Monday, September 28, 2009

Challenging Subjects

 In her article "Formative Years: Not Boys in Dresses" in Intelligent Life magazine, Tracey Camilleri  writes about her teen school years at Bryanston school in England from 1976 - 1978.

She was one of the first girls to go completely through what had been a boys-only school, and she speaks fondly about the experience that she felt was inclusive and not about teaching  the girls as  "boys in dresses:"
For example, our English teacher’s passion was Jane Austen, so there was no sense that we were following a male canon, or of the attitude that you teach to the boys and the girls will look after themselves.
One lasting value of Bryanston for Camilleri is that it helped her form an independent identity because the girls were both challenged and valued.
I am fascinated by what holds women back from being ambitious for themselves and speaking up in the moment and making themselves heard. At school in the classroom, shy as I was and not that I made a great splash, I didn’t feel constrained, I felt enabled. We were known as individuals, we had a good tutorial system, we were given the opportunity and expected to speak and were valued. I think we felt equal to the boys. The challenge for girls, especially if they are in a minority at school, is how to remain the subjects of their own lives and not the objects of others’. I think we remained subjects, we were able to be ourselves.
North American public schools have generally always been co-ed, but could learn much about creating a strong sense of identity for their students of both genders. 

Since the 70s, there has been more of a focus on students' self-esteem than there has been on their achievements - a failure because achievement is the best route to self-esteem and cannot be separated from it.

The challenge for students is largely missing, and we instill a false sense of self-esteem that is detached from real achievement and deteriorites into self-absorption and an overweening sense of entitlement. We could well use the methods of a 1970s-style Bryanston.

Camilleri's education has stood her in good stead; she is an associate fellow at the Said Business School, Oxford.

I would like to invite Tracey Camilleri to my soiree.

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