The musings of a feminist

“The fact that good pedagogy requires emotional intelligence has been demonstrated time and again by educational researchers. The effective exercise of our profession requires us to tap into our own and our students’ feelings”. This piece from Palmer resonated so much with me because I was reminded yet again why I want to be a lecturer.

I was in a science faculty in Ghana and the only female lecturer I had in my four years as an undergrad was a lady from the arts department who taught us communication skills, a mandatory course for all freshmen in the university. After my first year, I did not encounter any female lecturers. The common explanation for this, coined by students and even lecturers alike, was that science was a field mainly for men and that the few women who got into science lacked the tenacity for higher education in science, hence the low number of female science lecturers in the universities in Ghana.

According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania, girls who had been randomly assigned to an all-girls classroom were more engaged in physics and less likely to agree with statements such as “physics is for boys.” On the other hand, girls who had been randomly assigned to coed physics class were more likely to agree that “physics is for boys.” I ask myself why this is so and I am tempted to believe that some emotional intelligence, like Palmer puts it, is acquired by the girls in the all-girls classroom through their interaction with each other.

What tipped the scales in favor of this perception, is an ongoing phenomenon in Ghana. For a while now, the issue of alleged sex for good grades has been rampant in university campuses in the west of Africa. Usually referred to as an “A for a lay”, students are propositioned frequently by their instructors to exchange sexual favors for good grades. For my friends who were not lucky enough to do so well in examinations, this was a very common situation that they always found themselves in. While for most of my friends, such situations mortified them, I had my career defining moment when one of my friends who had slept with two of the men on her defense committee, expressed her feelings about her proposition with me. In words that I will never forget, she told me that she felt empowered when lecturers propositioned her because although she could never get to their level educationally and they seemed so brilliantly superior, she was satisfied with the fact that during those short moments when she was in bed with them, she could feel her own power.

I remember as a 21 year old, full of pride and ego about my intellectual prowess, I asked her, but most importantly, I asked myself, why she was obliged to think that she could never get to their level educationally and she only felt her power in bed with them. I decided there and then to strive to be a lecturer in the university so that no other girl after I am a lecturer, will think this way ever again. I feel that it is the job of women to encourage women, like no man can. I want to be that lecturer that taps into both mine and the feelings of my students, especially female students, to propel them forward. At the risk of sounding too much of a feminist, I know that women can transfer emotional intelligence to other women more easily, than men can. And I am reminded that I can be that professor that my students can connect to emotionally, has that emotional intelligence, and therefore, give them a more total education than the current school system offers.

Parallel lines

I find Nicholas Carr’s article on whether Google is making us stupid, very interesting. Especially because, I recently had a conversation with my grandmother along parallel lines. Whiles my conversation with my grandmother is not on reading, I can actually draw some similarities with this article. My grandmother recently moved in with one of my aunties who had just had a baby and needed help looking after the baby since she has a 9 to 5 job. My grandmother is not happy at all in her new environment and I was a little perplexed since she loves babies and she has more people to talk to now than she did when she was living in her own home. Everyone is confused about her behavior and I got appointed to ask her about her strange behavior.

After much probing, she finally confessed that she wasn’t happy because the food tasted very differently! I was very surprised since she actually cooks the meals for the household herself. So I asked her if it was because she couldn’t get all the ingredients she needed for the food in that neighborhood, to which she replied that she did indeed get all the ingredients she needed. Frustratingly, I asked her what then was the problem and she replied in an equally frustrating tone that it was because she had to cook the meals on a gas stove!

Back in her home, she always cooked on a coal pot that used charcoal but in the city where my auntie lives, she had to cook on a gas stove. She went on to complain bitterly about how the gas stove heats up the food differently than how the coal pot does, resulting in the different taste of the food. As ridiculous as that sounded, I was reminded of how I thought my food tasted differently here than when I cooked in Ghana. I was using the same ingredients but they tasted differently and I remember telling my roommates how I thought certain foodstuff in the states tasted differently resulting in a slightly different taste of my food.

Looking back, and reflecting on the conversation with my grandmother as well as on the thoughts of Carr in his article, I am tempted to believe that my grandmother must be right. Perhaps, my food tasted differently now because I cooked on an electric stove here when I had always cooked on a gas stove in Ghana. I remember asking myself why my food always tasted different from my grandmother’s although I used the same procedure (mind you, I am a very methodological person). Maybe, it was because my grandmother always cooked on a coal pot and I cooked on a gas stove.

Just like Google is making it easier for us to find the information we need and actually reducing the amount of time we spend on researching, electric and gas stoves are making it easier for people to cook. But perhaps, this easy mode has a slightly different effect on our wiring or cognitive thinking and in mine and my grandmother’s case, on our taste buds. It will be very interesting to see how much research reveals in the future about how recent technologies and small changes in lifestyles, affect us….