Emily Heroy’s post at Equality 101 about the call to teach feminism in high schools in the US reminds me of an assignment I gave to students last year in my course on feminism to high school juniors and seniors titled Fierce and Fabulous: Feminist Women Writers, Artists, and Activists.
In the wake of excitement after Obama’s inauguration, I asked students to write a letter to our new President asking him to examine the issue of gender and education with a critical eye on the ways in which feminism might be addressed in the curriculum. All of the letters, 11 total (8 by girls, 3 by boys), were fantastic. Here’s one from an African American female student that captures the urgency of teaching issues of gender and feminism in K-12 classrooms:
Dear Mr. President,
As the newly established President of the United States, there are quite a few tasks that you must tackle. There are problems in the education system, the environment, and problems abroad. Despite all of the overwhelming problems, I suggest picking the internal problems apart first and foremost, because one cannot expect to solve everyone else’s problems (like the war in Iraq) without first examining internal flaws. If you do this, you may be saved a great deal of trouble in the future. I will present you one problem that I feel should be attended to and then I will give you brief suggestions on how to solve them.
The first problem that I would like to address is the lack of intersectional feminism within education. Feminism is a wonderful example of how all social injustices interlock. In high schools on down in the education system, children are taught modified African American studies. Students are taught an even more limited version of Women’s Studies. They learn nothing about the struggles of say a Japanese woman during WWII or of an Ethiopian girl’s everyday life.
It is understandable that teachers cannot be expected to cram decades of struggles into 12 years of study. I just feel that there should be more time in the curriculum starting in the lower grades (if they can learn about the slave trade, they can learn about feminism) dedicated to learning about feminism and the goals behind it.
To do that, I propose that by fourth grade, students be exposed to basic feminist ideas. Then in middle school, there should be a month in each grade dedicated to learning about basic feminist vocabulary and grasping the ideas and goals of the first, second, and third waves of feminism.
After sixth and seventh grade, students should begin learning about how to cultivate their views, feminist or not, and learning about the great many intersections that exist within feminism. By the time students are in high school, they are armed with the basic tools to begin tackling social injustice. In high school, students would examine global feminism and then they can start to connect it to US feminism and other forms of activism. This will take feminist education up to tenth grade. By this time, students should be able to choose feminist electives in their junior and senior year.
I honestly feel that feminism and gender justice education must be incorporated into education. Every social justice movement deserves to be represented. Issues of gender and feminism must be taught to both girls and boys, young and old. Not only women should learn feminism. Men should be involved in this new learning system. It would be very good to dispel the idea that only women are feminist. I think it would be one of the best ways to bring about new thinking and create a better world for everyone.
Thank you for reading my letter. I hope that I was able to give you ideas on a plan of action as you face your term. I hope you have a successful term!
Brava to my student for writing with a vision for how we must change our classroom content for greater attention to gender justice and feminism. Her vision and that of her peers in the class are what we should all aspire to achieve in making not only equitable classrooms but inclusive ones as well. Her argument for a feminist curriculum is just as pressing now as it was when she wrote the letter to Obama a year ago.
I also tip my hat to Canada’s Miss G Project for working on getting a Women’s and Gender Studies course into the Ontario secondary school curriculum. What we need is a feminist educational movement right here in the US that will do the same.
The time is now to make these changes. Our students are waiting for us.
This post can also be found at Equality 101.