Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Intellectual Downplaying Study

Intelligence and Beauty: Why do they have to be mutually exclusive?
Recently the California-based clothing company Betabrand launched an advertising campaign exclusively featuring female models that either had already obtained a Ph.D. or were in the process of obtaining one. This campaign was the brainchild of Betabrand founder Chris Lindland. Lindland has said in a statement. “Our designers cooked up a collection of smart fashions for spring, so why not display them on the bodies of women with really big brains?”

Since the ads debuted they have received major media buzz. It seems as though the public is fascinated with the "novelty" of a smart women who is also beautiful. ("Yes Virginia, they do exist!") Really, is a smart woman who is also beautiful a "novelty"? You would think we were talking about an improbability comparable to pigs flying or hell freezing over. The public reaction would be laughable if it were not for the sobering fact that such a response is the result of the deeply entrenched societal belief that female intelligence and beauty are mutually exclusive.

All one has to do is to look back in history to see the longstanding narrative of women being categorized as either smart or beautiful but never the both. Naomi Wolf states in her book, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, "Culture stereotypes women to fit the myth by flattening the feminine into beauty-without-intelligence or intelligence-without-beauty; women are allowed a mind or a body but not both (p. 59)." She further asserts that literature, pop culture, and the media have perpetuated such stereotypes by consistently presenting juxtaposing female characters; those that represent intelligence against those representing beauty. A perfect example of this can be seen in the 1970s cartoon Scooby Doo, where the intelligent Velma is made to appear frumpy while her clueless (no pun intended) counterpoint Daphne is portrayed as the bombshell.

Beyond creating the public misconception that beauty and brains in a woman is a novelty, this cultural stereotype has also had an impact on the way in which many women, me included, have viewed themselves and how we have portrayed ourselves to others. Much of my past and current research has been focused on the intersection between this cultural stereotype, the media, and the phenomenon of intellectual downplaying.

What is intellectual downplaying? Intellectual downplaying is a term that I have coined and defined as the practice of an individual acting as though he/she is less intelligent than he/she really is. Examples of intellectual downplaying or colloquially referred to as "playing dumb" can be found in literature and on both the small and big screens. A modern day example can be seen in the movie, Mean Girls, where the lead character fakes incompetence in math class as a way to become more attractive to her crush. The prevalence of characters that play down their intelligence in such genres begs the question, "Does art imitate life or does life imitate art?"

One would think that the practice of intellectual playing would cease to be a desirable practice in the 21st century where the emphasis on academic achievement is at an all-time high and overall college graduation rates are on the rise. This would seem to be especially true for women given that females now obtain the majority of college, masters, and advanced degrees. However, my research has uncovered that intellectual downplaying- 1) still occurs and 2) is a practice that continues to be overwhelmingly employed by women. Hence, this has become the impetus for me subsequently coining the term "female intellectual downplaying."

Motivated by my own past experience with quote "playing dumb," my current research project is focused on finding out what influences a person's decision to play down his/her intelligence (Survey Link). My preliminary analysis of the survey data suggests that the majority of respondents believe the media glorifies dumb female characters, clearly equates intelligence with unattractiveness and serves as one of the catalysts for female intellectual downplaying behavior. Many respondents relayed personal examples of their own experiences with playing down their intelligence; indicating that social acceptance, media pressure and the desire to appear attractive to a love interest motivated their decision for doing so.

Findings from this research will be shared in greater detail at the upcoming Cazenovia College Women's Research Symposium (Symposium Details), and will be included in my forthcoming book titled, Playing Dumb: A Memoir...Like Sort Of! Be on the lookout for information regarding my book release date as well as details regarding my other upcoming presentations/publications.

Until then....

Educationally Yours,
Professor Patty Cake


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Happy International Women's Day!

Happy International Women's Day!  This year's International Women's Day theme is, "Inspiring Change." According to www.internationalwomensday.com, this means "encouraging  advocacy for women's advancement everywhere in every way, challenging the status quo for women's equality, and inspiring positive change." With this in mind, Professor Patty Cake Consulting, L.L.C. would like to take a moment to thank the following fabulous, fearless women who through their activism have inspired change and improved the lives of women in the US and abroad.

We thank you: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millett, Shirley Chisholm, Ellie Smeal, Sarah Weddington, Naomi Wolf, Dr. Sally Roesch Wagner, Rebecca Walker, Jennifer Baumgardner, Katie Halper, and Jessica Valenti

For more information on International Women's Day please see:  http://www.internationalwomensday.com,

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Another Brick in the Wall: Pink Floyd, Race to the Top, and the "Standardization" of Public Education

Dr. Erica Vernold Miller will be presenting at the 2014 NYSFEA Annual Meeting at Colgate University on February 28, 2014. A summary of her presentation is as follows:
In 1979 the iconic band, Pink Floyd, released the album and subsequent movie (1982) The Wall. Hailed by critics as one of the best concept albums ever released; The Wall used graphic lyrics and imagery to tell the story of the fictional character, Pink Floyd, a troubled man struggling to find his way in post-WWII Britain. Traumatized by the after effects of the war, an ineffective educational system, an authoritarian government, and the superficiality of pop culture consumerism, Pink builds a metaphorical mental wall closing himself off from reality (Urick, 2010).

Semi-autobiographical, the educational system, described in The Wall, is a dramatization of band member, Roger Water’s, own educational experiences. Penning the lyrics,

We don’t need no education.

We don’t need no thought control.

No dark sarcasm in the classroom.

Teacher leave them kids alone.

Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!

All and all you’re just another brick in the wall.

(Gilmour & Waters, 1979, track 5)

Waters and bandmate, David Gilmour, expressed their concern that rote standardized learning, likened to thought control, produced compliant drones who could be easily manipulated by the government (Urick, 2010).

Although written 35 years ago, the messages found in The Wall seem to resonate prophetic today given the current state of the U.S. educational system, rife with top down unfunded mandates, pushes for standardized curriculum/testing, and growing educational product consumerism.  This paper presentation will use the lyrics and imagery from The Wall as a lens to examine how Race to the Top is impacting the delivery of education in our public schools. Special attention will be given to the role that the standardization movement has played in the demise of creativity in today’s classrooms. The presentation will culminate with examples of teachers who despite the governmental reform agenda, have resisted the adoption of rote drill and kill practices and instead found creative methods to successfully meet the individual needs of their students.

Gilmour, D. & Waters, R. (1979).  Another brick in the wall part two. On The wall [CD] . New York, United States: Columbia Records.

Urick, B. (2010). Pink Floyd’s The Wall a complete analysis. Retrieved from http://www.thewallanalysis.com/.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Professor Patty Cake Consulting, L.L.C. is happy to announce the following:

Professor Patty Cake, aka Dr. Erica Vernold Miller will be honored with the Sigma Alpha Phi- Excellence in Teaching Award at the upcoming Cazenovia College Student Leadership Celebration. Dr. Vernold Miller was nominated by the members of  Cazenovia College chapter of Sigma Alpha Phi to receive this award based upon the work that she has done both in and outside of the classroom to promote learning and leadership on campus.

Dr. Erica Vernold Miller's writing will be featured in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of Excelsior: Leadership in Teaching and Learning. Check out the article by Professor John Livermore, Dr. Kim Wieczorek and Dr. Erica Vernold Miller titled- Three Teachers Meeting the Challenges of APPR. 
Dr. Erica Vernold Miller is also slated to share her research at the following professional conferences:

February 28-March 1, 2014
Time: TBD
Another Brick in the Wall: Pink Floyd, Race to the Top and the "Standardization" of Public Education
Paper Presentation at the NY State Foundations of Education Association's Annual Meeting
Colgate University
Hamilton, NY

July 14-17, 2014
Time: TBD
Changing Early Childhood Policies and Practices to Meet the Needs of Nontraditional Families
Paper Presentation at the 21st International Conference on Learning
Lander College for Women at Touro College
New York City, NY


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Pink Floyd, Sistine Chapel, and Early Childhood Education

Happy New Year,

Time for another post from the Professor! For those of you who are new, I am an actual professor (thanks to those of you who emailed me and said I look too young to be a professor) who teaches at a small private college in NY, directs two teacher education preparation programs, and owns a professional development training company. Although the majority of my work is done in the inclusive early childhood and elementary education programs, on occasion, I have the opportunity to teach special topic courses in other areas such as women's studies.

As promised, in this post I am going to share information with you about my recent trip to Italy. My last post left you hanging with the question- What do Pink Floyd, the Sistine Chapel, and Early Child Education have in common?  Well, in a nutshell they are all topics that I am currently researching, writing, and teaching about. Odd mix, I know but to a globetrotting, art loving, forever rocking, teacher educator like me, these topics go together quite nicely!

So how does Pink Floyd fit into all this? Well as I mentioned, I love rock music, especially classic rock. Thanks to my mom, I grew up listening to the Beatles, the Dead, the Allman Brothers, the Stones and of course Pink Floyd. Interesting enough, the iconic album/movie The Wall, is one of my favorites even though one of the most notable songs on the album proclaims, "We don't need no education. We don't need no thought control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom. Teacher leave those kids alone!" Surprisingly, despite the fact that I train future educators, I do not necessarily disagree with such a sentiment given the current direction that the US education system is headed in.

As I listen to my iPod while traveling through the countryside of Italy, I had a lot of time to think. I thought about The Wall's lyrics and how today's US students are not that much different from the faceless students on the conveyor belt depicted in the movie. I thought about the old No Child Left Behind and the new Race to the Top mandates that require high stakes testing. I thought about how the arts are slowly being squeezed out of public education to make room for more drill and kill test prep activities. I thought about my student teachers who have said to me that they cannot create their own lesson plans because the schools in which they are placed have given them prescribed lesson plans and scripts to use in their classrooms. I thought about how big business is working hard to corporatize public education and find ways to tap into the money set aside for public education. All of this "thinking" fired up my creative juices and made me want to incorporate the lyrics and imagery of The Wall into a new project. I am currently working on an article and presentation exploring this topic. I will keep you posted on when and where you can read/see this work.

While in Italy, in addition to having plenty of time to "think," I also had the chance to visit many artistic sites such as the Sistine Chapel. To say that the Sistine Chapel was breathtaking is an understatement. As I craned my neck to take in a view of the famed ceiling, I was first struck by its beauty and secondly by the fact that in the depiction of the Temptation Adam and Eve were both reaching for the forbidden apple. Always looking for ways to enhance my teaching and spark discussion in my First Year Seminar- I Am Woman: Hear Me Roar, I tucked this little tidbit away and decided to discuss this topic when I returned to campus. My first day back, I wrote on the board- "What I learned on my vacation.....Michelangelo just may have been a feminist." I then projected a picture of Michelangelo's depiction of the Temptation with the question, "What do you think?" As you can imagine, my statement led to a spirited in class debate about religion, the feminist movement, and the meaning of art.  If I posed this question to you, what would your response be?

Last but certainly not least, it should be noted that my recent trip to Italy fulfilled a longstanding professional dream of mine. While pursuing my undergraduate degree and initial teacher certifications in the mid-1990s, I read many articles about the innovative teaching techniques used in Reggio Emilia, Italy. Through the years, I have read, researched, and taught about the techniques used in Reggio Emilia and have become a member of the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance. While in Italy, I had the chance ("chance" meaning- close enough to Reggio Emilia to hop on 6 trains and devote 12+ hours of travel) to visit the Centro Internationale Loris Malaguzzi, view the exhibits and meet with the Centro staff. It was amazing! I was like an Elvis fan visiting Graceland for the first time! Simply put, it was Bellissimo!

So there you have it- Pink Floyd, the Sistine Chapel, and Early Childhood Education all in a semester's work!

Professor Patty Cake Consulting L.L.C. would like to give a huge shout out to all the organizations that worked with us to co-sponsor Katie Halper's (an editor at www.feministing.com ) visit to Cazenovia College last month! Katie's visit to campus was well received and resulted in standing room only during her presentation. Over 100 students, faculty members, and community members flooded Coleman Hall to hear Katie speak about Feminism 101. See Press release. Katie used her sharp wit and humor to remind us that the work is not done, now more than ever we need to work to promote women's rights and female empowerment! Many thanks to Katie for making the trip to Cazenovia. I have told you this before but chatting with you over lunch was like reconnecting with a long lost intellectual sister. I look forward to working with you again in the future! As for those of you looking for a campus speaker, I highly recommend Katie and www.feministing.com. They were wonderful to work with and exhibited the utmost professionalism from start to finish. Check out Katie's blog at http://katiehalper.com/.

As a reminder, Professor Patty Cake Consulting, LLC is booking now for 2014. Please contact us to discuss available dates and special pricing. We look forward to hearing from you. 

Until then.......

Educationally Yours,

Professor Patty Cake


Monday, October 28, 2013

Welcome to the Professor Patty Cake Blog

Greetings Readers,
Thank you for visiting the Professor Patty Cake Blog. As you can see, it is still a work in progress. Content is being added daily. Please check back regularly for updates or better yet, subscribe to the blog to receive them in real time.

This week's updates include information about our November 2013 contest as well as a new sidebar button to link to the official Professor Patty Cake Consulting, L.L.C. Facebook page. Please take a moment to "Like Us"  on Facebook.

Are you or your organization interested in a consultation session and/or professional development training? We are booking now for 2014. Please contact us to discuss available dates and special pricing. We look forward to hearing from you.

Next post, I will share information about my recent research trip to Italy as well as details about other exciting projects I am working on. What do Pink Floyd, the Sistine Chapel, and early child education have in common? Find out this and more in my next blog posting!

Until then.......

Educationally Yours,
Professor Patty Cake