Women's Studies Courses in Secondary School
Those of us who have experienced a university course in Women's Studies are familiar with the incredible high that can follow from the shared experiences and opening of understanding. Some fortunate women always view the world from a clear women's point of reference, while the majority of us need a guide to understanding our reality or validating our perspectives. My students told me that our class gave them an opportunity to explore feminist thinking for the first time. They did not openly accept the philosophy as their own but several commented, "I never looked at it that way!"

Students are
asking that
such courses
be available.
As educators,
we owe them
nothing less.

The label is irrelevant; the viewpoint is critical. The privilege of middle-class, the arrogance of financial stability, the opportunity of higher education--each of these eludes my students. Most of them are single parents. All were struggling to attain a grade twelve diploma, hoping it would open entry level positions in the world of work for them. They were anxious to model for their children a way of life that did not limit itself to Mothers' Allowance cheques at the end of the month and was not defined by society's negative image of welfare recipients. University is not in their deck of cards.

Some secondary school teachers have attempted to include the women's perspectives in social science courses. English teachers have addressed gender bias in reading material. Guidance counsellors and co-op education have encouraged non-traditional careers. Yet, at the same time women's studies courses are seen as the domain of post-secondary curriculum. My students feel this process keeps young women "in their place" and perpetuates the second-class citizen image they are struggling to leave behind.

Taking this course with me allowed my students to identify their experiences and find voices in which to articulate them. One of our activities as a group was to make presentations to the Canadian Panel on Violence Against Women. My students traveled over a hundred miles in a horrific winter storm to speak out against violence. They talked about raising awareness in the schools. They told their personal stories. Jenna's newly found voice was heard on national television. We also talked about perspective--women's perspective.

Until all students, the gifted and the learner with difficulties, the happy child and the hurting child, the male and the female, have the same opportunity that I have had to see a variety of perspectives as part of my compulsory learning, we will continue to view the world through patriarchal spectacles. My students are asking that such courses be available. As an educator, I believe we owe them nothing less.

The women who informed this study are experts in this field. They remember only too well what they needed as children and were denied. They spoke humbly (for their opinions are not often requested) and courageously as they realized they have an important message to tell. Their words travel with me as I walk the halls of the elementary school where I now work. I try every day to incorporate these stories into the way I think, act and teach. Hurting children cannot articulate their needs; my students have tried to do it for them. Are you listening?

Marie Barton is vice-principal in an elementary school, and has a special interest in women in adult education.

Barton, Marie L. (1991). A Quilted Text: A feminist exploration of violence in the lives of women at an adult education centre. M.Ed. Thesis. Queen's University. Kingston, Ontario.

Gilligan, Carol. (1993). In A Different Voice. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Kirby, S. & McKenna, K. (1989). Experience, Research, Social Change: Methods from the Margins. Toronto: Garamond Press.

Stanley, L. & Wise, S. (1983). Breaking Out: Feminist consciousness and feminist research. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

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