Women and Pedagogy: Education Through Autobiographical Narrative
by Pattie C. S. Burke

Educator's International Press, Inc., 2009. ISBN 978-1-891-92835-2.
Reviewed by Mary Jo Doig
Posted on 06/10/2009

Nonfiction: Memoir

Pattie C. S. Burke has broken through many barriers in her life's journey and she has just broken another with her stunning new memoir, Women and Pedagogy. An accomplished teacher and artist, Pattie uses a unique and fascinating combination of prose, poetry, and drawings to tell her story.

The memoir begins on the book's cover with Pattie's drawing, titled "We Have Our Own Dance To Do." Women of all ethnicities freely and gracefully express themselves in beautiful, individualized dance. Karen A. Krasny, assistant professor of Language and Literacy at York University in Toronto, Canada, compares Pattie to Carol Shields (Pulitzer Prize winner for The Stone Diaries), stating, "Like Pattie, Carol Shields' life followed the seemingly unremarkable path of a female born into American white middle-class privilege, a good student who attends college, marries, has children, and keeps house. And yet...there is an undercurrent of the extraordinary that propelled this...mother...." (page 156)

Pattie had attended but not completed college before her marriage to George Slattery. Academic careers for women were not then widely supported, particularly by southern men. Their lives together unfolded over the next twenty years in a large Victorian house with huge rooms, several fireplaces, and a powder room with three stained glass windows, in the heart of New Orleans. Three sons were born: Patrick, Kevin, and Timothy—who, due to preventable tragedy, lived just a brief flicker of life. Then two nephews, William and Robert, joined the family.

As her husband's health declined, Pattie pondered the strong possibility of single parenthood. This realization closely coincided with a job offer to develop an art program at the all-male De La Salle High School on Charles Street in New Orleans. Pattie was approached, in part, because she had four sons and could apparently manage young boys.

When she accepted that offer, Pattie not only created a transformational moment in her life, she also broke an important gender barrier, becoming the first female teacher at De La Salle, also the school her sons attended. Her delightful vignette, "Toss Another Flower in the Urinal," shows her entrance experience into that all-male environment and the earthy humor that helped her make her pioneering way. At the same time, Pattie returned to college and during the next seven years completed her degree. A year before she achieved that milestone, her husband died.

Today, completing this book in her seventh decade, Pattie is an artist in full. She explores the inextricable connections between teaching and learning, between the ordinary and extraordinary, the familiar and unfamiliar, leaving home and returning home, absence and presence, life and death, war and peace. The beauty and brilliance of her words sparkle on every page.

It's notable that Pattie does not see her story as isolated from the stories of other women and that single fact makes her book particularly generous. I often saw and learned more about myself in her story, as will every woman who reads this memoir. And that is exactly the author's hope, that "women will relate to situations presented in my personal stories and will be inspired to share their own narratives."

As is often the case with memoir, Pattie and her family found unexpected and remarkable gifts during the writing of this book, which allowed them deeper insights, growth, and healing. Pattie's son, Kevin Slattery, describes one of the transforming reasons for writing memoir:

My mother's book has given me a clearer picture of her own lifelong struggle and evolution from a somewhat submissive daughter of an overbearing mother who would try to control her destiny, to a detached father who would leave part of her empty and wanting, to the accommodating wife of a husband and culture of patriarchy that would try to keep her in her place, to the perfect patient of an omnipotent doctor who would make a fatal mistake. My mother has taken these negative events and memories and turned them into strength and independence, making her whole, content, and the accomplished woman she is today.

Pattie C. S. Burke is a retired educator, artist, interior designer, and consultant. She taught art, art history, and architecture in the 1970s at De La Salle High School in New Orleans, and she taught Interior Design Studio in the 1980s in the College of Architecture at Arizona State University in Tempe. Since retiring, she has directed her creative energy toward writing, producing work in a variety of genres with concentration on autobiographical narratives and poetry. Staged readings of her 10-minute plays have been produced in Phoenix, Arizona and Madison, Wisconsin. She has performed readings of her work at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Visit her website.

Check out our interview with the author of Women and Pedagogy.

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