Should We Teach Feminism In School?

Today Ileana Jiménez, who blogs as Feminist Teacher, reprinted a letter from one of her students, asking Obama to add feminism to America's K-12 curriculum. Is it a good idea?

One thing's for sure: the kid writes a hell of a letter. She says,

The first problem that I would like to address is the lack of intersectional feminism within education. Feminism is a wonderful example of how all social injustices interlock. In high schools on down in the education system, children are taught modified African American studies. Students are taught an even more limited version of Women's Studies. They learn nothing about the struggles of say a Japanese woman during WWII or of an Ethiopian girl's everyday life.

It is understandable that teachers cannot be expected to cram decades of struggles into 12 years of study. I just feel that there should be more time in the curriculum starting in the lower grades (if they can learn about the slave trade, they can learn about feminism) dedicated to learning about feminism and the goals behind it.

She then outlines a grade-by-grade plan, with basics instilled by fourth grade, history of feminist movements in middle school, and global feminism in high school. And she adds,

Not only women should learn feminism. Men should be involved in this new learning system. It would be very good to dispel the idea that only women are feminist. I think it would be one of the best ways to bring about new thinking and create a better world for everyone.

Teaching feminism in school might indeed be a great way to "bring about new thinking." It could directly challenge the conscious and unconscious biases kids still grow up with (girls should be nice, not assertive; boys are bad at feelings; being pretty is the most important thing), and prepare a new generation of both women and men to fight against inequality. And not just gender inequality — as the student says, feminism (at least at its best) is "a wonderful example of how all social injustices interlock." Learning about the history of the women's movement and how it is relevant today might help make students into good citizens, good human being, and good advocate for all marginalized groups.

Of course, there's always the danger of backlash from the kids themselves. Children are often resistant to adult indoctrination, and if you've ever heard a junior high school kid make fun of a ham-handed sex ed presentation, you know how hard it can be to teach young people about controversial topics. But Jiménez's student isn't advocating that anyone tell kids what to think. She says, "after sixth and seventh grade, students should begin learning about how to cultivate their views, feminist or not" — and a curriculum that at least presented feminism as one possible ideological choice would be better than most today, which don't mention feminism at all.

The sad thing about this is that it will probably never happen. Conservatives cry "indoctrination" when Obama sends kids Christmas ornaments, and there's no way they'd agree to something as pinko and dangerous as feminist ed. In England, a move to educate kids about domestic violence — a far less controversial subject — got its backer pilloried. And in a cash-strapped nation with already-struggling schools, it's unlikely the government can find either the money to train teachers in feminist ed or the class time to introduce the material. A silver lining: if Jiménez has students who propose things like this, maybe there's hope for American education after all.

Letter to Obama: A Call for Teaching Feminism in K-12 Classrooms [Feminist Teacher, via Feministing]