This post was written for the Global Equality Collective
The Herstorian is on a mission: to embed culturally responsive teaching into our history curriculum. But what does that actually mean? Well, for gender equality, it means creating a history curriculum that no longer systematically ignores the experiences of women. It also means transmitting knowledge to students that is both relevant and meaningful. Why? Because we know that when students are presented with new material, they have a much better chance of actually learning it if it matches their social and cultural experiences.
So, how can teachers and educators make this culturally responsive and gender-equal curriculum a reality? Here are some suggestions:
1. Start with the silence.
As a culturally responsive history consultant, I am often asked to review history lessons that I know won’t feature women at all. How do I know? Well, generally, all I need to do is look at the topic. Causes of World War One? Not a chance. The Cold War? No way. I know where I won’t find women before I even click the play button. This isn’t because I have a crystal ball, by the way. Having worked as a history teacher, I know that these topics tend to be taught from a top-down perspective and when you do that, you miss the stories. You miss the individual contributions because you’re so busy looking at sweeping trends and big ideas. But this is exactly where debates about gender diversity should start. Be honest with your pupils and tell them why there are no women here. Tell them that, historically speaking, women rarely inhabited places of power that enabled them to play a leading role. Let’s be empowered by that silence instead of overshadowed.
2. Stop looking for “remarkable women.”
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. When we only focus on women who broke some sort of cultural or social mould, we send a dangerous message to young people that only those kinds of women deserve a voice. We also neglect to highlight the experiences of most of the population. Look for the stories of working-class women. Find out where they were and where they weren’t. Think about the struggles and challenges that they faced. You will always find them, but you might need to look a bit harder.
3. Widen your sources of knowledge.
One of the difficulties with teaching a gender-equal history curriculum is that our sources are rarely skewed in women’s favour. Flick through any history textbook, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. When women are included, they are “remarkable” or seen in the context of their domestic roles as wives and mothers. The Herstorian is trying to change this. But one way that you can support gender responsive learning is by engaging with primary sources. Contemporary newspapers are a fantastic way of teaching the 19th and 20th centuries. Old books, that you can find via archive.org, offer another window into the past. Social media also gives teachers and publishers the chance to engage with historians working in their respective fields. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions or for recommendations.
4. Make links between the past and the present.
Sometimes, history can feel so far removed that students can’t relate it to their lived experience. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In reality, history offers a brilliant opportunity to reflect on how society has changed over time, and more importantly, how it hasn’t. Take the Industrial Revolution as one example. Many students won’t realise that women’s contemporary dominance in lower-paid and lower-skilled jobs is rooted in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as this was when women entered into industrial professions. The same can be said for the gender pay gap. Making these links not only makes the past more accessible and relevant, but also gets students to think critically about how far we’ve come - and how much work we still have to do.