Reimagining girls’ education
The Linden School's ongoing impact on how we think about how girls learn.
By Glen Herbert
By Glen Herbert
All private schools defy the stereotypes that the general population might have about private education, though The Linden School is a particularly stark example of that. Founded by Diane Goudie and Eleanor Moore in 1993, Linden was intended as a necessary alternative to what was happening in public schools and private institutions at the time. Further, it was created to demonstrate what we could be doing better, to create a space in which to think creatively, openly, and collaboratively about best practices for educating girls.
Today, 25 years later, Linden is living up to that promise and then some. Goudie and Moore each received honorary doctorate of law degrees from York University in 2007, in recognition of their leadership in the field of education. This year they have been honoured as recipients of the 2019 Women of Distinction Award by YWCA Toronto. These YWCA awards are given to women who exemplify the resolve, passion, and intelligence necessary to transform the lives of women and girls.
The Women of Distinction Award citation notes the founders’ vision of creating an “independent, girls' school centred on feminist pedagogy,” though Goudie and Moore admit they’ve had a wavering relationship with the word “feminist” as it applies to work of the school. “We alternately avoided and endorsed the word,” said Goudie in a recent interview. “It was and still is a lightning rod,” though “there is no doubt in my mind that Linden exists because of feminism.”
It wasn’t intended as activist training, which is the spin that detractors might have been inclined to put on it. Rather, they wanted Linden to be a great school in the way that any school is great. Per educators Kelly-Gallagher Mackay and Nancy Steinhauser, a school is a great school when it “bolsters students’ capacities to dream and their confidence that they can enact change no matter their starting circumstances.” One of those circumstances, in the case of female students, is silence. “When we founded Linden,” says Goudie, “girls told us that they had felt silenced in their schools.” That’s where a feminist pedagogy begins. “In our curriculum and structures, we teach our students to ask: Who speaks? Who is heard? Who is missing? And who decides who has the voice at any given time and in any place?”
The approach begins from there, keenly aware of the needs and dispositions that girls bring with them into the classroom. “Those who advocate for conventional math practices, for example,” says Moore, “ignore the experience of all of those young people (especially girls) who dropped math because it made little sense and had little relevance for them.”
A feminist pedagogy seeks to restore a sense of relevance and involvement. “As feminist pedagogical practice was not one that was taught in faculties of education, we needed to work together with the faculty to develop these practices,” says Moore. The process was one of close collaboration with faculty and students, a collaboration that has continued for a quarter century. While Goudie notes that at times it meant for a bumpy ride, that reflects a desire to set a bumpy course, to dig in wherever digging in was required, and to take nothing for granted.
The result is, frankly, a great school, one that is formed around that capacity to dream, the confidence to enact change, and a desire to impart all of that to the students. Understandably, other schools have taken note. They are reluctant to talk much about it—“I do see their ads and recognize our words,” says Goudie—though the impact of their work is being felt, and best practices replicated, well beyond the walls of Linden.
The Women of Distinction Award recognizes that leadership in the world of education, both through the work of the school proper as well as through events such as the Teaching for Justice Conference, held in Toronto each fall. The conference is an opportunity for educators and activists to share ideas and resources with a focus on inquiry, activism, and student empowerment, and to apply that to teaching strategies and practice. That event is indicative of the overall project of the school, namely to consistently review and consider best practices, to share knowledge and expertise, and to “navigate the grey” per the work of JoAnn Deak. “We are in an age of great change,” says Goudie, “and children must be educated to risk, to experience uncertainty, and to trust that their experience will enable them to pick themselves up and continue successfully. As educators, we know that children need time to dream, to experiment, and to create.” Says Moore, “our girls must be prepared not only to be change-makers but also to be able to respond to changes efficiently” within the context of a changing world.
In that is the story of the school itself, namely an environment designed to navigate the grey, to risk uncertainty, and to grow and dream. While Goudie and Moore no longer direct the daily life of the school, both serve on the Board of Trustees as members of the board’s finance, archives, human resources and governance committees. They also mentored the current leadership to continue to fulfill the work that they set forth those decades ago, the result of which is abundantly evident. Linden’s Curriculum Leader Beth Alexander is a recipient of the 2017 Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence. And on it goes. The school is small, but its impact on education, both in Toronto and beyond, will rightly continue to grow. Just as the founders intended, it provides an example of a school for girls that will make a difference in the students' lives and, in turn, help them in realizing their aspirations, utilizing their talents, and changing the world.
Inspiring the next generation of strong women: Linden co-founders Eleanor Moore and Diane Goudie with Alyssa, Eleanor's granddaughter, at the school's #IWD march on March 8, 2019. Alyssa's sign aptly reads: "She may be small, but she is fierce."