As a founding member of the National Women’s History Project, Mary Ruthsdotter knows the importance of teaching kids about the accomplishments of women.
“As a youngster, I thought I had drawn the short straw being born female. None of the stories I was told of adults actively and effectively engaged in the world had to do with women. How startling it was to learn (after college!) that women have played important roles in every aspect of American life – establishing homes for family life, fighting and spying during every war, establishing social service networks, and dramatically influencing laws and attitudes.”
Students who don’t learn the facts can develop the wrong idea about what women have accomplished. Ruthsdotter continued:
“If women’s contributions and accomplishments are not mentioned, the omission is not even noticed, but a subtle lesson is learned just as certainly: Women haven’t done anything important. Knowing that teachers cannot pass along what they themselves have not been taught, the NWHP aims to make excellent, user-friendly materials readily available for all areas of the K-12 curriculum. Language arts, social studies, creative arts, the sciences – women have been active in all these areas, and the stories of their accomplishments are fascinating.”
Couldn’t agree more.
But I’m conflicted about the whole Women’s History Month thing – a lot like my hesitation around the idea of a separate Black History Month. Too many of us still use February and March to have kids memorize random black history and women’s history facts and call it good. (We also seem to have a habit of doing the same thing with Latino history and Asian American history and Native American history and . . . well, you get the idea.)
I’m conflicted because I know many of you may be looking for great Women’s History month resources. And I have a list. But part of me is afraid that it will only get used between now and the end of the month.
So here’s the deal. You can have the list. But I’m going to ask you to reflect on your classroom and your teaching practice while considering the following five strategies:
1. Find and utilize primary sources and stories that relate to the female experience to add nuance and perspective to the study of American history and literature.
Many well-known digital collections are are great places to find these sources and stories, such as those of the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives, which offer primary sources or curated collections around women’s history. Most repositories provide ways to filter their collection or to search by historical era, topic or individual.
Websites created primarily for educators offer collections of primary and secondary sources which can be used in a classroom setting and often include connections to national standards, assessments, and extension activities. Teaching History, Gilder Lehrman, and the Smithsonian Learning Lab are a few such examples. On the Smithsonian Learning Lab, you can search “women’s history” and investigate collectionscreated by museum and classroom educators.
2. Find and register for professional learning opportunities that feature women’s history.
Explore your local library programs, non-credit university classes, and other professional development especially designed for educators. For virtual or distance opportunities, consider podcasts such as Sidedoor from the Smithsonian or BackStory from the Virginian Foundation for the Humanities. The National Humanities Center also holds webinars that explore a number of historical topics connected to women’s history and the Southern Poverty Law Center has a wide range of learning opportunities, including their compelling publication, Teaching Tolerance.
3. Seek out like-minded educators and practiced communicators.
Research has shown that professional learning communities can support teacher development and student learning by helping make the usually invisible processes of teaching visible. A network of like-minded colleagues will be a resource as you share ideas for including more women’s history related primary sources, for practicing how to contextualize the history, or for supporting challenging conversations around inclusion and race.
Journeying through the experience of examining your curriculum with colleagues will be a communal learning experience within your academic setting.
4. Get comfortable speaking about gender and inclusion.
Many topics and themes in African American history are inextricably intertwined with the history of race and racism in U.S. society and the way in which it has influenced the concept of who is American. If you want to include more women’s history in your classroom, you must be aware of strategies for conducting age-appropriate discussions and the ideas around of anti-discrimination education.
Organizations such as Facing History and Ourselves and Teaching Tolerance provide educators with online materials and teaching pedagogy on how to address gender and foster inclusive classrooms.
Browse through this shared Google Doc of teaching suggestions and a whole raft of handy articles for addressing controversial topics such as gender, race, and politics in the classroom.
5. Diversify the visual and learning materials in your classroom setting.
One of the first goals of anti-discrimination education is to help build a positive social identity in students, by encouraging them to celebrate as well as be comfortable with human diversity.
We know that young people are influenced by the visual and learning materials in the environment around them. Research has shown that students learn from what they do not see as much as what they see. When images, books, and characters of various groups are not represented in the grand narrative, students lack opportunities to see themselves and their experiences validated as a part of the American experience.
In primary level classrooms, it is important to include books that portray female characters in a variety of roles that present women as a part of American society who work and live in similar environments to others. This builds and fosters a sense of shared community. As students progress to higher levels of elementary school, incorporating books that begin to share the female experience as history will allow for further exploration of the American narrative. In the secondary levels, it is important to include books written by and about women as part of your assignments. Think carefully about the imagery, artwork, books, and characters in the recommended readings for students.
For ideas on books for various ages, Teaching for Change has created Social Justice Books as a place where educators can find recommendations of books featuring multicultural characters, social justice storylines, and thought-provoking plots about inclusion. The NCSS Notable Trade Books is also a great place to find a diverse selection of materials.
Okay. Read all five? Great. Here’s your list.
But don’t forget . . . with great power comes great responsibility. Use the resources wisely.
Start with the best of the best. The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in commemorating and encouraging the study, observance, and celebration of the vital role of women in American history.
They’ve all joined together to create an amazing site called, wait for it . . . Women’s History Month. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for it in tons of resources, lessons, and multimedia goodies.
iCivics always has good stuff. And they don’t disappoint with women’s history.
The National Education Association posts three lists at different grade levels.
Edutopia shares a great list of articles and resources around gender roles and stereotypes, lots of lessons, and lots of great book lists.
We Are Teachers asks who runs the world? Girls! So they share 14 of their favorite women’s history month activities.
The Anti-Defamation League has a web site that encourages conversations around gender stereotypes and bias, hails important women in history, helps you discover more about women’s issues and their fight for equity, lists literature that celebrates women and girls, and encourages kids to analyze sexism.
ReadWriteThink has a ton of tools, sites, lessons.
The Pulitzer Center created a great list that documents the experiences of women and girls around the world.
PBS has created a similar list of resources about females around the world.
Collier County Public Schools created a 63 page PDF of resources, lessons, and activities.
Lots of stuff. Which is a good thing. But remember. This is not just a March thing. This is an American / world history thing. We need to tell the stories of all the people who make up who we are all year long.
So . . . use the list wisely.
cross posted at glennwiebe.org
Glenn Wiebe is an education and technology consultant with 15 years' experience teaching history and social studies. He is a curriculum consultant forESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas, blogs frequently at History Tech and maintains Social Studies Central, a repository of resources targeted at K-12 educators. Visit glennwiebe.org to learn more about his speaking and presentation on education technology, innovative instruction and social studies.