Re: kids@work day

avril chalmers (
Tue, 30 Apr 1996 09:55:54 -0400

there was the story of a history teacher in an elementary or junior
>high school (i dont recall which) whose classroom was only decorated with
>pictures of women in history, and books about women in history. Her focus
>was history about/by women. She mentioned in the book that she was only
>doing what had been done (regarding men) throughout the centuries of
>education (history being mainly about/by men.. history classrooms filled
>with pictures of famous men, books by/about men, etc.). >What do you think
>about the way she is teaching?

I wish more teachers were doing the same. The problem with trying to get
people to see that knowledge is socially constructed lies in the apparent
'normality' of men as the subjects of 'history' (as politicians, military
leaders, business leaders etc.) and the ubiquity of men as writers of
history i.e. the historians whose theories and works are reproduced in
distilled form in school textbooks. The same could be said for science as
male produced knowledge (i.e. written by male scientists and about the
activity of male scientists) or of any of the other school subjects. At the
most, the activities of women and women's points of view are a late and
miniscule addition to the house of knowledge. We've all been successfully
socialized to regard the knowledge which we acquired through schooling as
'neutral' and 'objective'. Any suspicion that knowledge production had
something to do with discriminatory social values which determined who was
literate, who got education, whose activities were deemed worthy of notice
and systematic inquiry is difficult to maintain against the sheer
uniformity of belief in 'objective' knowledge. How would it be possible
for students to notice the invisibility of the activities and points of
view of certain social classes, of women, of colonized peoples in what they
are taught is universal knowledge produced by 'objective' minds? The
teacher you mention is doing an important gesture toward questioning the
'obvious'. It then raises the interesting question of how and why this
gesture itself is regarded as a kind of prejudice against the the class of
people (men) whose interests and points of view still occupy the entire
terrain of what is counted as knowledge.

BUT, i think it also defeats the goal of equity in the classroom.
>(I.e., doing exactly what we didn't agree with, double standard).

I think this second concern (which is frequently expressed) rests on a
confusion about the distinction between equality and equity and what
meanings these terms have come to have during the last two decades.
Equality means treating people the same. In specific contexts treating
people the same ensures justice: everyone being entitled to vote, to being
given due process in law, to being assured freedom from unlawful search and
seizure for examples, and to being entitled to these rights regardless of
race, gender, religious beliefs etc. These are universal human rights and
when not fulfilled, recognized as examples of injustice. Equity refers to
treatment which will result in justice or the redress of injustice.
Sometimes treating people 'equally' (the same) will not result in justice.
If, as was the case in education, girls had been steered away from courses
leading to high status/high paying jobs, then equality of access made sense
to ensure that girls did not continue to be limited by social values which
assumed them more suited to 'feminine' roles such as homemaking, childcare,
nursing, low end office work etc. In that case treating girls the same as
boys in the matter of equal access to courses served the ends of social
equity. And along the way many boys learned some homemaking skills.

However, equality of access did not necessarily result in girls actually
choosing to learn trades, or taking higher level mathematics, physics,
chemistry or computer studies. By 1990 female students in British Columbia
represented only 25% of students in Computer 12, 23% of Physics 12, 15% of
Trades Math, 31% of Geometry 12. The sex division is also reflected in the
distribution of female teachers. In 1990/91 the percentage of female school
teachers in Computer Education was 10.6%; in Industrial Art, 1.8%; in
Science, 17.8%; in Maths, 20.9. On the other hand, female teachers in Home
Economics, 93.4%; Languages, 63%; Learning for Living, 55.6% and in other
subjects such as Visual Arts, English, Music, P.E., Social Sciences
represented less than 50% of the number of teachers, a statistic which
reflects that fact that women teachers tend to be clumped in the lower

The studies of researchers such as Sadker and Sadker show that there are
_qualitative_ factors influencing the kinds of education received by
students, that school experiences in the classroom, in hallways, in
counselling, in peer relations and teacher/student relations are gendered
and continue to reproduce the inequality of girls.

To cut to the chase, as they say, the concern about double standard is a
red herring. The issue of treating people the same _means_ something
different in different contexts. When girls/women are excluded from full
participation in society it is an injustice. When boys are excluded from
'girls only' lectures it means that equity is being served by removing from
group interaction the socially learned behaviours of girls, boys, female
teachers and male teachers which tend to make girls act and feel as if they
don't count, shouldn't speak up, etc. etc. Enough from me; back to the

Avril Chalmers
Secondary English teacher and graduate student

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