Re: Opening Statement-Ellen Wahl -Reply

EWahl (
Tue, 21 Apr 1998 17:31:01 -0400

This is a reply also to Susan Smith's questions and concerns.

I completely agree with you about what's legal not necessarily being
socially just. As I said, I'm conflicted myself about this; actually,
the article Pat Campbell and I wrote for the law journal was entitled
"Of Two Minds." But we concluded in the end that we no longer were,
because of our overriding concern that separate is not equal. A threat
to that doctrine is more dangerous than providing choice within the
educational system, for it is as easily applied to those without power
as to those with. The compensatory requirement, on the other hand,
still holds, though the form that the compensation takes does not have
to be constructed as separation. I'll admit that in my experience it
was easier to construct "pro-girl" environments in the absence of
males, but on the other hand, who is it we're trying to change here?
It's not just a matter of supporting girls, but of changing the norms,
values, policies, laws, and social organization of the society, male
peers and male and female adults alike.

To the question of what's a good education? Clearly I have my own
version of that, and my short answer says that it is one that provides
the tools, resources, and environments that enable each and every
student to: think critically, creatively, independently, and deeply;
know how to ask questions worth pursuing and identify how and where to
find information; and acquire bodies of knowledge and the skills and
strategies to expand that acquisition throughout her or his life. A
good education combines learning about how to shape and participate in
a just and informed society with acquisition of knowledge and skills
about substantive disciplines. A good education pushes each student
to her or his level of challenge, and expects that the responsibility
for high level outcomes is a shared enterprise, the responsibility of
the system, the public, the community, the educators, the family, and
the student. A good education ensures full access and opportunity,
equitable and developmentally appropriate treatment, and high quality
outcomes for all.

Does a good education differ for girls and boys? No. That is, I
think every child, of all colors, all backgrounds, all abilities, both
genders, whatever language, from whatever community, is entitled to a
high quality education.

Do boys and girls need different things to get a good education? Hmmmm.
Therein lies the rub. Because although girls and boys are more similar than
they are different, our society treats them as if they're separate species.
Differential access, differential treatment... differential outcomes? Is that
more true with respect to gender than race? income? disability? language?
Clearly, there are aspects of historical discrimination that come into play
within the educational process related to any of these affinities. Do we need
to attend to and make explicit the inequities, historical and current, and
address them within our social institutions, including our schools? Absolutely.
And that takes me back to the question of strategy for ensuring equitable
access, treatment, and outcome. In the short term as well as the long term, it
seems to me that our responsibility is to change not just the girls but the boys
and the adults and the social organizations in which the educational enterprise

However, the part of me that is really torn is that I believe that we all learn
and do in different ways, partly based on our backgrounds and experience, partly
on our own individual ways of being in the world. Providing multiple
environments and methods and formats for students would be my pedagogical
preference, if it weren't for my worry about our hard-won struggle and eroding
public support for civil rights.

Ellen Wahl

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