Class Action Opens Up Study On The Roles Of Women

Transformed Curriculum Helps Fight Stereotypes

September 30, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

When asked to draw a picture of a scientist, Cheryl Hack's biology students at Anne Arundel Community College almost always turn in the same image: A man with glasses, frequently with frizzy, Einstein-like hair.

And Ellen Bungay finds that most of her art history studentsalso picture an artist as a man, frequently with odd clothing, oftenbearded.

This tells Hack and Bungay that even in the 1990s most students still view men and women in terms of cultural stereotypes. Hack and Bungay are trying to change that, as are professors in colleges across the country. It's called "curriculum transformation" -- re-shaping courses to emphasize the role of women in science, history, business, arts and letters.

As the fall term begins, several professors bringinto their classrooms lessons in "curriculum transformation" that they began learning at summer seminars held between 1988 and 1990.

The school -- where women make up 60 percent of full-time and part-time students in credit courses -- already offers courses in women's studies.

But English professor Shirley Parry said "the long-term goalis to have not only contributions, but the perceptions of women integrated (into the curriculum) so we wouldn't need a women's studies course."

Hack, a biology professor, has been placing greater emphasis in her classes on the work of women scientists, such as geneticist Barbara McClintock and biologist Lynn Margolis.

McLintock's work "was really underrated until recently," said Hack. She said the two scientists "were not in the textbooks five years ago."

Hack acknowledges that science and mathematics teachers, especially those teachingbasic courses, have less leeway in revamping their courses than, say, a literature teacher.

"In a fundamentals of biology class there are certain things I have to cover," she said.

American studies professor Gregory Segreti said "we spent a lot of time in these (summer) seminars debating" that balance between gender balance and subject matter.

"I don't want to give the false impression that the contribution women have made is tantamount to what men have made," said Segreti.

"But that's not because they weren't capable. That's becausethey weren't in a position to do it."

Bungay makes that point in her art history classes, noting that from the Renaissance through the20th century, women were barred from the academies and apprenticeship systems under which fine artists were trained.

She has struggledto find material on women artists before the 20th century, and is less concerned about slanting the subject in the interest of gender balance.

"I'm more concerned with students coming out with a practical set of skills, learning how to look at and think about art. In thatsense, what you look at is less important. Female artists are just as much a product of their time as male artists."

Segreti revamped his Business in America course for his summer seminar project. Now his students hear lectures on images of women in advertising, the role of women workers in the 19th-century textile mills of Lowell, Mass., and the hazards of household work during the colonial period.

"It raises the question of what other periods of American history have not been covered because it wasn't fashionable to include them," Segreti said.

For example, he said, the same sort of revisions are goingon in exploring the role of minorities, particularly blacks, in American history.

Along with changing the subject matter, some professors are also changing their teaching methods according to an approachlabeled "feminist pedagogy."

The method is designed to encourage more discussion in the class, to place less emphasis on competition among students and more on getting students to understand the subject.

It's called feminist because it is based on the idea that women are less inclined than men to speak up in class, more apt to be intimidated by competition.

The teaching approach also encourages students to express different points of view and accepts the notion that how you interpret material depends a lot on your race, sex, ethnicity and economic level.

To cut through some students' fear of speaking up in class, Hack makes a practice of asking students every few weeksto write about what they've learned and what they don't understand. This way, Hack finds out what material to review in class and the students don't have to openly acknowledge their weaknesses.

"This is from feminist pedagogy, but it may affect some males as well," said Hack. "And that's fine."

Asked if they notice anything different about Hack's methods as compared with other teachers, freshmen Heather Necessary and Jessica Connor -- students in Hack's Fundamentals of Biology class -- looked at each other and shrugged.

"Not that I can tell," said Connor.

"I think she tests us more," said Necessary.

Brannon Busch, a sophomore in the class, said he doesn't notice anything markedly different between Hack's and his other teachers' approach. But he said she "has a good style of teaching . . . She makes things easy to understand."

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