (on a blog, in a classroom, in an organization) can (potentially) take responsibility for what/whom they see, understand and acknowledge and act on. But so can (potentially) those sitting (seemingly) silent in the back seat. Through our blog interaction, we have a shared opportunity and responsibility to shape our habits of seeing and acting. . . .