Chapter 25: Beyond Suffrage: Reconsidering Citizenship Education and Gender in the Social Studies Curriculum

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INTRODUCTION

Women who did not know that others like them had made intellectual contributions to knowledge and to creative thought were overwhelmed by the sense of their own inferiority or, conversely, the sense of the dangers of their daring to be different. Without knowledge of women's past, no group of women could test their own ideas against those of their equals, those who had come out of similar conditions and similar life situations. Every thinking woman had to argue with the "great man" in her head, instead of being strengthened and encouraged by her foremothers. For thinking women, the absence of Women's History was perhaps the most serious obstacle of all to their intellectual growth. (Lerner, 1993, p. 12)

As historian Gerda Lerner suggested in the 1990s, women's intellectual growth has been limited throughout history because women have been missing from the discourse of history. Absence from the pages of history perpetuates a patriarchal system where women appear as inferior and unequal to men. For decades, researchers have noted the omission of significant contributions made by women from social studies curriculum and texts as well as narratives of history (Clark, Allard, & Mahoney, 2004; Commeyras & Alvermann, 1996; Crocco, 1997; Minnich, 1990; Noddings, 2001; Tetreault, 1986; Woyshner, 2002). In addition, when women have received acknowledgement within traditional history, or Thomas Carlyle's "great men" of history approach (Goldberg, Brattin, & Engel, 1993), it has mostly occurred in relationship to how men define women. Noddings (2001) has suggested that this approach to studying women leads to a failure among students to "be impressed by any real female contributions" in history (p. 29).

Feminist scholars have suggested that the marginalization of women's contributions to history and the research from quantitative studies of commonly used textbooks (Clark et al., 2004; Clark, Ayton, Frechette, & Keller, 2005; Commeyras & Alverman, 1996) demonstrate little has changed. When there is an attempt to "infuse" or "write" women into the curriculum, it is often in smaller units covering commonly accepted contexts for women such as the antebellum period (Crocco, 1997; Levstik & Groth, 2002) or the suffrage movement (Crocco, 1995; Cruz & Groendal-Cobb, 1998; Karnes, 2000; Woyshner, 2002). Moreover, social studies curriculum standards developed by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) reflect little emphasis placed on women and gender related topics (Hahn, Bernard-Powers, Crocco, & Woyshner, 2007) even when citizenship education is a primary purpose of these standards. As a key component of the K-12 social studies curriculum, citizenship education enables students to become active and engaged participants in society. More importantly, when history is not gender-balanced, both women and men will continue to perpetuate a patriarchal system that places women at disadvantages in society, and gender equity will never exist.

Given such a context, the focus of this research is a call for all social studies educators to reconsider how the social studies curriculum addresses citizenship education and gender. Some may think the topic of women missing from the discourse of history is a bit antiquated as a familiar theme. However, the fact that little has changed within the social studies curriculum makes this topic even more important for social studies educators to continue to address. If social studies educators support citizenship education, then citizenship rationales for social studies should occur within the context of concern for the presence of women in the curriculum (Hahn, 2002; Kerber, 1998; Makler, 1999; Minnich, 1990; Noddings, 1992). Furthermore, social studies educators need to question what is meant by citizenship in social studies education for the twenty-first century if women continue to be deprived of the knowledge of their history. …