Education in general, and social studies education in particular, have long been concerned with helping students develop attitudes congruent with democratic living. One such area of concern is that of vocational opportunities for women. Goodman (1989) has argued, for example, that our political system has not performed up to democratic standards in regard to opportunities for women in the workplace and contended that it is the role of education to respond to this problem. Giroux (1985) is another educator who has noted the need for schools to challenge students to participate in civic actions which create social, political, and economic opportunities for all people. Ravitch (1989), a more conservative voice in social studies education, has pointed out the need to make students aware of the inequalities that have existed for women and minorities in our culture and the need to challenge students to take corrective actions. Ravitch further believed this challenge could best be delivered through the study of history. "As women, African-Americans, and others whose stories were not told in the past have discovered, history is a powerful tool of liberation. Knowledge is power, and history is the means by which we learn who we are and how we became what we are" (p. 81).
Shamai (1994) believes that gender stereotyping exists "in the education system in particular" (p. 665) and warned that "such stereotyping limits students' future decisions regarding various aspects of their lives, including choice of profession and career development. These stereotypes promulgate a self-fulfilling prophecy, creating a "gender-stratified society" which relegates females to the lower strata. The stereotypes trap both sexes in traditional professions, and thus are inconsistent with the wide range of existing options" (p. 678).
Significantly, many people, including teachers, may assume that younger American students have a less stereotypical attitude toward female gender roles. For example, in the school system where this exploratory study took place, over 90% of the teachers surveyed said they believed middle school students were more flexible in their attitude toward female gender roles than were older groups. Certainly television and school curricula have portrayed more flexible female gender role models to this younger group. Indeed, this generation, more than any other, has seen women participate in a vast variety of vocational roles from business to construction work. However, is the assumption correct that seeing women in these roles has made younger American students more accepting of women in nontraditional roles? This question is important since if it is demonstrated that younger students do not have a more flexible attitude toward gender roles, then teachers should address this problem. Significantly, little research has been devoted to this question.
At the beginning of this exploratory study, seventeen teachers in a Midwest middle school were asked: "Do you think that middle school students in general have more flexible attitudes toward female gender roles than do older generations (21 or older)? For example, are middle school students more likely to expect a woman to be a successful politician or a successful business person than do older generations? Of this group of teachers, 16 out of 17 said they believed middle school students in general do have a more flexible attitude toward female gender roles. Several of the teachers' comments bore out this belief:
Media exposure has made and will continue to make current, as well as future generations more and more aware of the influence of women in the world of work.
Due to the success of the female gender in public offices and the roles depicted on television, the younger generation sees the sexes as equals, in most cases.
Yes, definitely. With women's liberation also came the idea of women's capabilities as far as jobs that were once considered for men only. …