With the midterm elections now behind us in New York, a historic election of women has resonated lately with my students and me. The gender biases that the election results’ uncovered dismantled my students’ preconceived notions about both male and female roles. Our recent midterm elections yielded a change in who occupied seats and the issues that were spotlighted. Women were elected in unprecedented numbers to hold state and local seats.
Moving forward, in what ways will our students’ new knowledge about gender bias influence their views?
Dr. Beth Fisher-Yoshida, Director of Columbia University’s Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Master’s program, defines implicit bias as “not being consciously aware of our thoughts, behaviors, and actions.” Thus, we “unthinkingly favor one person/group over another.” As I considered what my nephews wanted for Christmas, I pondered what is appropriate for a male baby, toddler, teenager, and adult. I thought about what they favored. You see, I have no nieces, but six nephews ranging from 20 months to twenty-one years of age. I’m immersed in what males should (insert my biased opinion) wear, participate in throughout the day, watch on TV, and who should be their friends.
I must admit, I have some strong biases about their lifestyles, especially as an educator. But, one thing I try to represent is a steadfast commitment to representing my “Auntie” status. I am aware that I want them to see women in a particular way: one of strength, intellect, independence, kindness, and a commitment to their respective communities. The following are actionable steps to share with our students to encourage a growth mindset in regards to how they see both women and men.
- Reconsider their narratives: My nephews and male students can begin to change the stories they tell themselves as a result of acquired non-traditional gender roles. The Representation Project video, “Rewrite the Story,” shows us the prejudices we place upon female and male students. We must learn to broaden our perspective on the options we provide to our students. In return, they establish new modes of conduct and expectations.
- Redefine how they interact with resources in their respective communities. Students must self-evaluate their opinions. One way in doing so is via written and visual texts. Educators and parents can support this process by ensuring a diversity of texts in the classroom and home. “Teaching Tolerance” offers a Reading Diversity Tool , a checklist to support diversifying reading materials in the classroom. In addition, I have compiled a list of movies, each challenging the representation of female and male gender roles: Hidden Figures, Black Panther, Billy Elliot, Dead Poets Society, Arrival, and Moana. Students should have a pre-discussion on the movies and then evaluate how their opinions changed or remained the same, post-discussion.
- Reevaluate the results of New York City’s midterm election. Our students can learn some interesting soft skills about the city’s midterm election results that could change their perceptions around gender roles. Classrooms should facilitate dialogue using mock scenarios. For example, when having students read aloud plays that portray a male protagonist, students can portray that protagonist as female while thinking about their experiences in a structured, inclusive setting using community circles. They can practice becoming:
Female Students Male Students
The midterm election yields lessons that create more equity in our classrooms. We can begin to become mindful of the tasks and expectations that we have for our students. I recommend that school communities create a bulletin board of women leaders from the November 11, 2018 issue of City and State New York. Let’s have our students see the cross-sections in what makes them poised to become members of their state. Then they can begin to change the stories they tell themselves about what is or is not attainable. Here is a take on what I believe the following representatives teach our students:
- Kirsten Gillibrand: In 2006, after winning a conservative NY House district, she can teach our students about developing a voice and independent judgment.
- Letitia James: As New York State’s Attorney General, she can teach students how to become advocates for their communities. Students can begin to make connections about how we consider current and future generation’ needs.
- Andrea Stewart-Cousins: Has a tremendous capacity to teach students that competency and collaboration are not mutually exclusive leadership characteristics. Stewart-Cousins’ core values are authentic.
- Melissa DeRosa: Confidence is a tenet of her influence in Albany. She is the first woman and youngest person to be Gov. Cuomo’s secretary.
- Alicia Glen: A self starter showing that women can have their own path to a selected discipline.
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: With a win that unseated a powerful incumbent of a Queens and Bronx district, she has proven to be bold and could teach students the benefits of careful, considerate planning. Middle school students will find her approach to politics quite intriguing.
Our students deserve to embody characteristics from the best lessons our society offers. New York City’s most recent midterm election results is the ideal platform for lifelong learning. These lessons must not be limited to our biases. We are a country that fought for our freedoms, without apology. Let’s provide the space for them to change their own narratives. Let’s be just as steadfast and unapologetic in liberating our students’ perspectives and free their minds. In the words of one of my favorite organizations, the United Negro College Fund, “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste.”