HerSpace

Diane Goudie and Eleanor Moore at the 2019 YWCA Women of Distinction Award Announcement Reception, March 7, 2019.

By Eleanor Moore and Diane Goudie

Given the recent discussion around education and how to build resilience in students, we find ourselves looking again at the reasons we created an independent, feminist girls’ school 25 years ago.

A fundamental question we asked 25 years ago: How do we make a feminist school? Little did we think the need for feminist girls’ spaces would be a fundamental question in 2019.

What does a feminist girls’ space look like? As our graduates tell us, and current students remind us, it means a place where our voices are not only heard but are integrated into all aspects of our space. This means centering what we study on the voices of women and girls to ensure:

  • – The issues that impact our daily lives and the lives of others who are living precariously in the world are included in our courses and in our admissions.
  • – We listen to the ideas and issues that girls want to see changed in their world.
  • – The adults learn to hear answers that may not fit with their views of feminist girls’ spaces.
  • – We understand power. How do feminist educators use that power? How do we teach girls to practice using their own voices and use power in ways in which all participants can benefit?

Our foundations are research, ideas and experience in girls’ education. But feminist space requires feminist theory, in our case, feminist pedagogy. At the Linden School, this means administrative policies and practices that provide a structure for the faculty to practice feminist pedagogy.

Teachers have to practice the following:

  • – unpack power relations in the classroom;
  • – create space to allow students to become agents of their own learning;
  • – develop a social justice based curriculum, to meet Ontario’s requirements and also answer questions such as:
    • – What happens if you put a girl in the story?
    • – How do I, a teacher, make my curriculum inclusive of the voices of racialized groups, LGBTQ2+ people, people with disabilities, and those marginalized economically from local to global arenas?
  • – teach critical thinking skills;
  • – provide the tools that students need as they navigate the “grey “areas of their lives; and
  • – trust in the experiences and capabilities of girls.

For administrators and board members, this has also involved the on-going struggle to meet goals of equal pay, benefits and pensions while having to find funds and funders. We have found many supporters in theory who were unwilling to support us financially in practice.

Graduates of the Linden School tell us how important the Linden experience has been in their lives. They are clear about the importance of the authenticity of their teachers’ voices. Using the teachers’ first names set the stage for the development of real relationships. Did we realize how important that would be 25 years ago? No! We thought it really mattered but didn’t anticipate that this practice actually validated the girls’ own voices.

The opportunity to practice speaking in an authentic voice to a holder of power builds courage, resiliency and the knowledge that you can make a difference. Resiliency (contrary to some political thinking) cannot be practiced in spaces in which girls already have less voice and where large numbers in the classrooms reduces opportunities to practice questioning.

A feminist girls’ school is one in which

  • – girls of all ages can have their ideas heard with the expectation that their concerns will be able to be acted upon;
  • – all girls have the opportunity to join teams, without tryouts;
  • – girls are encouraged to work cooperatively; and
  • – all girls see themselves celebrated in the curriculum, and on the walls of classrooms.

In the public realm, women and girls are still underrepresented and are far less visible than men. A recent editorial in The Globe and Mail reported that we only see women as 28% of the main subject or source in news stories and diversity represented at around 10%.

If we are to change such facts, and if we want to build resilient young women, we do indeed need girl spaces. We need places where girls can take intellectual risks, tryout new skills and ask tough questions. In the ideal girl space girls learn the value of their own voices and ideas. They practice exercising their power. And then they change the world.

In 1993, Eleanor and Diane founded The Linden School in Toronto. On May 23, these incredible feminists will receive a YWCA Toronto Women of Distinction Award for their commitment to education.