Before I say anything else, I need a whole slew of disclaimers: Firstly, Diana Meehan, co-Founder of the Archer School for Girls, has known me a long time -- when we first met, it was back when I was still thinking that Alanis Morisette was going to have more than one record. Her daughter is my very dear friend, my father wrote the introduction to her book, and most importantly, I went to the Archer School for Girls. Am I completely biased? Yes. But this is the internet - that's ok here, right?
Even if I didn't know who Diana Meehan was, I'd still be impressed with her. Why? Because she didn't want to send her daughter to any of the schools in Los Angeles, so she started one herself. With help, and support, and work, but she helped start a school that she could send her daughter (and myself) to with a clear conscience. I have a hard time working up the energy to find the phone to order in pad thai.
In her new book Learning Like A Girl: Educating Girls in Schools of Their Own, Diana recounts the trials and tribulations of beginning a school at a time when single sex schools were not entirely en vogue, "It was the first all girls in 30 years, and since [Archer opened]there's now 40 new ones."
Archer is now in a gorgeous building, with 500 students and 79 faculty members, but in my memory there were 29 of us sitting on the floor rented out in the back of a church, with no desks. I recently took some time to talk to Diana about how she decided to make a difference, for her daughter and the girls of Los Angeles.
When you look at where Archer is now, is it bizarre to remember how it all got started -- simply not liking your options as a parent?
Our motivation was the research and the child in front of us. As an educator, I was aware that there was NO help from schools for young girls. In 1994 there were about 300 studies that had been done mostly in public schools, but also in private, that girls in classrooms were consistently undermined and overlooked. They're taught to behave, in every stage of learning, in every sort of school. Except in girl's schools, of course.
The other thing that the research showed is that a single-sex space is a place that is based on the values of community and connection when it's designed for girls -- and girls school are the only places that are exclusively and totally designed for girls, that are about supporting and celebrating girls. The best co-ed schools can't say that.
It was a confluence of forces that came together in 1994, that, when I look back at starting Archer, have mystical symbolism
As the student body started growing and we began looking for a permanent campus, not everyone was so keen on us - some of the community was really staunchly opposed to us.
There were three kinds of people who were against us: there was the misinformed, the misguided and the misogynists. We never got that last bunch, but we got the other two.
We were totally unprepared for the political opposition -- we didn't understand why people would be against us. "What are you, against Latin?"
And things didn't always go smoothly within the school either.
I didn't expect that we would make some of the mistakes that we'd made. The first two Heads had been Heads [at large Girls Schools] before, so we thought that would have made them before us.
We were like a new a country, and like a new country we had betrayal, corruption, political opposition...That part was predictable. It's part of a new enterprise.
You said you felt that misogyny was to thank for some of the vitriol when we were trying to move into our permanent campus at what was the Easter Star Home. Feminists politics were always a huge part of Archer -- do you feel as though you still have to justify Archer, and in a larger sense, the benefits of single-sex education?
Yes. All political or religious communities, where you're trying to make the world a better place, are a process, and you're never done. There's a mindfulness about any political change, any process in which you're trying to make It different that it was in the past.
People are still arguing the old arguments.
When you reach a certain success -- when you have parity, when you have 500 students, when you have 50% women in law school -- it's not just have the same number of women's bathrooms available, let's get something that really reflects women's values. You can't just say that the bathrooms are success, you need to know that that's not enough.
Where you raised in an environment that fostered activism? Do you feel you were brought up to be a woman who could do something like start a school because you thought it was needed?
I think everybody has in them a want to make the world a better place, because there here -- it's a human characteristic. My mother came to this country from Ireland because her mother wanted to give them a better chance. I think social revolution comes form the middle class, which is where I grew up: I come from striving people who valued education. Revolutions are started by people who have enough to eat and have values that suggest that they can make a difference. And I had both of those things.
Do you think being a mother is, by nature, revolutionary?
Being a mother is being an agent is in a small way. Of course, the early years of being a mother mitigate all social change because you don't have time -- that's why childcare can't get off the ground.
But you know, women are the only group in society that become more revolutionary as we get older.
I look forward to it.
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