The Sisterhood of Schooling, Teaching, and Education

The Sisterhood of Schooling, Teaching, and Education

Jennifer Schneider (Community College of Philadelphia, USA)
Copyright: © 2023 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-4055-1.ch007
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The term “sisterhood” evokes a wide range of interpretations and responses, both positive and negative. Popular culture defines the term in a variety of ways, largely dependent upon and unique to context, authorship, and audience. In Race, Class, and Gender: Prospects for an All-Inclusive Sisterhood (1994), Dill takes on the complicated concept of sisterhood from a critical perspective. In many ways, online teaching is its own complicated sisterhood grappling with challenges similar to those Dill addresses. Dill raises questions that are not unlike the persistent question of how to better attract, retain, and support educators. The chapter explores both the questions as well as associated strategies to further support educators in online environments.
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for the abandonment of the concept of sisterhood as a global construct based on unexamined assumptions about our similarities, and … [substitutes] a more pluralistic approach that recognizes and accepts the objective differences between women. Such an approach requires that we concentrate our political energies on building coalitions around particular issues of shared interest. Through joint work on specific issues, we come to a better understanding of one another’s needs and perceptions and begin to overcome some of the suspicions and mistrust that continue to haunt us. (p. 53)

Addressing the complexity and often controversy associated with the concept of sisterhood, Dill shares strategies (described as political but capable of broader applications) for working towards a “more inclusive women’s movement” (p. 42). While Dill’s writing focuses on sisterhoods in a more traditional (and feminist) sense, the suggested strategies prompt analogies and offer ideas for building more inclusive environments in a wide variety of similar contexts, including online education (a realm also subject to suspicions and mistrust) (Schultz, 2019).

In many ways, online teaching is its own complicated sisterhood grappling with challenges similar to those Dill addresses. Current data shows that despite increasing diversity in our classrooms, teachers remain predominantly White and female (Loewus, 2017). However, educators across generations, subjects, and disciplines share common experiences and student interactions. My own conversations and work mentoring peer online faculty of widely different racial, gender, class, religious, and other characteristics are dominated by reflections on similar experiences and an affinity for working with adult, online students. Educators also share feelings of alienation, struggle, and limited efficacy (Pugh & Zhao, 2003). My conversations with peers are also often dominated by reflections on the challenges associated with increasing class sizes, remote work, and hard to reach students. Limited decision-making influence and lower pay also present as commonly shared conditions and concerns in educational contexts (Ingersoll, May, & Consortium for Policy Research in Education, 2011). The shared experiences are both taxing and binding. These shared experiences also yield persistent questions that focus on improving educator retention and support.

Dill raises questions that are not unlike the persistent question of how to better attract, retain, and support educators and asks:

[W]hat can we do to upgrade the status of domestic labor for all women, to facilitate the adjustment and productivity of immigrant women, and to insure that those who choose to engage in paid private household work do so because it represents a potentially interesting, viable, and economically rewarding option for them? (p. 53)

Similar questions present time and time again in educational conferences, research studies, and news reports (Directorate for Education, Education and Training Policy Division, 2011). Seeking to address the former question, Dill cites Fox-Genovese’s two conceptualizations of sisterhood (one, the bourgeois individualistic, where “women have been treated as unique” and the other, the politics of personal experience, which “views sisterhood as an element of the feminist movement”) as both limited (and limiting) but writes that “[t]hese two notions of sisterhood, as expressed in the current women’s movement, offer some insights into the alienation many Black women have expressed in the movement itself” (p. 43). The two notions offer insights into the alienation teachers (female and otherwise) have expressed in peer to peer conversations, popular media, and educational literature, as well.

Alienation has long been a topic of concern for teachers (Pugh & Zhao, 2003). Students (though not a focus in this essay) also experience alienation (Mann, 2001). Alienation concerns (and related evaluation of trends in composition and experiences of the teaching profession and sisterhoods therein) prompt questions reminiscent of those raised by bell hooks when studying the interactions between work and liberating forces (Dill, 1994). Despite the prevalence and the persistence of the challenge, alienation is not (or need not be) inevitable (among sisterhoods, teaching population, or student groups).

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