Critically Examining Race-Gender Experiences through History Education Sara Skubal Introduction

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Critically Examining Race-Gender Experiences through History Education

Sara Skubal


As a pre-service History teacher, I am always confronting and challenging different perceptions of significance in American and World history. I am doing my fieldwork in a poverty-stricken region of Southwestern Virginia, where Confederate flags are frequent and racism is pervasive, and I want to critically engage students on issues of social inequality and empowerment. The history we tell tends to be one-sided and Western, highlighted as a progressive march forward, with America at the helm of truth and freedom for all. To some extent, students have accepted this Great White Man narrative and tout men like George Washington as personal heroes, but simultaneously grapple with the shortcomings of this dominant monologue. Every day, I hear students ask about women, people of color, and lower-class individuals in our history that are ignored or forgotten. The reality is that we are not teaching American history as honestly as we should (Loewen, 2007) and millions of students are not granted full historical representation. Students exist in a double bind in which their lived experiences do not match up with the dominant discourse about our own history and our understanding of identity. Teachers are pushed to be race and gender-blind, which ill equips for understanding and critically examining racism and sexism where it exists in society and in the classroom (Stoll, 2013).

I will construct a 90-minute lesson plan, which critically examines race-gender experiences (Lopez, 2002) and the formation of differing lived experiences in history education. This lesson serves to critically engage students with avenues for representation and deeper understandings of the historical forces that structure political and social perspectives held by individuals but also the social studies skills required for students to more fully interact with those forces as empowered agents for social change. This lesson will connect each of the feminist movements throughout American history to modern conceptions of feminism, in addition to how race-gender forces change and adapt over time. I will connect with some SOL objectives and the NCSS theme of “Time, Continuity, and Change”.


I am currently working with a group of individuals with cripplingly low self-efficacy and no understanding of their context or value in the world. My rationale for promoting better self-awareness and empowerment could not be more apparent. These students all have great potential and high intellect, and are continually standing against structural inequalities and placing blame for their situation on themselves, rather than the system they operate and exist in. To critically engage students with those structural inequities and give them the skills necessary to engage as educated citizens (one of the founding principles of social studies education) could not be more crucial or welcomed.

In academia, we place inordinate pressure on student success (as measured by standardized tests) and students themselves are constantly grappling with empty phrases which say they have unlimited potential, with structural realities they face that do not measure up to the false meritocracy we preach. Students will be the leaders to challenge and deconstruct the status quo and will be the forefront of social change, and empowerment must start where they are the most impressionable and this should ultimately serve the purpose of creating peer leaders and mentors to help combat social injustices in and out of the classroom.

Statement of the Inquiry

How do I critically educate students in a unique social, political, and historical context to understand their own race-gender experiences and outlooks? How can I design and implement lessons to engage with students, connect their lived experiences with content, and create a dynamic lesson to allow student participation with the past and present as it intersects?

Discussion of Other Issues

Although I will be pulling from elements of popular culture, I cannot have the space or time to fully analyze the media’s role in race/gender construction and individual identity. In addition, although I seek to empower students individually, I will have to take the race-gender framework, which focuses entirely on structural inequities, rather than individual agency. I cannot break down racism and sexism as one individual. There are dozens of other social inequities (homophobia, immigration rights, pay differentials, achievement gaps and educational attainment, etc.) that cannot be fully fleshed out, but the primary goal of this lesson would be to allow the opportunity to bring issues like these to light in a safe and controlled environment and empower those who may be most directly facing those injustices to feel valued and important, and ultimately kill festering inequities where they permeate within content and social studies education.

As a White, cis-female, heterosexual, able-bodied individual, there is a set of privilege and power that stems from my ability to bring these issues and conflicts to attention, and a certain distance I cannot bridge in reaching these students, due to my position of relative power (adult v. child, teacher v. student, etc.) and social goods (race, heteronormativity, able-body, etc.) allotted to me. My perspectives are situated and partial, just as my understanding of the world is, but I hope to offer avenues to my students to vocalize their situated and partial understandings of their world to allow different perceptions to come into conversation with one another, as it relates to changing conceptualizations of race and gender through critically analyzing certain historical forces and current trends. That being said, I cannot teach all instances of historical injustices or even modern ones and will have to only focus on a few major issues (through the lens of feminism) as it relates from the past to the present.

Key Terms

Objectives: My goals for student learning and “take-aways”. I will be utilizing SOL (Virginia Standards of Learning) objectives and NCSS (National Council for the Social Studies) themes as a framework for the construction of this lesson plan. These objectives may overlap directly with my personal objectives, but will be highlighted by those objectives clearly listed by the SOLs.

Empowerment: For the purposes of this inquiry, is adapted from Venus Evans-Winters understanding of empowerment (2005), which seeks to highlight positive characteristics and attributes within the individual reacting against structural injustices and is strongly intertwined with leadership. Empowerment is the process by which individual self-efficacy, self-worth, and perceptions of individual significance improve and positively change attitudes and dispositions.


The lesson I will create will be a civics/modern government class with a special focus on feminist discourse and current power struggles pivoting around gender and race. I will attempt to connect modern wrestling with binary thought (particularly as it relates to race, gender, and sexual orientation) to historical events, movements, ideologies, and perspectives, which have shaped how America understands and interacts with race and gender as they intersect. I will critically utilize popular culture as one of the vehicles to connect past to present for student understanding as it connects to SOL standards of historical events. In this vein, I will attempt to offer somewhat of a different focus of curriculum away from the dominant “Great White Male” narrative through my feminist perspective in a race-gender framework.

For example, I will use Beyonce (namely her most recent performance in the VMAs), juxtaposed against Emma Watson’s watered-down, White feminist, male-friendly speech proclaiming herself as a feminist (and the subsequent male responses which threatened physical and sexual assault and public shaming) as well as other female cultural icons as they identify or dis-identify themselves as feminist, and ultimately, what students can take away from this conversation. I will directly compare them with female cultural icons of the past (individuals like Clara Bow and Diana Ross) and how history (and historiography) shape present the political and social context by which gender and race can be understood and consumed by American students. In addition to presenting female voices (and taking strides to point out the shortcomings of White feminism and the crucial need for intersectional feminism), I will analyze how gender interacts with race, particularly in terms of various “crises of masculinity” (Morris, 2008) through history in addition to the interaction between both Black and White masculinity juxtaposed against Black and White femininity, particularly in terms of how masculinity and femininity are perceived as diametrically opposed to one another. The lesson will include concrete SOL standards and objectives and encourage student “ownership” of the content to pull their own perceptions of significance with content. I will be conducting primary source analyses, response group and scored discussions, individual journal responses and Socratic method as part of my pedagogical strategies for this lesson and connect the lesson to the NCSS theme, “Time, Continuity, and Change”.

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