12. Women's Ways of Learning
* * * * * * * * * * by Linda Shohet * * * * * * * * * *
I AM the founder and director of The Centre for Literacy of Quebec, an independent charitable organization in Montreal that houses a public resource collection on all aspects of literacy and offers seminars and conferences for teachers, tutors and workplace educators. The priority issues for The Centre in the past few years have been literacy and health, literacy and technology, and literacy and women.
I have an Honors English B.A. and an M.A. from McGill University and a Ph.D. from Universite de Montreal, and teach English at Dawson College in Montreal, specializing in developmental / basic writing and in writing about science and technology. Since 1984, I have worked in the field of school-based and adult literacy, editing Literacy Across the Curriculum, a newsletter that circulates widely in North America, and present frequently at conferences.
Currently, I am serving a second two-year term as president of Literacy Partners of Quebec, the provincial coalition of English-language literacy groups, and am the Quebec director of the Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women. Although I have served on many local and national boards of education, literacy and women's organizations, I have never had a richer experience than in working with the group of women who produced this manual.
Thinking about how people learn is not new. In Classical Greece, Socrates developed oral dialogues to promote thoughtful learning. Rabbinic scholars taught close reading, questioning and interpretation of text. Mediaeval Christian clerics taught through the copying of classical texts and illuminating manuscripts. In every culture where learning has been valued, teachers have thought about this question: How do people learn? But the learners were always assumed to be men. More recently, modern psychologists have studied people in actual learning situations and have developed theories of learning. But in the past two decades feminist researchers have pointed out that almost all the research underpinning even these modern theories was carried out mainly with men and then applied to "people."
As we have begun to ask questions about the specific ways in which women learn and know, and about how these ways may differ from men's ways of learning and knowing, new models are becoming available.
While it is clear that we are still at an embryonic stage of understanding, some patterns are beginning to emerge. I want to outline a few of these patterns and acknowledge the women who have made them apparent and have influenced me. On ways of learning and knowing, they include Carol Gilligan and Mary Field Belenky and associates; on women in literacy, they are Kathleen Rockhill, Hannah Fingeret, Jenny Horsman and Betty-Ann Lloyd and associates; on women in science and technology, they are Evelyn Keller and Cheris Kramarae. On ways of communicating, Deborah Tannen has been central.