When History Gets Old | Teen Ink

When History Gets Old

July 17, 2019
By Anonymous

As an elementary school student, I wondered if re-learning about Johnny Appleseed’s seat gripping saga through America was a strict, yearly tradition. The same went for Paul Revere’s harrowing odyssey on a horse. Nevertheless, it seemed like the millionth time we were learning about another John something who lived an unfathomable amount of time ago. As an older student, I now question why sixteen year old Sybil Ludington, who rode double the distance as Revere through bandit country, wasn’t mentioned in my books. It is problematic that history is filtered, and whole groups of people are not recognized for their merit. Although most schools choose curriculum to cover as they deem to be significant, class text should not leave out the women in history because the absence of female representation hinders gender equity in later life, creates skewed perceptions of gender norms, and fails to present an unbiased report of history.

According to a study conducted in 2016 by the National Women’s History found that women’s topics are often an addendum to the main storyline(Where,2017). The investigation suggests that “male-oriented excellent leadership” trumped any emphasis on women which in itself stressed females’ domestic positions in society (Where,2017). In addition, former director of the United Nations Economic, Social, and Cultural Organization 2016 Global Education Monitoring report, “females are overwhelmingly underrepresented in textbooks and curriculum”(Perasso,2017). It was estimated by what is considered to be the largest-scale study on this subject where over 5,600 children’s books were examined, that  “males were represented almost twice as often in titles and 1.6 times more as central characters” (Perasso,2017).

 The lack of female representation in school curriculum has been found to inhibit gender equality in later life.  According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, Aaron Benavot, misogynistic attitudes in school textbooks have the power to act as a “hidden obstacle to achieving gender equality”(Perasso,2017).  Children’s books advertise career choices, and “their imagery communicates what it means for men and women to be associated with these occupations” (Wilbraham,2018). When young children do not see women accurately portrayed as capable of pursuing traditionally male dominated careers it can be more difficult for them to accept women in these fields. Girls are not able to envision themselves in these positions much less actually be in them. The subtle sexism that is prevalent in many textbooks, introduces children to about gender stereotypes which enables them to affirm sexist gender roles as they grow older. ).Pictures, or a lack thereof, contribute to how children learn about sexist expectations and “to conform to prevailing gender career stereotype” Women are often depicted as nurses and teachers, or other traditionally female occupancies will men are shown as astronauts and doctors. This in return teaches them about “occupations suited to each gender”. (Taylor,2016)

In addition to hindering gender equality, a deficit of female figures in history can also create a skewed perception of gender norms. A published study conducted by UNESCO found that despite catering to a young audience, textbooks promote prejudice that “seems to have lingered in much of the world”(Taylor,2016). As children today continue to be educated using these textbooks, outdated stereotypes and cultural expectations are introduced from an authoritative source, and create a foundation for potentially sexist mindsets.

The limited amount of females in curriculum also does not do justice to the women and does not provide a full report of history. According to a report and analysis on women’s history in U.S K-12 social studies, women are grossly underrepresented and by default women’s history is not as conveyed to be as important (Where,2017). This study also found that many state standards do not fully report the complexity and full extent of women’s history. They “over emphasize women in their domestic roles” and do not clearly explain a woman’s role in a “economic, cultural, or political [context]” (Where,2017). Merriam-Webster dictionary defines history as a branch of records that records and explains past events. It only makes sense that women’s history should acknowledge that the situations and events that transpired among in history are different than men’s. History should also recognize the fact that culture influences women’s and men’s experiences through history.The so called history in the textbooks many children grow up reading does not give an unfiltered presentation of events and situations of women and should not be considered an acknowledgment of women’s history.

In order to combat this issue, education should become a means of dismantling patriarchal systems. This can be done by lobbying for changes in school curriculum that includes  group discussions that challenge students to identify gender bias and question stereotypes in the material they learn in school. Ultimately, history books must be re-written to report women’s history not just as a complement to a historical timeline.

Furthermore, books need to represent women as qualified, skillful and technically able. They need to be pictured in a way that reflects current scholarship which includes engineering and science based fields. Sociologist Rae Lesser Blumberg, a professor at University of Virginia, has concluded after over a decade of studying textbooks that has been studying textbooks from around the world for over a decade,that “she has seen women systematically written out, or portrayed in subservient roles” (Perasso, 2018). "These books perpetuate gender imbalance," says Prof Blumberg. "We cannot educate the children of the future with books from the past." (Perasso,2018) Her words could not be more true.  For individuals to be able to feel like the excerpts of history they learn about are relevant to the collective identity they share as a society, it should be everyone’s job to make history inclusive.

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This article has 3 comments.

on Jan. 17 2020 at 3:54 pm
SolInvictus76, Leavenworth, Indiana
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I don't care about how "diverse" our school books are. I just wish we were taught more meaningful and important history. For example, does anybody remember what the Korean War was about? How about Reconstruction? Does anybody know which American political party lead the emancipation, Suffrage, and civil rights movement? I do, but not because any school told me.

Fight against communism, reconstruction and race relations after the Civil War, and GOP/Republican Party, by the way.

eikeg said...
on Aug. 6 2019 at 1:22 am
eikeg, Rpv, California
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I agree with you 100 percent. I think that women are not given the recognition they deserve! Hopefully this will change in the near future.

on Aug. 5 2019 at 11:12 pm
mikaelamgarcia, Torrance, California
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I agree that there needs to be more representation in school curriculum, and women in history do not deserve to be supporting characters in their own stories