Basic Education Curriculum Needs a Reboot.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I would not miss preparing a post for International Women’s Day.

Feminism has played a large role in my life. I was raised by a single mother who is an unapologetic feminist. Growing up she had a saying for me anytime something unjust happened–it’s because you don’t have testicles. Later, this evolved to “Testicles and Letters” to encourage me to take what was in my control in my hands and get an education. To this day, we still joke about this phrase and I secretly cringe anytime I open a gift from her for finishing whatever academic program I’m working toward, hoping it’s not a pickled or dried animal product.

Growing up she did her best to expose me to female role models succeeding in their fields, ones that are often skipped over by textbooks and media. I am grateful for this, as I know somewhere this made an impact on my self concept and the arbitrary lines we create for our glass ceilings. I feel bad for girls and women who do not have this.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, there was still very little women’s history integrated in the curriculum. My first real exposure to Women’s history was in college. The material to me was shocking because I had no real idea of the depth and breadth of women’s involvement in social, political, academic, and scientific spaces prior. Sure basic educations covers the big items, like property and voting rights, but that was about it.

Recently, I read “Hidden Figures”. This was not the first time I learned of women’s, particularly black women’s involvement as mathematicians in aeronautics and space research. Previously I had read “Rocket Girls” which outlined a similar group of women working in the California Jet Propulsion Lab. However, prior to these books I had no idea of women’s involvement in an important piece of our scientific history.

When I was in school, the only woman scientist we heard about was Marie Currie. After finding out about this huge involvement of women in the sciences and space research, I was angry. Early in my life, I was science driven. I wanted to be a scientist. I was obsessed with infectious diseases. I did not want to be a doctor, but rather a researcher. AND I was fairly gifted in the maths and sciences. But then somewhere around grade 10, I lost my interest. I gravitated towards the arts and have stayed there, at least academically, since.

This switch in girls from maths and sciences is not a new phenomena. This is a topic that has attracted considerable research in an attempt to attract more women into the sciences. While there are probably even more factors at play, a large part is the lack of female role models in the sciences. We need to be featuring more women, not just Marie Currie, in curriculum that women may be able to identify with.

I am happy that we now live in an era where Hollywood has picked up the huge involvement of women in the sciences. I hope Hidden Figures becomes that movie that is a staple in the classroom for years to come.

These role models are needed for more than just attracting women to the scientific fields. This is just the first hurdle in a long series women need to overcome to reach their goals in male dominated fields. While, I studied arts, I did end up in a technical field. Working in Software, I have seen various representation of women, but for the most part, this field is still male dominated. While we are protected legally against some of the ills of discrimination, there are still little aspects in a male dominated field that can put women on the outside. It’s not as noticeable now, but it’s still there. And it’s in times like that that women still need role models to remind them that they can succeed.

Our Curriculum needs a reboot. There are tons of text books that focus on male dominated history in every field. Why not switch and focus on women? The vast majority of history people will run into in other facets of life will be male dominated, so maybe we should make an extra effort to over emphasize women in our basic curriculum to even out the bias.