Biting, witty and occasionally even venomous, professor and author Kass Fleisher’s memoir “Talking Out of School: Memoir of an Educated Woman” chronicles not just the author’s own tumultuous education within and outside of university lecture halls, but also the tenuous state of women’s higher education in America today.
Alternating between moral outrage and personal regret, the author tackles, through personal observations and experiences both reassuring and daunting, the many issues plaguing today’s colleges and universities.
Perhaps most formative of her personality, and most compelling in her telling, is Fleisher’s chaotic childhood, which was spent under the watchful eye and violent arm of an abusive mother — one who played the part of respected teacher and admired union leader at school, but remained a volatile tyrant at home. Maintaining this lifelong, tightrope-walk relationship with her duplicitous mother equips Fleisher to take on her college’s injustices, but also allows her to fall prey to them.
Later, Fleisher works as an adjunct professor in a small, homogenous college, where she is forced to confront her own demons in order to expose the sexism and racism often at play in classrooms and offices alike. Yet in recognizing her own prejudices, she manages to find a freeing, if tenuous, kind of autonomy.
Affective in its brutal honesty, “Talking Out of School” raises uncomfortable but crucial questions about how deeply embedded issues of gender, class and race are within our country’s revered institutions of higher learning. Fleisher’s personal experience — from the high, as the only grandchild in her mom’s family to graduate, to the lows, in which she discards the principles she all along meant to advocate — make the seemingly overworked issues of gender and race politics real, relevant and, perhaps most significantly, clear as day.