Journal Reading #3 : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

Journal Reading #3

-- Anonymous, April 21, 1999


The Education of Harriet Hatfield by May Sarton, W.W. Norton and Company, 1989.

Reactions to Harriet Hatfield

Submitted by Karen Swenson

This is a book that made the reader look at several social issues that we face today probably more openly than at any other time in history. Harriet Hatfield begins a new life at the age of sixty after her female lover of thirty years has died. May Sarton portrays Harriet as a shy, reserved woman who has been left comfortably well off and decides to open a bookstore for women in a blue-collar neighborhood of Boston.  It came to me one night that it had to be something useful, needed, and close to home, something I could invest in and make grow, something I could control for a change. That night I began to dream of a womens bookstore, a bookstore which would be not only a place for buying books, but a meeting place, a welcoming refuge where people could browse and talk. The Hatfield House does become a haven for a wide range of women. Harriet is kept busy and happy until she gets a hate letter stating that the store is an obscenity and filled with lesbians. The letter also states that people like her are not wanted in the neighborhood and that they will do anything to get Harriet out. For the first time in her sixty years, Harriet is forced to weigh the pleasure of self-knowledge against the pain of self-discovery.

May Sartons book made me reflect upon the way that we label children and adults, the role that wealth plays in protecting people from discrimination, the position that the Christian religion takes against homosexuality, and the hatred and violence toward people who are different from white middle-class America. Harriet herself is shocked and upset by the label lesbian. Words, all the descriptive ones, from lesbian to dyke, from gay to faggot, are dangerous. What they do is mark off about ten percent of the population as indecent, dangerous, and to be avoided if possible, fired if possible, pushed under the rug if possible. But it is not words that tell the true story, its lives. Children in our schools are often made to feel as though they are outcasts by labels that are placed upon them. They face teasing and name calling which compounds the already uncomfortable feeling of being different. I work with pre-teen adolescents who are just discovering their sexuality. This is a time when many children feel insecure and confused. I feel strongly that these children need to be educated in an environment that promotes respect for themselves and others. They need to feel safe and cared for in my classroom.

After reading and discussing this book with several classmates in my SEED class, I realized that homophobia, like many fears, comes from a lack of knowledge and understanding. But what can I do as an educator to help remedy the situation? Anytime that educators are confronted with personal bias that may come from the home, we have to be especially sensitive. I decided that I can do something to promote respectful treatment of all students. I was especially moved by this quote from Harriet, I felt like a leper, an outcast. But huge numbers of people in our society do, of course. Maybe the blue-collars do too. Many children in our schools feel like outcasts because they are not treated with respect or made to feel that they are an important part of a group. You do not have to look very far to see the devastation and violence that is brought about by this kind of prejudice and discrimination.

-- Anonymous, April 21, 1999

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