June 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Study on Women in Social Studies Standards Finds Equity Issues

In an effort to learn what information their website was missing, staff at the National Women’s History Museum (NHWM) studied every state’s K–12 social studies standards for U.S. history to see what individual women and “topics associated with women” were discussed.

“We wanted to find out if there were any gaps on our website,” says Kenna Howat, NWHM program manager,who notes that students and teachers go to womenshistory.org to supplement their studies and lesson plans, respectively. “We wanted to find out what teachers were teaching.”

What they found, according to the study’s report and analysis, is that “women’s experiences and stories are not well integrated into U.S. state history standards. The lack of representation and context in state-level materials presupposes that women’s history is even less represented at the classroom level. This implies that women’s history is not important.”

The study discovered 1,975 mentions of “women, women’s history, and women’s roles within all state standards, which overwhelmingly emphasize women in their domestic roles.” There were 178 individual women are named, 15 of whom are mentioned more than 10 times. Those most mentioned include Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Abigail Adams, Sojourner Truth, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Sacagawea. There was an emphasis on women involved in protest movements, often “elite, white women who had the most access to resources to advance their causes.”

The biggest surprise to Howat?

“There is no Asian American woman mentioned in state standards,” she says.

While one Pacific Islander individual, Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii, was mentioned, that wasn’t enough to bring the overall Asian American/Pacific Islander representation above zero percent.

The study is considered Phase I of a four-part plan. The full report with a state-by-state breakdown is available online.

In Phase II, NWHM will build the resources on its website needed to fill any gaps they found, such as the need for more information on Colonial American women. This summer, teachers have volunteered to help create online classroom resources around the current women in history mentioned in the curriculum based on the study’s findings.

Phase III will be a second study to identify the percentage of women discussed in social studies standards in relation to men to determine if women are “severely underrepresented or if it’s 50-50.”

Phase IV will take all of this data and use it to petition states to change their standards for proper representation of women in U.S. history.

Founded in 1996, NWHM is currently online only. A nonprofit dedicated to educating people about “the diverse historic contributions of women,” its goal is to build a national women’s history museum in Washington, DC. A Congressional commission has been established to produce a feasibility plan, which would include the governance, fundraising, location and organizational structure of the museum.

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Kara Yorio About Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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