Tag Archives: Women’s History

Gender Bias in High School History

I tried an experiment in my high school World and US History classes that was inspired by Dr. Bob Bain, the highly esteemed professor from the University of Michigan. I have seen Dr. Bain speak several times and was intrigued with an experiment which roughly prompts students with: an alien from another galaxy sits next to you at Starbucks, he/she turns to you and says tell me about the history of your planet.

Since I teach high school sophomores (World History) and juniors (United States History), I couched this approached a little differently because I thought an hour-long writing assignment would be alienating (pun intended). On the first day of school, I asked my students to draw a map of the World or United States from their memory. On the second day of school, I asked my students to list the Top 10 most important events in World or US History. Interestingly, this resulted in 66 events in WH and 65 events in USH. There were no significant differences between classes.

On the third day of school, I tell students that because they exceeded my expectations with the previous assignment I am doubling what I expect from them. I ask students to write down the Top 20 most important people in World or US History. This causes frenzied discussion, as many students struggle to come up with 20 names. I give my students 10 minutes for this task (2 minutes per name). After they are done with their list, I ask them to count up how many men are on the list and compare it to how many women are on the list.

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On average, students in each class period listed 13 men and three women. This generated a nice discussion on the role of gender bias in History. I let my students know that they have a lot of freedom to do inquiry projects and independent investigations in this class, they need to pick the stories they tell carefully. They are responsible for writing history for the next generation. Do they want to continue to under-represent women in high school textbooks?

A 1984 study by M.K TetrealtĀ of US history textbooks revealed that the text allotted to references to women added up to less than one page. A closer look at another book showed that in more than 1,000 pages, there were four illustrations of men for every one of a woman and that less than three percent of the text was about women (Gospe, 2015). As California adopts new textbooks in 2018, I wonder how much these stats have changed?