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Alice and Education

Alice's picture (the sound/image accompanying my paper)

Meet Alice. Alice grows up in a single-parent environment, suffering emotional hardships but aware of her life’s material benefits. She knows that she has been given the resources and the opportunities to succeed in life and will not be happy with anything but the utmost success. “If I don’t do well on every quiz, test, paper, or discussion,” she thinks, “I will have failed and disappointed.”

See Alice in English class. Each book assigned, she has read. Each journal entry, Alice has meticulously completed with t’s crossed and i’s dotted. She knows that if she puts in enough time, there is no reason why she should not understand and be the best. She does not think she is smart: Alice works hard and therefore does well. If she didn’t try her hardest, she would not do well. She does not question the material that is read. The pages of Mark Twain, Shakespeare, and John Steinbeck. Alice does not notice that there are no women writers or people of color on the book list. She does not really care what the class is reading as long as she receives that golden “A” at the top of her paper. Sure, there are some books she enjoys more than others, but knowledge is not the driving force to complete her work. If she does not read every book and complete every assignment, she will have lost. All the money arduously earned for her to receive a good education would be wasted and Alice would hate to disappoint her father.

See Alice in Science class. Alice listens attentively to the teacher and takes pages and pages of notes. She knows that science is not her best subject and so must work extra hard to do well. She enjoys learning about chemical reactions, watching how adding one beaker of liquid to another can create an entire new substance. Her favourite part of science is dissecting. Unlike the other girls in class, Alice loves to dig her hands into the calf brain and pig’s heart. If she had her way, she wouldn’t even wear gloves! Alice looks at the other girls yelping and looking disgusted at the blood and guts. She feels sorry for them. “You,” she thinks, “are not a winner. You are weak and inept.” The boys in class like Alice because she likes blood and guts too, but Alice worries that they won’t like her anymore if they find out that she does well in school. She begins to feel self-conscious and worries about what others think of her.

See Alice in History class. She hates to memorize the dates and names of events and people. She much prefers to look at the paintings and architecture of the time and learn the history through visual cues. Yet, every night she diligently memorizes each date and name, knowing that when a test comes along, it is memorization that will guarantee her an “A”. Alice often looks back on what she has learnt during the year and finds that most of the time, she can’t remember. She remembers the big names- Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle- but when asked what theories they are famous for, she probably couldn’t tell you. She remembers Joan of Arc with her courageous spirit and strong will. Alice compares herself to Joan. She is strong, capable, and smart—and Alice hopes to be too. Alice, like Joan, wants to be extraordinary. To be a winner. To succeed. To maybe even be learnt about in history class!

Academically, Alice is doing great. While she is not at the very top of her class, she is still doing well. Alice’s father is proud of Alice’s academic success. He often asks her, “Are you a winner or a loser?” and Alice sheepishly replies, “A winner!”. But Alice is unaware of her father’s happiness with her. She doesn’t remember the high-fives or pats on the back when she tells him about her A’s on tests, only the accusatory looks she receives when she doesn’t get an A. Alice tells him she received an A- on a difficult test and is happy. Her father responds, “But why didn’t you get an A?” Alice learns that nothing is ever good enough and carries this mentality with her in all parts of life. Her body is not skinny enough, she does not play sports well enough, she is not smart enough. She worries that she will not be exceptional and will therefore be on her way to the bottom.

But then, Alice decides to go to Bryn Mawr College. She is unsure of what she is interested in because, as far as she knows, she is pretty good at all subjects. She decides to take a variety of classes- art history, anthropology, psychology, and Italian- soon discovering her passion and interest in women’s studies. In “Women, Feminism, and the History of Art” she learns what it is to be a great artist or a great women artist. Alice begins to wonder about how gender shapes the way we are perceived in both academic and social fields. No longer is she just memorizing material. She engages in discussions, asks questions, and begins to reflect on her academic experience thus far. Why did she not learn about more women in history? Why can she only remember Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, and Joan of Arc? What about all the other women in English, science, and history- where are they? In “Transnational Feminisms,” Alice learns about the history of the other. They discuss race, class, and gender. Alice realizes that such topics were never discussed back at home and wonders why. She is intrigued and interested by the complicated social structures that exist in the world and how she fits in as a white woman. These are the topics she thinks should be discussed in classes. Alice is excited to get involved in feminist organizations that challenge traditional institutions.

When Alice returns home after one year of school, she is told that she has changed. Alice talks with the adults at the dinner table about global issues. She walks more confidently and observes the world around her. Alice examines the relationships between people and how Culture is formed. Alice loves to discuss such observations with her friends, just as she does back at Bryn Mawr. She remembers the articles she has read in class and compares their analyses to her own. But Alice’s friends don’t quite understand. They wonder why Alice is so interested. They laugh at Alice for being a feminist and activist, telling her, “So this is what happens when you go to an all girls school….” But surprisingly, Alice is not embarrassed. She is proud. She has begun to realize that not everything depends on the sound of approval. 



Anne Dalke's picture

On being a winner


You tell this story compellingly and well; the refrain of "see Alice" gives a childlike quality to this very personal account, and yet not, since you are looking @ yourself from the outside, achieving a little distance w/ that technique. The loudest "sound" I hear in this essay (along w/ listening for that of "approval") is "Alice's" fear of being "on her way to the bottom." What I'm curious about is the (evolving? I hope?) relationship between the earlier obsession with "being a winner" and Alice's newfound sense of herself as a thinker, and her awareness of social structures. Has that changed her sense of herself, and her goals? How do you now see yourself (for example) in light of McIntosh's images of "broken pyramids," with space for very few on the top, and the "valleys" where most of life is lived?

You might be interested to see that one of your classmates has also written about her fear of "wasting" her opportunities (and all the money spent on her education); see Karina's "My Education"....

...Also of interest? that Joan of Arc was exemplary, too, for another of your classmates; see Cantaloupe's "Women in History" (as well as Roughgarden's description of her/him as "a male-identified trans person killed specifically for his expression of gender identity"--Evolution's Rainbow, pp. 365-6).