New Educational Standards Teach Kids That History Contained One Woman


New York State’s Department of Education recently published the state’s new, improved educational standards designed to guide the minds of The Next Generation into a great Sea Of Fact-Knowing so that they may Succeed in the World of Tomorrow (or, you know, in practical terms, the Shit They Will Be Tested On Before They’re Allowed To Graduate). Disappointingly, the “Global History and Geography” portion of the new curriculum only makes mention of one woman. One.

An eagle-eyed tipster familiar with the New York public education clusterfuck system reached out to inform us of this sad state of affairs, which the tipster characterized as being akin to “erasing” women from the world history books. And on the surface, that’s what it looks like the New York Board of Regents does in its outline of Social Studies Curriculum Frameworks for World History, which is taught in grades 9 and 10. Around thirty-five individual men are named as specific historical figures on which students will be tested. John Locke and Deng Xiaoping even get two namechecks. But the only woman in the curricular sausage fest is Mary Wollstonecraft.

As the tipster points out, that means there’s no mention of “Cleopatra, Simone de Beauvoir, Margaret Sanger, Eleanor Roosevelt, CiXi, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Virginia Woolf, either of the Queen Elizabeths of England, Catherine the Great (Isabella of Spain), Evita Peron, Madame Curie.” No Hatshepsut! No Benazir Bhutto! No Joan of Arc! No Rosa Luxemburg or Marie Antoinette!

Now, grain of salt: much of the curriculum outlined by New York’s Framework is broad and concept-based rather than fact and date-based. But even as concepts, gender and women are only mentioned a handful of times, and never after the 19th century. It’s great to know that as women, our experiences and role in global society cease to be important shortly after the time of the American Revolution! Phew! Load off my back!

Just because the the Frameworks don’t mention many women, or that women existed at all doesn’t mean that teachers aren’t allowed to teach material that they believe will augment and round out the standards spelled out by the the Regents. My coworker Kate, who spent her school days in New York City schools, recalls fondly one of her high school history teachers, who had all of the students read Howard Zinn (**~LiE-BeRaL iNdOcTrInAtIoN!~**) and made sure she and her classmates learned the kind of history that gave them a sense of the world beyond smoky back rooms, castles, and battlefields. But when test time came around, all she and her classmates had to know was the relatively skeletal framework set out by the state’s education department.

The way New York’s quirky Board of Regents system operates means that it’s feasible — nay, probable — that thousands of 9th and 10th graders’ academic fates will rest on the passage of a “world history” test that contains only one woman’s name. Regents Exams, which students must pass in order to pass their classes, are only allowed to test on concepts and events spelled out in the Frameworks. And because teachers are under so much pressure to successfully push students through peristaltic test-directed educational bureaucracy or, you know, get fired, a teacher in an underfunded, underserved, and understaffed school would have nothing to lose by omitting in her lesson plans that which is omitted from the Regents exams. Some of these students would then enter their college classrooms with little to no knowledge of how women helped shape history. This is the stuff of History 101 TA nightmares.

Image via Shutterstock

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