Women's History in Textbooks
Although feminist scholarship has made strides in the university, this progress is only beginning to have a significant impact on public school textbooks. Tetreault (1989) and Moraga and Anzaldúa (1981) have written about the invisibility and fragmentation of women’s history, particularly that of women of color, in literature and text illustrations.
Some progress is being made. Publishers have started to delete linguistic bias and to use gender-neutral terms. States are requiring that texts move beyond depicting women in stereotypical roles. The National Women’s History Project has developed excellent new materials to overcome this invisibility.
Students seem to develop self-esteem and a sense of being socially centered when they see their role models in books and other educational materials. Women’s literature, history, and sociology assist female students in evaluating their own experiences and traumas. Readings in these areas can help young women gain perspective on the pressures to surrender self and goals for temporary status and temporary relationships. Social history and popular histories record the extensive participation of women in building our communities, public schools, and social institutions. Readings from the era in which the “cult of true womanhood” was promoted (1800–1860) help students to reflect on how public images and role models can promote profit seeking rather than developing human potential. Readings from the Progressive Era (1890–1920) help students to see how immigrant women organized unions and (European American) women made significant advances in attending colleges and entering the professions.
The curriculum should be authentic, realistic, and inspirational. Reform requires more than adding a few new heroines to existing textbooks. The writings and speeches of Dolores Huerta, Fannie Lou Hamer, Shirley Chisholm, Rosa Parks, Marian Wright Edelman, Hillary Clinton, and others are important additions to the curriculum.
Women students can keep journals to reflect on their own lives. Recording a journal helps young girls through times of doubt and insecurity, as does developing friendships. Teenage girls can learn to accept themselves as they are and build a positive future instead of dreaming of cosmetic makeovers.
Young women also gain from learning about the leadership and activism of women in their communities. Working-class women and women of color have raised families and survived. They have created a positive life for their children. Presenting guest speakers from the community teaches that average, normal people run unions, institutions, and essential community organizations. Guest speakers bridge the gap between the school and adult reality. The curriculum empowers and motivates students when it presents hope and optimism without a superwoman model of accomplishment.
Wilbur (1992) states that a gender-fair curriculum has six attributes:
- Variable, accommodating similarities and differences among and within groups of people
- Inclusive, allowing both females and males to find and identify positively with messages about themselves
- Accurate, presenting information that is data-based, verifiable, and able to withstand critical analysis
- Affirmative, acknowledging and valuing the worth of individuals and groups
- Representative, balancing multiple perspectives
- Integrated, weaving together the experiences, needs, and interests of both males and females
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