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When I went to college in the forties, I could not have imagined questioning the teacher, the syllabus, or the texts we were given to read. I was at Hunter College, in those days still a women's college with a high percentage of women faculty, even a few women administrators. None of these persons, however, seemed concerned about the fact that the entire curriculum taught women that their education would carry them into domesticity and/or jobs in school teaching, social work, the library, or, if they were exceptional, on a women's college campus. The message of the curriculum was, in short: men achieve and work; women love and marry. The twin message of love and marriage, I should add, was present in sociology and literature: elsewhere, women were almost entirely absent, except for the traditional nudes painted by scores of male artists one viewed in art history.
In a period of few jobs, low morale, and powerlessness, teachers of English and modern languages—at all levels from elementary through graduate school—need to reexamine the value of their work. Central to understanding the crisis of the profession is the historical separation of the study of literature from the teaching of literacy. The separation rationalizes the profession's hierarchy and defines its practice in the classroom. Thus literature becomes a luxury and the teaching of skills empty of literary power. That our curriculum needs revision follows quite naturally, moreover, from the knowledge that more than 70% of our undergraduate majors are women and from the evidence that the curriculum from elementary school on is male-biased and thus distinctly harmful to at least half the population. Whether we choose to renew our responsibility for teaching meaningful literacy, or to work cooperatively as literature teachers within interdisciplinary programs, we will also need to reevaluate and change the canon of literary study, especially to include those who have been traditionally bypassed: women, minorities of both sexes, and working-class people. For all these, literature and literacy can provide courage and skills necessary for survival and growth.
In the spring and summer of 1970 the Commission on the Status of Women of the Modern Language Association conducted a comprehensive, nationwide survey on the position of women in English and modern foreign language departments. We collected information on types of appointments, ranks, teaching patterns, and salary levels of men and women faculty members and the proportion of women among graduate enrollments and recent degrees awarded. In addition, the Commission asked for information about nepotism regulations and practices of departments in the Association. This report presents some results of the survey.
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