“You’re thinking about graduate school so that you can teach? Why don’t you just start focusing on marrying up?”
I wish I could say that was the first time I have been told that. On one hand, I brushed it off as clearly idiotic. But on the other hand, I was enraged. Not only for myself, but for the educators who have dedicated their lives to furthering my own education. As I got thinking, I wondered what my education would have been like if I did not have female teachers. The more I thought about it, the more it seems that there is some great and valuable uniqueness in the feminine standpoint in the role of educator.
To evaluate the role of a female educator, one must first be clear on the purpose of education. While the history of philosophy certainly does not render an easy answer, I will stick with Cardinal Newman’s definition presented in “The Idea of a University”. He says, “[The university] educates the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and to grasp it” (114). In short, the end of education is cultivation of the intellect.
Where does the educator lie in this matter? I would argue at the heart of the matter. It is the educator who can exude enthusiasm that can inspire students to reach out and grasp truth for themselves. It is the educator that provides the understanding regarding the truth at hand through texts, lectures, exercises, etc. It is the educator who, to use a Platonic idea, acts as midwife to the birthing of the ideas of the pupils. Without the educator, it seems that the system of education itself is gravely hindered.
Looking back upon the conversation I was having this week, I was most alarmed with the fact that the person who said those words to me had just told the men sitting next to me to continue their goals of being educators. My goal of being an educator seemed to be irrelevant to this man on the basis of my womanhood. For the purpose of this article (and lack of word count), I am going to assume that the feminine standpoint does in fact shape the knower, in this case the resulting educator, who is communicating their knowledge to others. But, what is unique to women in this situation? Does the goal of formation of intellects really benefit from a woman’s insights?
According to Edith Stein, it is the “ethos”, “something which is operative within himself, an inner form, a constant spiritual attitude which the scholastics term habitus” (43), that gives rise to a definite uniform character. It is from this that a person’s temperament, established virtue, and professional character arises. Since this ethos is displayed on a personal level, femininity, which is at the heart of woman, plays a large role in the determining of one’s professional ethos.
Looking more into what makes woman feminine, Edith Stein would say it is her vocation as wife and mother. This vocation of woman is not something merely physical. It is also spiritual for the characteristics proper to wife and mother are ones that woman has according to her ethos (45). What are the implications of these natural spousal and maternal characteristics? Edith Stein would say, “Woman naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish, and advance growth is her natural, maternal yearning” (45).
But, is this feminine nature relevant in the sphere of education? In regards to forming intellects, it seems very relevant. As a matter of fact, the feminine embrace of the personal would allow the intellect, something individually personal, to flourish, since it is by embracing the personal that each individual is also embraced. Thus in the embracing is given the motivation towards intellectual growth. In regards to the system of education as a whole, I believe it is also relevant. Edith Stein said, “Education should seriously consider the need to develop new and original elements in each new generation” (73). This newness is fostered by the natural feminine inclination to nourish and advance growth as stated above in the previous paragraph. “[Femininity] enables her to understand and foster organic development, the special, individual destiny of every living being” (74).
My dreams of being an educator are not irrelevant on the basis of my womanhood. Rather, my natural feminine tendencies seem to make this goal even more relevant since my desire for personal growth is very natural to my being as woman. It is by my natural maternal characteristics that I hope my future students will be able to benefit in the formation of their intellects, so that they may also pursue and abandon themselves to truth.