A Radical Approach to History

A Radical Approach to History

In my usual perusal of all things STEM, I visited a site that I love, and I found that it’s now highlighting a new program aimed at girls in science. Excited to learn more and maybe even get involved, I clicked through the site. And what did I find? Pictures of the girls building robots. Stories of these young scientists writing code. Videos showing these innovators creating wearable technology. All of these things make my heart sing. And while this is a wonderful program with the best of intentions, I can’t help but feel a sting every time I read the title of the project—Femineers. Ouch. I thought we already had word for a female engineer: engineer. If she wins in 2016, will Hillary Clinton be our first presidette?

One of our Catapult consultants, James Costello, gave my colleagues and me a book written by his friend, Kate Schatz. The book, Rad American Women A-Z, is an historical alphabet book that highlights the accomplishments of 26 brave and powerful women who have made an impact on our nation’s history. Why are these women so rad? Let’s think about how American History is currently taught in classrooms coast-to-coast and how that may have led us to a world where we needed a Femineer project in the first place. Quick – think about someone associated with the following events in US History:

  • Revolutionary War
  • Civil War
  • Civil Rights Movement

I wager that most of the names or faces that spring to mind are men, possibly George Washington, Abe Lincoln, or Martin Luther King, Jr. All trailblazers. All game changers for our country’s trajectory. One hundred percent no argument from us.

So what’s the problem?

There’s nothing wrong with celebrating the patriotic men who helped shape our country. And, due to the customs and laws of the time, most of the leaders were men, so it only follows that many of the landmark accomplishments are associated with them. But, here’s where things get a bit muddy. By focusing only on the role men played in various time periods, we’re leaving out half the country. The stories, struggles, inventions, accomplishments, and the impact that 50% of the population had on these milestone events is lacking at best, absent in most cases. Erased from history. No role models for young girls. No rad women to inspire the next generation of heroes, leaders, and yes, engineers.

My hope is that as you approach this new school year, you work to create a more inclusive curriculum. It’s not just about women. Take a critical look at the books you’re reading or people you’re studying. Are you representing different races, backgrounds, and viewpoints? Do you have a healthy mix of folks who grew up poor or were raised in different parts of the country? Are you considering the viewpoint of immigrants—past and present? What about people with learning or physical differences?

Your first step may be checking out Rad American Women A-Z. The author carefully selected women from various experiences, background, races, and religions and included inspiring biographical information from Angela Davis to Zora Neale Hurston—with a special spotlight on the letter X: “It’s for the women we haven’t learned about yet, and the women whose stories we will never read…X marks the spot where we stand today…What will you do to be rad?”

For teachers, perhaps it’s inspiring the next generation of leaders, innovators, and artist, boys and girls alike. You may even have a future president sitting in your classroom.

And she’ll be looking to you for inspiration.

1 Comment

  1. Carolyn Deyo August 4, 2015 Reply

    thanks, Jessica, got the book for my favorite middle school social studies teacher.

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