The Clare Spark Blog

April 10, 2014

Women and power in the modern world

equalpay2Nothing in this blog is intended to diminish the suffering of males at the hands of more powerful males. Still, the silencing of many women propels me to comment at some length.

The Obama administration has raised the issue of wage inequality between women and men, some aver, to change the subject from ACA, which has met widespread opposition. This blog addresses why many women are blocked from high level jobs in business, technology, engineering, and other male-dominated fields.

First, there are power trade-offs. “Domestic feminists” argue that puritanism (and Protestantism in general) raised the status of women in the home. As medieval agrarian societies were replaced by capitalist industrial societies, men were no longer commanding labor and resources in the home; rather they were now absent fathers and husbands, busy with offices and factories. At the same time, Lockean psychology elevated the role of women, whose maternal duties now included the inculcation of ethics in the infant or growing child, born Locke claimed, with a tabula rasa. The historian Ruth Bloch calls this phenomenon “the rise of the moral mother.”

Understandably, males, faced with the complaint of undeserved subordination raised by both the first and second waves of feminism, were outraged: for them, women already had too much power. Her recently enhanced domestic role, plus her enthusiasm “to make the whole world homelike” in the progressive movement, combined to make the middle-class woman resented by displaced patriarchs or overly-attached “momma’s boys”. “What [more] do women want?” cried Freud, and many agreed with him, and still do.

[Added 4/16/14: a FB comment from Helen Logan Tackett: I work in a profession where my salary based on specific academic achievements, if a man in my profession makes more than me, it is due to him working more hours than me. Here is the truth; most women work two jobs. The real gender inequality is women now struggle to balance career demands and housework, laundry, shopping, meal preparation, nurse to sick children, primary caregiver for aging parents. When my son got sick at school, the school called me,mom, before they called my husband, his father. Where is government’s quick fix for the exhausted working woman due to holding down two jobs? Instead of government painting women as victims of sexist capitalism why doesn’t government provide tax deduction for work performed in the home? Paving the way for Hillary Clinton, in typical fashion, the Democrats use the victim ploy to convince women that if they don’t vote for Hillary, then GOP men will make them second class members of society by impoverishing them. In sum, vote for Hillary if you want money. Pathetic.]

Second, aside from gender differences in physical strength and longevity, heterosexual women are socialized to crave husbands; even many lesbian couples want children. In 1974, Lynda Benglis defined herself in Artforum against the vaginally-oriented feminist art movement with a tough and controversial nude self-portrait, holding what appeared to be an oversized erect penis attached to her body, asserting both androgyny and the cry that women were socialized to please men.

Lynda Benglis, Artforum 1974

Lynda Benglis, Artforum 1974

It is still a shocking image. [I showed her current work in my 1970s slide show on feminist art, and I recall lots of glitter and non-representational pieces: Here is one that I did not see from 1973, suggesting what might emerge in the advertisement.]


As I have written ad nauseum, second wave feminists defined politically correct feminist art as the empowered vagina, confronting [war-making] men and the presumably all-powerful Western patriarchy with aggressive, shocking images. Having emerged from the male left-dominated antiwar and civil rights movements, their feminism was easily co-opted. By the time I entered graduate school in the 1980s, semiotics ruled the day, and feminists were now Foucauldians and postmodernists, railing against the industrializing bourgeoisie that had once raised the status of all women. (See, partly about Judith Butler, their superstar.)

Today, there are token women in positions of power in government, business, and in our dominant cultural institutions. In academe, they have often settled for low-status Women’s Studies programs that are laughing stocks. And heavies in educational psychology like Howard Gardner may see females as inherently narcissistic and self-absorbed, keeping their journals [and their ageless skin?]. (See

Yet the token successful women complain of a glass ceiling, wage differentials, and segregation in such maternal occupations as nursing and primary school education. It remains to be seen if today’s feminists can bury their differences with conservative women in order to formulate a new feminist program that allows all women and girls to develop their minds and talents, not only their learned masochism of pandering to the male of the species.

Betty Grable: #1 pinup WW2

Betty Grable: #1 pinup WW2

February 1, 2014

Harvard ed school leads in vaguely dumbing down

ED. cover Winter 2014

ED. cover Winter 2014

The Winter edition of Ed., the journal of the Harvard Graduate School of Education proudly announces in its featured article “All Along,” the existence of an innovation to the curriculum—one expected to remedy the discarded  one-size fits all curriculum and teaching methods that fail, they say, to make allowances for disabled students and those with English language deficiencies.

Using the new neurosciences, Universal Design Learning will supplement Common Core, and allow for true individuality and its associated benefit: “point of view.” (On the Common Core debate see

The long article is remarkably vague, however, about whether there is any method to their innovation, which I view as leveling down, while pretending to be leveling up. Dropping the name of Howard Gardner, resident “genius” who, as I have described in another blog,  believes that girls are talented narcissists, while black boys are great at basketball (see, Harvard is remarkably vague about the actual content being dropped on the newly individualized schoolchildren.

“These days, [Jeff Mundorf, a teacher of fifth grade in Naples, Florida] presents information to students in a variety of ways and lets them present what they’ve learned in ways that fits their learning preferences. For example, during the unit he teaches on the US Constitution, he gives his students a choice of reading or listening to an audio recording from the textbook, watching an explanation that he has prerecorded, viewing a video on, or listening to a musical explanation of the Constitution on The difference in his classroom has been stark. Discipline problems are “almost nonexistent” because…each student is engaged with learning. “Once you think about it, a one-size-fits-all –approach to the curriculum becomes kind of silly…We need to help students understand their own learning and give kids their own path to explore. I have no control over the standardized curriculum, or who’s assigned to my classroom. What I can control is the flexibility of my goals, my methods, my materials, and my assessments.” (pp26-27)

recommended reading.jpg

Another authority ends the article with this hope: “We want to see this approach to be the norm, we want these tools to be available to everyone. We want to see UDL as a reform initiative, one that we hope will really take hold nationwide and worldwide.” (The author of this piece, one Katie Bacon, has written for such liberal outlets as The Atlantic, the NYT, and The Boston Globe.)

Dear reader, you can wave goodbye to debates over the content of the US Constitution, or whether or not fifth graders are even intellectually ready to grasp the fine points of our founding document.


October 5, 2009

Arne Duncan’s Statism, part two

Image (64)

Don’t miss the Howard Gardner encounter described at the bottom of this blog. It is shocking and revealing about the practice of multiculturalism by a “genius” educator.

Here is what you will not find in this issue of Ed.: any mention of multiculturalism or identity politics. For the numerous photographs in this edition, introducing the new Secretary of Education to alumni of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, demonstrate beyond a doubt that the faculty is diverse with respect to ‘race’, gender, and sexual orientation. Indeed Harvard, like other elite universities, was a pioneer in the production of the group-think that favors bureaucratic collectivist thought.  As for science, that word is sprinkled through the issue, but only in the sense that managerial “progressives” use it, as the gathering of statistics that will guide the next step in “incremental” reform. Dean of the Ed school, Kathleen McCartney, tells us that “Duncan made difficult choices that were based on evidence and driven by data.” (p.3)

But you will find no exploration on how science education is faring in the republic. The closest we come to “science” is the essay on the use of a medical model: just as doctors and interns make rounds in the hospitals, “instructional rounds” will help managers to find “common ground” in evaluating teaching effectiveness. They give an example of a “diverse” network for evaluating the “good” classroom: Whereas in  Connecticut only superintendents make the rounds, ” some rounds are more diverse and also include principals, teachers, staff members, and local union leaders….Once the group forms, they identify a problem that the school or district is struggling with, observe classrooms, debrief, and then focus on what needs to be done next.” (p.24)

The assumption here is that the scientific knowledge, rigor, and relative certainty that comes with advanced medical training is automatically applied when persons who may or may not have had a training in science and its methods are making decisions that will affect the ability of students to learn the skills necessary to participate as citizens in a democratic republic. For we are faced with unprecedented challenges and polarizing controversies, such as the value of science itself (the Foucauldians say it is bourgeois conspiracy), or what to do about the related controversies that confront us, particularly the measures to be taken with respect to climate change, pollution, and public health. Without training in critical thought and the separation of fact from opinion, no sane consensus can emerge on the policies that will remedy our numerous emergencies. Am I too “secular” here? Nowhere in this issue of Ed. is the anti-intellectualism of numerous communities confronted as a gigantic obstacle to the reforms Duncan and Harvard wish to initiate. But then top-down thinkers do not consider the condition of communities where religiosity trumps creatively adapting to the modern world, and where all eggheads are suspect as totalitarian thinkers, stealing their children from them and insulting their ancestors.

Allow me to digress for a moment. I trained to be a science teacher in the mid-1950s in the Cornell State College of Agriculture, with my tuition state-supported. It was assumed that we future science teachers might be the only science teacher in a remote rural high school that had no study specimens, so not only did we study chemistry, physics, the biological sciences (including zoology, botany, human physiology, microbiology, etc.), and geology, we learned to make our own slides of cells (using rats), to trap and stuff small animals, and to pick up a fragment of a bat skull or a piece of fur from the woods and meadows and identify it by order, family, genus and species. I also took a course in nature literature that alerted me to “nature fakery” or the sentimentalization of Nature by numerous popular writers from the late nineteenth century on. The few required education courses alerted us to the problem of discipline (i.e., obedience)  in the classroom: I would say it was an obsessive concern that seemed an end in itself, perhaps outweighing mastery of one’s field. (I got to practice teach at Ithaca High School in a chemistry class; the male science faculty complained to my Cornell supervisor that I wanted to join them at their brown-bag lunches, thus hampering their alacrity in telling dirty jokes.)

    My own beliefs about classroom order were tested in my first teaching job at Jamaica High School in Queens, where I was given a class of young people who had already failed biology and were now forced to repeat the course. They were working-class kids, many were black, others were tough veterans of the streets with Polish and Italian names. I was twenty years old (having finished college in 3 1/2 years), and my first few classes were filled with conflict as these rough boys were testing my resolve. I looked at the biology curriculum that was given to me, and quietly tossed it away, instead concentrating my first efforts at finding out what these youngsters had experienced with drug peddlers, alcohol, and other matters related to their survival. [Today I would have added other health concerns and how to identify mental illness in their peers.] They responded well to an emphasis on real-life immediate concerns and at the end of the semester one of them came up to me as representative of the group and asked me to be their teacher the next semester. (That I remember this moving gesture so vividly speaks to its force in shaping my outlook as I grew older.)  And the principal, to reward me for my “baptism by fire” promised me the honors class in chemistry if I would return. Alas, it was not to be. I had a prestigious fellowship for the Masters of Arts in teaching science at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and went off to paradise for husband-shoppers.

    Because I had already had teaching experience, I was invited to audit the graduate class in methods for teaching science conducted by one Fletcher Watson. The very first session, I asked this leader in science education, “what would you recommend to a young woman teaching science in a rough inner city school?” The answer: “That could never happen.” That was the end of my love affair with Harvard, though they offered me another  fellowship if I would return to take a Master’s in “guidance.” (This on the basis of my final exam where I might have startled them with the assertion that teachers wishing for order in the classroom should meet the intrinsic and pressing needs of students, and “order” would follow.) So if this blog sounds a bit testy, you know where I am coming from. [Added 8-25-11: Harvard probably spotted a potential child-centered progressive.]

Back to Ed. There is a lovely photo of the Dalai Lama, seated in Harvard’s Memorial Church. His speech, “Educating the Heart,” was co-sponsored by the Education and Divinity schools. Here are the quotes they published, preceded by “In particular, he questioned whether education and intelligence alone bring inner peace. ‘Those people who are more compassionate, those people are religious man, community man, family man…Much peaceful, much happier.’  In contrast, ‘there are very smart scholars and professors who are full of competition, full of jealousy, and full of anger. Sometimes they even commit suicide,’ he said, pausing when he realized who was in the audience. ‘I don’t mean disrespect to the academic community.’ The Dalai Lama also stressed that compassion starts at home. ‘If you see people who are more calm and ready to show love and kindness toward others, those people probably had a mother who provided  more affection at a young age.’ ” The article closes with a mention of his watering the roots in a tree-planting ceremony attended by deans and Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust, “in addition to blessing a pregnant woman’s belly….” (p.11) The link to Arne Duncan’s inspirational mother Sue is completed here.

I could stop, but in fairness to Arne Duncan, I should mention his objectives as described in the McQuaid article: “The Obama economic stimulus package contains a huge windfall for education, approximately $115 billion–more than double the department’s annual budget…Most of those funds are going to avert catastrophic school budget shortfalls caused by the recession. But the stimulus also includes an unprecedented $5 billion in discretionary funds. The largest share belongs to the Race to the Top program, in which states will compete for grants by showing they’re innovating. Duncan’s hope is to leverage that cash to create a brushfire of reform at the local level: funding and ultimately “scaling up” successful reforms and seeding them elsewhere. But his window of opportunity is quite narrow–the money will run out in two years.” (p.18) Elsewhere, “The agenda spans proposed changes in preK to college, pounding the bully pulpit to promote charter schools, merit pay, and national standards, and what’s likely to be a contentious fight over No Child Left Behind.” (p.20) [Added 9-6-09: AD appeared as guest on Stephen Colbert last night. He mentioned two other objectives, also described in Ed.:  lengthening the school year as the long summer break was suitable to an agrarian society, not an urban one, and creating the school site as a community center where adult learning could take place, as well as other student activities. Colbert did not ask him where the necessary funding would come from. The interview was preceded by a film showing the pair’s, but mostly Colbert’s, prowess in shooting hoops.]

Remember McQuaid’s characterization of Duncan as an “outsider” like his close basketball pal Obama in “Arne Duncan’s Statism, part one”? Here is how the article ends: Education may lose out if Obama is too distracted, but “Duncan’s membership in the close-knit group of Chicago transplants in the Obama administration–including top advisors David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett, and social secretary Desiree Rogers (John W. Rogers’ ex-wife)–will help him keep his issues in the mix.” (p.21)

File this article and the entire Harvard Ed School apparatus/organism under the heading “the Machine that is not a Machine though it resembles one to the naked eye.”

A postscript on Howard Gardner. HG, a protege of Henry A. Murray(yes our Henry Murray, though you won’t find him on Gardner’s Wikipedia entry),  was a recipient of the MacArthur “genius” award, and in the late 1980s he came out to visit the HGSE alumni.  At UCLA he gave an illustrated lecture on his famous theory that there are “multiple intelligences.” The slides I remember in particular were one of a black youngster shooting hoops, and the one female represented staring at herself in the mirror. I confronted him for deploying these stereotypical images as if sports served as the route to learning for black kids, while girls kept journals, indulging their narcissism. The smiling mask suddenly disappeared and he snarled at me, whispering “Why did you come here?”  I have not emphasized enough in these blogs the emphasis on sports and “active learning” in the issue of Ed. that I have  presented here. I could have included the photo of Duncan and Obama playing basketball together, used in the McQuaid article.

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