Reading Rebecca Dobkins’ storied research about Native American women and girls interactions in early twentieth century federally mandated boarding schools has me thinking of all things about the open house at a local public Montessori school that I could apply (through a lottery system) to be my son’s kindergarten school for next year. These two schooling situations in most ways couldn’t be more dissimilar. The boarding schools described by Dobkins worked actively and without remorse to assimilate Native American children away from their home cultures, languages and lives. The forces used were long distance separation from family, difficulty in returning home for any reason and use of legal language and even force to maintain the authority to separate families. Our local Montessori school is the most progressive public opportunity available in my county, I, especially as a white, middle class, academic have a great deal of power/knowledge available to negotiate my and my child’s position in the school and his entrance to the school at all. I don’t have any power over whether he gets in, but I can choose some other kind of schooling option altogether. I don’t have to send him at all.
It would seem that the differences between me and the Native American mothers who I have been reading in Dobkins’ essay are gulfs, but I’m interested in thinking also about the interconnectedness we share. I was also reading today Dias Soto and Blue Swadners’ The Politics of Early Childhood Education. The first chapter unravels the ways that schooling (again), particularly college education of some early childhood teachers and mothers worked to professionalize and make scientific some mothers and some teachers. These professional mothers and teachers, I can count as both of these, are still under the reign of patriarch through discourses of white, male generated child development theories or the more modern neoliberal models of education and child rearing based on new business (still white and male) dispositions approaches to foster problem solving and flexibility, for instance. Progressive schools that take up, for instance, 21st Century Learner frameworks, seem to work to the success of individual students, who can be self starters and business-ready but the benefits are not to all students, but to a few who are already benefiting from the corporate model of exchange in late capitalism. I am left feeling cornered. I can option to send my child to our neighborhood school, where worksheets abound, possibly to the Montessori alternative (although unlikely since I declined to enter him in the lottery at age 4, where most slots are taken) or I can homeschool him in a local community of thoughtful people, but with political consequences of separatism. If I’m not interested in testing, structured curriculum, focus on “the basics,” then I am not at all compelled to be part of this public system, and though politically a powerful choice, it is a very difficult family one to make.
The public schools push me (and family) out in some ways as zealously as they pulled in the children of the Native American children Dobkins writes of. This power to separate groups of people, like women, mothers, who could be united is a major component in the colonialist efforts of schooling Dobkins illustrates. So while I am faced with resisting guised power that works through me as a professional and as a mother. My resistance seems separate and different and scaleless compared to the need for resistance of Native American mothers, who are marginalized and erased from history even. But as Diaz Soto and Blue Swadner point out my schooling, my professionalization, has been another tool to create a hierarchy of differences, separating me from the other women in the world and in history with whom my resistance could be aligned.
Diaz Soto, L. & Blue Swadner, B. (2006). The politics of early childhood education. NY: Peter Lang.
Dobkins, R. (1999). Strong language, strong actions: Native American women writing against federal authority, In M.Bucholtz, A.C. Liang, & L. Sutton (Eds.) Reinventing identities: The gendered self in discourse. New York: Oxford University Press.