• by Bradley Scott, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • March 2009
It occurred to me that a lot is being said about the need for periods of special observances for Americans of various ethnic and gendered extractions: “Why do we need a Black History Month?” “What purpose is served by acknowledging Hispanic Heritage month?” “Women already have equal rights. Can’t we let Title IX go?”
It is still important to highlight the need for special focus on the conditions of minorities and women regarding social justice, jobs, equality and outcomes because we have not yet reached parity where these groups are concerned. While the issues should be addressed throughout the year, these special observances allow us time to pause, reflect, highlight and assess what has occurred from a historical perspective, what is occurring, and what might occur for the group of focus.
March is National Women’s History Month. The Women’s History Project recently provided some background on the creation of the Women’s History Month observance. An excerpt of an online publication reads as follows (NWHP, nd).
“The Beginning. As recently as the 1970s, women’s history was virtually an unknown topic in the K-12 curriculum or in general public consciousness. To address this situation, the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women initiated a ‘Women’s History Week’ celebration for 1978. We chose the week of March 8 to make International Women’s Day the focal point of the observance. The activities that were held met with enthusiastic response, and within a few years dozens of schools planned special programs for Women’s History Week, over 100 community women participated in the Community Resource Women Project, an annual ‘Real Woman’ Essay Contest drew hundreds of entries, and we were staging a marvelous annual parade and program in downtown Santa Rosa, California.
“Local Celebration. In 1979, a member of our group was invited to participate in Women’s History Institutes at Sarah Lawrence College attended by the national leaders of organizations for women and girls. When they learned about our county-wide Women’s History Week celebration, they decided to initiate similar celebrations within their own organizations and school districts. They also agreed to support our efforts to secure a congressional resolution declaring a ‘National Women’s History Week.’ Together we succeeded! In 1981, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) co-sponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution.
“Overwhelming Response. As word spread rapidly across the nation, state departments of education encouraged celebrations of National Women’s History Week as an effective means to achieving equity goals within classrooms. Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Oregon, Alaska and other states developed and distributed curriculum materials to all of their public schools. Organizations sponsored essay contests and other special programs in their local areas. Within a few years, thousands of schools and communities were celebrating National Women’s History Week, supported and encouraged by resolutions from governors, city councils, school boards and the U.S. Congress.
“The Entire Month of March. In 1987, the National Women’s History Project petitioned Congress to expand the national celebration to the entire month of March. Since then, the National Women’s History Month Resolution has been approved with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Each year, programs and activities in schools, workplaces and communities have become more extensive as information and program ideas have been developed and shared.”
It occurs to me that March would be an excellent month to focus on what is currently happening to girls and boys in public schools. We should spend the month talking about need for greater access for girls to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or the STEM areas in curriculum. We should spend the month focusing on the condition and state of girls and boys in public school as a basis for action and accountability for their school success, graduation, college attendance and completion, and appropriate preparation for life. We should spend the month ensuring that girls and boys understand that they have a right under law (Title IX) to be free from discrimination, including sexual harassment and bullying. We should spend the month talking about women and men who are examples and role models for social and career excellence that our boys and girls can emulate. We should spend the month in our various local communities and schools highlighting local positive examples of women and men who can serve as role models for our girls and boys to aspire to emulate so that they will understand that excellence is not some far-off notion, but is ever close at hand.
Women’s History Month is an excellent time for schools and communities to stop and take stock of how far we have come and what still needs to be done in realizing equal rights for girls and boys in our schools, communities, and society.Visit the National Women’s History Project web site at http://www.nwhp.org/ for ideas and activities for March and throughout the year.
National Women’s History Project. “History of National Women’s History Month,” online (no date).
Bradley Scott, Ph.D., is director of IDRA South Central Collaborative for Equity. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at email@example.com.
[©2009, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the March 2009 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]