In a provocative study that analyzes the perspectives of women about truth, knowledge, and authority, four women psychologists bring new understanding and insights about why women may feel alienated and silenced (Belenky, M.F., Clinchy, B. Mc., Goldberger, N.R., & Tarule, J.M., 1986, Women's ways of knowing. New York: Basic Books). Drawing on their own data as well as that of others, these investigators offer the thesis that some women are at odds with the traditional male model which attempts to find truth by objective, impersonal, or separate means as compared to the style women use in which truth emerges through the more personal and connected manner of relationships between the learner and the ideas or subjects. They found that women frequently build knowledge from personal experiences instead of from the voices of authorities.
The authors describe traditional education as "banking" in which the teacher's role is to fill the students bank account by making deposits of information which the teacher regards as true knowledge. The student looks at the material through the eyes of the teacher who composes thoughts in private and talks about the subject in public. Therefore, students are only treated to the polished product instead of being exposed to the process of the professor's thinking. Interestingly, not a single woman interviewed wanted the information flow to be in only one direction, from teacher to student.
The kind of teachers the women related to most positively were those who helped them to articulate and expand their own knowledge. These midwife-teachers, as the authors call them, are able to draw out information by assisting students to give birth to their own ideas and encouraging them to speak in their own active voices, in contrast to banker-teachers who deposit knowledge in the learner's head. Midwife-teachers do not focus on their own ideas (as does a lecturer), but on the students' knowledge. They contribute as needed, being clear that the ideas and learnings are not their private property but belong to their students.
The most powerful finding from this study is in sharp contrast with previous views about fostering cognitive development, which held that those" educational processes that challenged students and caused them to doubt their previous opinions were the most productive. Not only did the women interviewed reject the idea that doubting behaviors by teachers led to their growth, but they found such experiences debilitating to the extent that some left school prematurely.
The implications of these findings for nursing education are profound. Because many of our students come to us consumed with self-doubt, imposing more doubt from the outside tends to reconfirm their own sense of inadequacy and is often viewed as destructive. The findings from this study suggest that when teachers and students are able to engage in the process of thinking together, talk about ideas, and solve problems through public dialogue, personal and intellectual growth is more readily achieved. The midwife-teacher creates the climate in which the members of the class evolve their newborn and uncertain thoughts and nurture them safely to maturity.