Academic journal article Social Education

Once upon a Time: Teaching about Women and Social Justice through Literature. (Women of the World)

Academic journal article Social Education

Once upon a Time: Teaching about Women and Social Justice through Literature. (Women of the World)

Article excerpt

One half of the world's population is female, yet today's social studies curricula continue to understate the experiences of women around the globe. This is unfortunate because learning about women's contributions has important implications for a redefinition of civic participatory action. Including historic accounts of the personal and political challenges faced by women would enable a clearer definition of what it means to be a citizen and participate in the global community. Additionally, studying the connections between social justice and women's political straggles for equity can engage teachers and students both academically and personally.

Teaching about women and social justice through literature helps create profiles of courage and possibilities. Some women who struggled with injustice may have decided that the only solution was to give up or conform. But the narratives of women highlighted in the literature listed below show that time and time again, women have successfully challenged poverty, homelessness, institutional racism, illiteracy, domestic violence, and other social ills.

The life stories of women like Indira Nehru Gandhi (former prime minister of India), Rigoberta Menchu (Guatemalan social activist), Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (Burmese political rights activist), Fannie Lou Hamer (African American voting rights advocate), and Patricia McFadden (Voices for Peace in Israel-Palestine) are examples of just a few women who displayed the tenacity of human endurance in the face of adversity.

Literature About Women and Social Justice

The struggle (against sexism, and for gender equity) has led to a reexamination of gender roles and patriarchal institutions, and a growing awareness of the relationship between sexism and other forms of oppression, such as racism, classism, heterosexism, and ableism. (1)

Today, stories of women's responses to the injustices of everyday life are finding their ways into books that showcase women's engagement in social justice while also attracting readers because the books are well written and engaging.

Despite some positive signs, finding teaching materials to forge a theoretical and historical frame of reference concerning social justice and women for elementary, middle, and secondary grade students can be an overwhelming task.

Frequently, teachers underestimate students' ability to read and discuss controversial issues. We overlook the reality that many children and young adults face these very challenges, euphemistically called "controversial issues," in their personal lives. Offering literature about women and social Justice (2) for children and young adults can facilitate opportunities for students to engage in content that is relevant to their lives. Literature provides a natural opportunity for social educators to engage with these issues.

The NCSS Carter G. Woodson Book Award (3) has honored outstanding literary works surrounding social justice issues on a yearly basis since 1974. A number of the books that received the award have been about women activists from around the world. These books can be shared with students from elementary to high school. (4) What follows is a brief selection of books, both award winners and others, that deal with women and social justice in an age-appropriate fashion.

Elementary Level

Fannie Lou Hamer and the Fight for the Vote, by Penny Colman (Gateway Biographies), (5) documents Hamer's commitment to helping African Americans in Mississippi gain the right to vote in the 1960s.

Honored in 1990 as a Carter G. Woodson Book, Vilma Martinez, written by Corinn Codye (6) and illustrated by Susie Kilgore, describes Martinez's life as a Latina activist and attorney who has fought continuously for civil rights, particularly within the state of Texas.

Madame C.J. Walker: Building a Business Empire (Gateway Biographies), written by Penny Colman, (7) describes how Madame C. …

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