Mapping the Marketplace through a Gender Lens

August 25, 2021

When we revisit Jewish educational scholarship through a gender lens, we see things we would not normally see - where we might be operating as "gender blind', obscuring analysis that can shape discussion of data in important ways. I lift up four themes in the findings of Mapping the Market for deeper examination:

  • Language of Transmission: Naming Jewish educators as commodities who transmit knowledge beckons broader cultural discourses of the feminization of teaching in early 20th century America, which was coupled with a pointed de-skilling of the profession. The belief that "everyone...can be a Jewish educator" is damaging when tethered to qualifications such as "how to hold a room" that are often implicitly viewed as innate (ie; female innateness), rather than learned. Adherence to calling teachers facilitators rather than educators and the finding that employers less commonly seek candidates with "pedagogic content knowledge or know-how" tacitly undermines professionalization of education at a moment when we as a Jewish community have committed to gender equity.
  • Value of Dispositional Characteristics: An inflated regard for character over training is also rooted in feminization of teaching. Educator as "role model" was mapped in the 1940's and 50's onto young, Jewish, public school teachers who through impeccable moral fiber would enculturate immigrant children to be productive citizens, replacing absent mother; this discourse shaped ideas about teaching that have endured, even as society has changed. The market's value of "personal/dispositional", "relational rather than the professional/technical", and being a "good Jew" necessitates gender lens analysis. Organizations such as Gender Equity in Hiring Project help employers consider implicit bias embedded in listed job qualifications. Overvaluation of qualifiers such as "creative", "dynamic", "enthusiastic", and "have to really love it" can counter gender equity by framing teaching as a 24/7 caretaking profession.
  • Overstressing 'On the Job' Training: Data demonstrate that many employers will preference in-house training over formal preparation, as those with degrees "bring too much of the script". The theme that "It's not about curriculum, it's about experiences" should be questioned: Whose experiences are seen and valued to warrant advancement? In a 2018 study of Jewish educators, Dr. Andrea Jacobs and I found a significant statistical difference between the ways male and female-identified Jewish educators perceived they were tapped for career advancement; we need to interrogate why this might be the case.
  • Low Bar for Salaries and Benefits: Study findings substantiate that many early childhood teachers "tolerate" abysmal compensation because they are "not the primary breadwinners". We need to elevate discussion of why we as a Jewish community accept that the only viable candidates for female-dominated early childhood teaching are married to high wage earners, have traditional families, and can accept part-time positions. If we are to grow the field, we will need to set a bar higher than tolerating low compensation.

I encourage Jewish educators, researchers, and philanthropists to revisit Mapping the Market findings through a gender lens, lifting up questions from a curiosity standpoint of how embedded beliefs about hiring practices, qualifications, job descriptions, and training approaches are countering goals of elevating Jewish education as an esteemed profession. We can consider, together, how we can advance the values of gender equity in our field.

Shira D. Epstein, Ed.D, Dean of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at JTS.