SOE News

Catherine Marshall

Martin and Catherine Marshall, the School of Education's second Robert Wendell Eaves Sr. Distinguished Professor.

Martin Brody and Catherine Marshall, the School of Education's second Robert Wendell Eaves Sr. Distinguished Professor.

Following are prepared remarks made by Catherine Marshall at the reception honoring her upon being named the School of Education’s second Robert Wendell Eaves Distinguished Professor, on Nov. 7, 2012 at the Carolina Inn.

I am honored to be dubbed "Distinguished Professor." Bob Eaves Jr. established the Robert Wendell Eaves Sr. Professorship in Educational Leadership to honor his father, who had worked as a teacher and principal before serving as executive secretary of the National Education Association’s Department of Elementary School Principals. So the connection to me, as I study school administrators and the inter-workings of policies and politics of education, at all levels, is quite striking. Those studies take me to classrooms, state legislatures, professional and interest groups, to D.C. and even to Australia.

I see lots of colleagues, and students, and doctors whose dissertations I chaired here today and I want to say "THANK YOU" for providing me with interesting challenges. From the colleagues who challenged me to find ways to sneak in gender issues into coursework, to the students who bravely asked me to chair their dissertations, even if they heard I was tough. And I thank you all for making my intellectual life so stimulating.

Here, today, I see friends, too, who have taught me many lessons about having fun and about just letting go of that manuscript for a while – that life isn’t all about the next publication, and one person more than any other: my Martin!

As I receive this honor today, I think I should tell you all that I am not supposed to be here! I am an impostor. I look like a sweet, somewhat privileged Chapel Hill academic, who fits in great at her tennis and book clubs. But actually, I was supposed to be a high school dropout! Sociologists and education social workers tell us: "Her type is a lost cause" and we predict a life of low achievement. Statisticians would give only the teeniest probability that I’d be standing here. Why?

My remarks must be just 3 1/2 minutes, so … The mini-version of my story is by getting pregnant in the 11th grade (in those days, stigma alert!) any career path to distinguished professor fell off the cliff. And as the rumors spread in the micro-world of high school, I sensed the teachers’ attitudes, as if they were saying, “Oh, she’s a lost cause ….” I became a “push-out” when my principal told me that I couldn’t come to classes, that my pregnant body couldn’t be on view in his high school! (This was before Title IX.)

Now, the boy who became my husband could finish school, but not me! It's a long story of how I got beyond that stigma and push out college, masters, doctorate, tenure-track, and up the ranks to be standing here today, among my stellar colleagues.

But this "push-out" experience, when fortified and framed with theories and research on policies, on micro- and macro-politics, and on research of gender issues and social and education policies, has ended up as an amazing generator and motivator getting me here. The theory and research revealed ways to turn my experience and insights into transformative teaching, research, and activism. So, I love studying and teaching education politics and policy, gender issues, qualitative research – and often get the chance to spread my insights with really neat students.

And now you know more about the story behind this new, and very pleased "distinguished professor." I wish my parents were still here to see this, along with that principal and the teachers who long ago wrote me off. And I hope that the work I do does, indeed, contribute in ways that honor Robert Wendell Eaves, Sr. At the very least, I can challenge educators to believe there can be ways to pull back any student, no matter their life circumstances.