Women's History in Textbooks (page 3)
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
Wilbur and the 1992 AAUW report argued that so far no major curriculum reform efforts have explicitly used gender-fair approaches. The AAUW report offers a list of more than 40 action items for change. Individual teachers may pursue the following 12 items from the list (American Association of University Women, 1992):
- Teachers must help girls develop positive views of themselves and their futures, as well as an understanding of the obstacles women must overcome in a society where their options and opportunities are still limited by gender stereotypes and assumptions.
- The formal school curriculum must include the experiences of women and men from all walks of life. Girls and boys must see women and girls reflected and valued in the materials they study.
- School curricula should deal directly with issues of power, gender politics, and violence against women. Better-informed girls are better equipped to make decisions about their futures. Girls and young women who have a strong sense of themselves are better able to confront violence and abuse in their lives.
- Curricula for young children must not perpetuate gender stereotypes and should reflect sensitivity to different learning styles.
- Girls must be educated and encouraged to understand that mathematics and the sciences are important and relevant to their lives. Girls must be actively supported in pursuing education and employment in these areas.
- Existing equity guidelines should be effectively implemented in all programs supported by the local, state, and federal governments.
- Local schools and communities must encourage and support girls studying science and mathematics by showcasing women role models in scientific and technological fields, disseminating career information, and offering “hands-on” experiences and work groups in science and math classes.
- Continued attention to gender equity in vocational education programs must be a high priority at every level of educational governance and administration. Have students discuss how gender roles are changing in their own generation.
- Testing and assessment must serve as stepping-stones, not stop signs. New tests and testing techniques must accurately reflect the abilities of both girls and boys.
- Girls and women must play a central role in educational reform. The experiences, strengths, and needs of girls from every race and social class must be considered in order to provide excellence and equity for all our nation’s students.
- A critical goal of education reform must be to enable students to deal effectively with the realities of their lives, particularly in areas such as sexuality and health.
- Child care for the children of teen mothers must be an integral part of all programs designed to encourage young women to pursue or complete educational programs. (pp. 84–87)
Kay A. Chick reviewed studies of textbooks and asserts that history, social science, and literature books have made “some progress” toward gender balance. In Teaching Women’s History Through Literature: Standards Based Lesson Plans for Grades K–12 (2008), she proposes a number of ways to integrate the teaching of these subjects and to encourage gender balance. This valuable publication of the National Council for the Social Studies unfortunately limits its focus almost exclusively to Black and White women, leaving invisible the role of Latinas, Native American women, and Asian American women in the development of the nation (there is one example of a Latina). The book and the lesson plans, while a step in a positive direction, fail to achieve Wilbur’s goals of being inclusive, accurate, and representative.
Despite the efforts of feminist scholars, educators, and some textbook publishers, self-image and role-stereotyping problems for girls continue (National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education, 2002). Clearly, schools and textbooks are less powerful in their influence than is the commercial marketplace. They are no match for television programs and multimedia advertising campaigns portraying the popular youth culture. We are unlikely to make much progress on this front until large companies and the advertising agencies they hire cease to exploit sex and gender stereotyping for profit.
© ______ 2010, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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