Wise and Foolish Virgins: White Women at Work in the Feminized World of Primary School Teaching by Sally Campbell Galman. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2012. 246 pp.
Article first published online: 22 FEB 2013
© 2013 by the American Anthropological Association
Anthropology & Education Quarterly
Volume 44, Issue 1, pages 104–105, March 2013
How to Cite
Chikkatur, A. (2013), Wise and Foolish Virgins: White Women at Work in the Feminized World of Primary School Teaching by Sally Campbell Galman. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2012. 246 pp. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 44: 104–105. doi: 10.1111/aeq.12006
- Issue published online: 22 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 22 FEB 2013
Sally Campbell Galman's new book Wise and Foolish Virgins: White Women at Work in the Feminized World of Primary School Teaching attends to how gender identities and expectations influence young white women's decisions to enter the field of early childhood and elementary teaching in the United States. Drawing on data from various research studies of preservice teachers and their professors, Galman argues that the complex work of constructing an identity as a teacher involves the negotiation of a moral career; raced, classed, and gendered images of “good” and “bad” teachers; the gendered structure of labor and the economy; the role of “love” in choosing teaching as a career path; and the expectations of “niceness” and compliance from those who choose this career path. Galman argues that we need to take seriously and examine critically the self-narratives of the young, white, middle-class women who constitute the majority of new preservice and novice teachers in the United States. These narratives underscore the pernicious effects of a girl culture that “emphasizes the value of girls' virginity, obedience to male authority, choosing motherhood and/or the caring professions over careerist orientation and removing themselves from the politicized sphere and intellectual visibility” (pp. 30–31). Galman posits that the proliferation of this girl culture among preservice teachers and their instructors (who are also mostly white, middle-class women) acts as a formidable barrier to diversifying the teaching force and reinforces racist ideas about white women “saving” children of color through education.
In Part I, Galman provides an overview of various theories that inform her data analysis, including those about identity development, girl culture, and the gendered nature of teaching. She argues that becoming a teacher provided an opportunity for many of the young women in her study to meet “economic and domestic needs, such as being independent, [while being] able to adjust career aspirations to become a wife and mother” (p. 7). She also takes a critical look at the idea of teaching as “the work of love” (p. 17) and the gendered implications of expectations about who would be “naturally” good at this work.
In Part II, Galman discusses the interview and observational data she collected from 53 students and 24 faculty members over the course of seven years (2003 to 2009) at three sites: two large, public research universities with traditional teacher preparation and credentialing programs and one small, liberal arts college that offered an undergraduate minor in education without formal teaching credentials. Each site is discussed in a separate chapter, and Galman uses one or two composite narratives to illustrate the broader themes from each site. Gendered expectations are clearly present in the narratives of the preservice teachers at the two traditional teacher preparation programs. In contrast, the small college's education classes challenged the idea of a woman's “natural” inclination for working with children. However, Galman notes that only a few of these students actually went into elementary or early childhood teaching.
In Part III, Galman discusses the perspectives of the teacher educators in her study and how similar themes of gender and power came up in discussions of their work. Galman convincingly argues that the low status of these faculty often leads them to replicate the narratives of “love and self-sacrifice” by working “to discourage transgression and encourage obedience,” thereby reinforcing the status quo (p. 179).
Galman's data make a strong case for how the association of white, middle-class women with the early childhood and elementary teaching field affects the reality of who enters the field. For example, even at a university where 80 percent of the students were of color, the students in the teacher education program were “overwhelmingly white, female, middle class English speakers with an average age of twenty-two” (p. 54). This situation demonstrates clearly how the popular images of teachers, the historical use of white women as “colonizing and controlling agents” through teaching (p. 198), and the reality of the whiteness and middle-classness of the preK-5 teaching force all pose a formidable challenge to diversifying that teaching force. The author's speculative thoughts at the book's end are intriguing, though it was not clear to me how the actions she proposes—emphasizing the un-measurable aspects of teaching and learning, individualizing the path to becoming a teacher, and embracing certain forms of “inefficiency”—will lead to the recruitment and retention of a more diverse group of teachers. The book's main strength lies in its intervention into sexist discourses about teaching and teacher preparation. Galman refuses to denigrate “women's work” or the feminized nature of early childhood and elementary teaching, and instead celebrates the possibility of resistance within this feminized field. She exhorts those within the teacher preparation field to talk “openly about teaching as a historically feminized profession and [to work] to make it more—not less—feminized in its practices” (p. 193).
Although some of the writing is a bit cumbersome and there are a few copyediting errors, the book provides a solid analysis of the gendered nature of how young women construct their ideas about the teaching field and their ability to enter the field. It can provide an opening for critical discussions within teacher preparation programs about the role that race, class, and gender play in the students' paths toward becoming a teacher. These discussions seem sorely needed if we are to change both the current negative discourse about teachers and the demographics of America's teaching force.