Thursday, January 17, 2008

Why Women's & Gender Studies in High School?

I remember spending the majority of my high school career unenlightened and absorbing the information given to me without question. As I moved into post-secondary education, I was introduced to the plethora of ideas and theories that outright contradicted what I understood to be “true” or essential. For me, one of these ideas was feminism. Feminism and women’s & gender studies was one among many subjects that redefined (and still is) my definition(s) of society. Why must high school students wait until they reach college or university to become exposed to not only feminist studies but other realms of innovative thought? These ideas should not be restricted to academia but instead taught at lower levels, especially in high school where one is first encouraged to supposedly develop critical thinking instead of absorbing information like a drone.

The Miss G Project seeks to establish an interdisciplinary approach by integrating Women’s & Gender Studies into the high school curriculum. Shannon Mills, a teacher in
Ontario, recently taught a brand new Women’s Studies course at her high school:

A semester of ‘surfing the Third Wave’ of feminism alongside a diverse mix of adolescents—some timidly dipping their toes in the water, others eager to dive full force into the most challenging breakers—has served to strengthen my personal belief that a women’s studies course is essential for today’s teens. At a time when young women are bombarded with pornographic messages gone mainstream, in a society where raunch culture is cited as “the new feminism,” in a decade when even prominent feminists recognize that the women’s movement is experiencing a dangerous backlash, it is more important than ever to provide students with a curriculum which equips them with a sense of integrity, entitlement, and empowerment. (. . .)

I know all too well the frustration of attempting to establish a balanced gender perspective in the classroom, having revised my senior-level history course repeatedly over the last five years. It disappoints me to realize that the high school curriculum continues to reflect what one of my professors aptly termed the “add-women-and-stir methodology.” Women’s issues are still relegated to the sidebars of textbooks; women’s concerns continue to be presented as tangential topics within the bulk of the core curriculum. In my classroom, despite my best efforts, Michelangelo still eclipses Gentileschi, Napoleon continues to trump Wollstonecraft.

An entire semester devoted to the study of issues affecting women historically, politically, and globally gives teachers the rare chance to dig deeply into topics which the traditional curriculum only grazes. (Originally published in the OSSTF Update Vol. 33 No. 7, February 15, 2006.)

The course was received with much acclaim and praise from students. Male students also benefit from women’s studies—being a feminist doesn’t mean you have to be female. In fact, it takes a lot of courage. Perhaps if more students, female and male, have an opportunity to study Women’s Studies, they will begin to have a better understanding of the interlocking issues that encompass gender (and) politics and begin to voice their criticisms and concerns. To take an active interest in what’s happening in their communities, country and world is something we’d all like to achieve.

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