Gender class makes curriculum cut; work remains
By Adela Talbot
March 07, 2013
What started as a conversation in a Western residence eight years ago will be an elective course in high schools across the province come this fall.
The Miss G Project for Equity in Education, a grassroots organization started by Western students in 2005, had, as its original mandate, the goal of bringing a Gender Studies course to the Ontario secondary school curriculum. With that newly designed course on the agenda this fall, the group’s members are celebrating the victory, while noting there’s work still to be done.
“I was taking this (Women’s and Gender Studies) course then and it was giving me the tools to discuss some of the gender issues I faced in high school,” said Lara Shkordoff, a 2007 Media, Information and Technoculture graduate, one of the students who started the project in 2005.
Classmates and friends likewise expressed having experienced issues stemming from expected gender roles, identities and social expectations while in high school, with some mentioning younger siblings facing similar challenges. A class like the one she was taking in university could have been beneficial in high school, Shkordoff said.
“Kids go through their adolescent life without opportunities to discuss gender, even though it plays an important role in their lives. So, we thought, wouldn’t it be great if high school students were given the option to learn what we were now learning?”
With four new Equity Studies courses as an optional elective – two for Grade 11, two for Grade 12 – students will have the opportunity to learn about and discuss things like gender roles, sexism, power relations, gender-based violence, equity in the workplace, cultural formation, diversity and social justice.
Shkordoff noted a course covering such topics is beneficial to students, not only in providing a venue to discuss issues relating to gender, but also in teaching critical thinking and analytical skills, as well as fostering an informed society.
“Think of the societal impact of this course. If students can go out into the world with an understanding of gender, or violence, maybe we can address some of the issues in society,” she said. “When I was in high school, I would have loved the opportunity for that.”
But the work is far from over, Rebecca Coulter is quick to note.
Coulter, who teaches at Western’s Faculty of Education, has been involved with The Miss G Project from its early days, seeing its mandate go through the channels at Queen’s Park.
“The course is now a component of the Social Sciences/Humanities cluster, but no guidelines are available yet. Are there going to be resources? Is there going to be room in the timetables of high schools for this course? What kind of professional development will be available? Not all teachers will be qualified to teach this course,” she said.
“At one level, I would say this is a very nice victory for the project that they’ve gotten the course on the books. But it might be an empty victory, if we don’t get the guidelines in time to offer the course.”
Coulter added while the number of compulsory credits for high school students is on the rise, this elective would prove beneficial for all.
“It’s one of the defining relationships we have in society – the gender relationship. This course offers some hope for young women to learn confidence, history and for young men to explore various constructions of masculinity. It’s a course that offers a lot of potential – if it’s done correctly.”WHAT’S IN A NAME?
In 1873, Edward Clarke of Harvard Medical School wrote in Sex in Education: or, A Fair Chance for the Girls about ‘Miss G,’ a top student “leading the male and female youth alike.” Miss G, however, died and Clarke explained that this was because “she was unable to make a good brain, that could stand the wear and tear of life, and a good reproductive system that should serve the race, at the same time that she was continuously spending her force in intellectual labor.”
Western students named the project after Miss G as a way of reclaiming her from Clarke, honouring her as a feminist educational pioneer.
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