|Lisa Williams (left), Sarah Bair and Meghan Fralinger ’06 strategize on ways to bring women’s history to life in middle-school classrooms.
It’s late summer. Lamberton Middle School, on the southern edge of Carlisle, is quiet. The halls are empty. A lone custodian cleans the carpet in the wide front hall. Chairs rest upside down on desktops in classrooms, and rows of lockers stand empty. Most of the rooms are dark.
Something’s happening, though. Changes are afoot.
Eighth-grade social studies is going down a new road, thanks to a project conceived by a Dickinson professor. Lamberton’s early history of the United States curriculum will include a healthy dose of something that has been largely overlooked in the average textbook: women.
“During recent years women’s history has been blooming on the college level,” says Sarah Bair, assistant professor of education. “But it’s not happening evenly, and it hasn’t percolated down to middle-school and high-school curriculums,” adds Bair, who has first-hand experience.
“For 11 years, I was a high-school history teacher, and the absence of women in our curriculum was so normalized that I often didn’t notice what was missing.
“Looking back, I’m appalled,” she continues. “If this could happen to me, a person who has always been attuned to women’s issues, it could happen to any teacher, anywhere.”
In fact, it does happen. The National Women’s History Project Web site indicates that a woefully low percentage of textbook content has been devoted to women, even in recent years. And while strides have been made to write women back into K-12 history books, the job isn’t done.
To address the problem, Bair has joined forces with Lisa Williams, one of Lamberton’s two eighth-grade history teachers, and Meghan Fralinger ’06, a student teacher in Williams’s classroom this fall. They have launched a project aimed at integrating women’s history into the curriculum.
“It’s a powerful combination,” Bair says. “It’s unusual for a teacher educator, an in-service teacher and a pre-service teacher to come together like this. And it’s an amazing opportunity for Meghan to be helping to write a new curriculum.”
They began the project last academic year by conducting a survey of Carlisle teachers, getting a sense of what they’re teaching and what challenges they face.
“Teachers have a lot on their plates,” Bair says. “You can’t just call them up and say, ‘Here’s something else you have to do ... teach more about women’s history.’ ”
Williams agrees. “Most teachers say they’d like to provide more information about women,” she says, “but they think they don’t have the time or the background to do it.”
The survey helped the trio determine what materials would be most beneficial for the curriculum, while still being user-friendly for teachers.
Next they wrote a curriculum guide and conducted research on resources and materials. Bair completed this over the summer with the help of Williams and Frahlinger, a political-science major who worked as a research assistant on the project.
“We’re including books, Web sites and primary sources, like letters from slave women, for example,” Fralinger says. “For years our textbooks have included military and political history. What that leaves out is social history. Textbooks might contain a politically correct sidebar about a famous woman. But that’s not enough. Teachers need resources and lesson ideas. We’re making the guide easy for teachers to use by putting this information at their fingertips.”
This fall, Fralinger and Williams are testing their guide in Williams’s classroom. And Lamberton’s other eighth-grade history teacher, Michael Gogoj ’05, is happy to be on board, too.
“It’s my hope that students will just think it’s natural to also look at the women’s side of history, without realizing we are doing anything different,” Williams says. “And I couldn’t be happier about working with Sarah and Meghan. We’ve developed a strong relationship.”
Bair says this year will be a good chance for their group to study the effectiveness of their guide from a teacher’s perspective and work out any problems.
“We may then want to publish the guide,” Bair says, hoping that her project can effect change in classrooms beyond Lamberton. “And the three of us may write a practitioner-oriented journal paper for social-studies educators.”
Dickinson has a solid history of working with Lamberton. In 2004, the college’s chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, the honor society in education, began sponsoring a women’s history essay contest for middle-school students, with future teachers acting as the essay judges. And Dickinson students have been volunteering their time a few afternoons each week as tutors and mentors for middle-school students.
“Our relationship with Dickinson is something we value greatly,” confirms Roger Riegel, assistant principal at Lamberton. “This women’s history project is exciting for us.”
To Bair these activities are pathways to leadership. “Dickinson is committed to community partnerships and to service learning. These connections are a big part of that.”