Date of Award

Spring 1998

Project Type


Program or Major

English Composition and Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Patricia Sullivan


This dissertation examines the ways in which first year female college students have been prepared by educational systems in our culture to handle knowledge and the acquisition of knowledge during the first year of college experience. It is the contention of the author that women are not actively encouraged in our culture to take ownership of educational concepts in the same way as men. This happens for two reasons, first that because women's methods of interaction in the classroom might differ from men's those methods might not be perceived as acceptable or taken seriously; and second that a woman's discomfort with her gender identity inhibits her ability to learn. These two problems work together in that each one builds on the other.

In order to study the problems and determine the relationships between them, this dissertation uses a participant observer approach and autobiographical narrative. Three sites of observation are studied, two of which are secondary institutions, one being a traditional co-educational high school and the other being a small residential minimum-security facility for female sexual offenders. The third site is a first-year university English composition classroom. At each site, interviews were conducted with both students and faculty. In addition, written course work was collected and studied.

In order to honor feminist techniques of scholarship, autobiographical narrative has been used to collate and report findings as well as for the purpose of the author's use of her own experience as a means to demonstrate both differences in the learning patterns between genders and to offer such narrative as a serious learning technique.

Conclusions of the study include ways in which gender either interferes or coordinates with traditional classroom pedagogy. When gender and pedagogy are ill-matched, learning is impeded. The study concludes with suggestions as to how an understanding of engendered learning patterns can facilitate learning and how college composition pedagogy can be appropriately matched to women's needs.