The importance of Women’s Studies Courses at the Secondary School Level

Each year students in the United States graduate from high school never having learned about the historical contributions of women or the continuing inequality of women in the United States today. Most of those students have completed twelve years of social studies classes that did not include the study of women or other minoritized groups but rather focused on the contributions and discoveries of white men of European ancestry. Therefore, many believe that women (and other minoritized groups) have never contributed anything, other than children, to the development of the United States. Girls are not given the opportunity to see strong historical women and will turn to pop stars and reality television personalities for role models. Boys believe that it was men who carried the load of creating the nation and it prevents them from fully understanding gender discrimination. Each student who graduates from high school should be exposed to gender issues and the history of American women and the way to do this is to, at a minimum, require a woman’s or gender studies course as a requirement for graduation. Women’s studies courses can empower girls, decrease teen pregnancy and bullying, combat gender stereotypes that affect not just girls but also LGBTQ students, end rape culture and can open the door to the understanding of intersectionality, privilege, and oppression.

As a women’s studies teacher I see the impact learning about the contributions of historical women and discussing the current issues facing women has on my female students. However, the course I teach is an elective so only a small number of students are given the opportunity to learn about gender and the role of women in the development of the United States, and the vast majority of those students are female. Boys do not sign up for the course and when scheduled by their guidance counselor will quickly drop the course to pursue more “gender acceptable” courses like technology education or history courses dealing with the study of war. I strongly believe that requiring all students to learn about the history of women, gender roles, media awareness, rape culture, body image, and healthy relationships would benefit both male and female students.  I believe that this would start to change the culture of our schools and the United States that puts white men in a position of power over women and other minoritized individuals and sees women as nothing more than sexual objects to be used for the pleasure of men. Children are bombarded with images promoting gender roles, the sexualization of women, and anti-gay and anti-women terminology in popular culture. At home and school, they receive strong messages about what is acceptable behavior for males and females. All of these messages are detrimental to raising strong girls and is also harmful to boys who are constantly receiving the message that they have to be men and that it is bad to show feminine emotions or characteristics, as well as children whose gender does not fit into the gender binary. “Practically from birth, girls are trained to hate being female, to hate having sexual desires, and to hate other girls. We are constantly pitted against each other and taught to be, as Miss Representation calls it “fighting fuck toys.” We are taught that women are natural enemies.”[1] Boys are also taught to hate their female side and boys who show feminine qualities or enjoy “girl stuff” are often subjected to bullying which is “a specific kind of bullying with the taunts about sexuality designed to tear down boys by associating them with girls and people who are gay…”[2] Many of the social issues that are present in middle and high schools have root in gender issues “Schools struggle to combat bullycides, cyberbullying, and mean girls (and mean boys), all of which are ongoing at alarmingly high rates. These concerns involve homophobia and transphobia, sexism and misogyny, racism and classism; feminists have offered rich analysis about these interlocking systems of oppression for over 40 years” and they can be addressed in a required women’s studies course.[3] Despite the successes of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 70s, there are still people who strongly believe that men should still receive special privileges simply because they are men. A 2010 study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that “people around the world say they firmly support equal rights for men and women, but many still believe men should get preference when it comes to good jobs, higher education or even in some cases the simple right to work outside the home.”[4] Women’s Studies curriculum in secondary schools can help students question privilege and oppression and will open the door to more analysis of studies like that done by the Pew Research Center. Currently, Women’s Studies classes are more common at the university level than in K-12 education and “for many students, it is in their postsecondary education that women’s issues are studied for the first time…women’s studies often provide a perspective that is foreign to most students because they have been conditioned and taught to view historical, economic, and sociological events primarily from the position of men… Unfortunately, the opportunity to consider a different perspective is still only available to a select few, because most academic programs do not require women’s history or studies.”[5]  K-12 curriculums need to be revised to include the study of women and gender and incorporate specific women’s studies courses at the secondary level.

Women’s Studies courses provide a safe environment to explore issues related to women, gender roles, gender identity, sexual orientation and the intersectionality of race and class. Most Social Studies courses fail to included intersectionality as well multiple perspectives of historical events and social justice. “Women’s studies classes can offer high school students a way of expressing social justice interest and ways of looking at how different forms of oppression intersect. Women’s studies are not just about looking at the history and interests of women. It’s about looking at the world as different intersecting forms of oppression and what can be done to address these issues.”[6]  Girls need to see themselves reflected in their studies before they reach college to provide them with positive role models and to counteract the ways girls are marginalized by public schools. “Research demonstrates that the conscious integration of women into the social studies curriculum, the use of sex-equitable materials, and offering women’s studies and women’s history courses can all have positive effects on students’ attitudes towards gender roles, equity, and personal empowerment.” [7]

All students, regardless of their gender identity or biological sex, will benefit from taking a women’s studies course. Girls will become more confident and proud of being a woman when they learn about the historical contributions of women who helped develop the United States and when they are given the ability to discuss the issues that they face every day. “If younger women and girls are exposed to feminist ideals—that it’s okay to speak your mind, that you’re more than what you look like or what the opposite sex thinks of you, that being politically and socially engaged is a good thing—they’d not only avoid a ton of personal turmoil, but they’d also be more likely to be out there making the world a better place for other women.”[8] Additionally, the skills girls gain in a Women’s Studies course will make them better leaders, more confident and will encourage more girls to enter traditionally male-dominated fields such as science, mathematics, and engineering. Boys who take Women’s Studies courses also benefit because it makes them more aware of the various modes of gender discrimination and asks them to look at American history and pop culture through a feminist lens while doing this they become more respectful of women and therefore better men. If the goal of Women’s Studies courses is to change men and the patriarchal society than men must be included and “rather than simply constructing men as the oppressors, it allows us to explore the varieties of masculine experience, both hegemonic and non-hegemonic. This more complicated view of men is in keeping with Women’s Studies’ attempt to account for the diversity of human experience. By thematizing the harms associated with both hegemonic and non-hegemonic masculinity, both more and less privileged males can better see that they have a personal investment in addressing gender issues.”[9] This allows for more in-depth discussion of manhood and allows for more than one interpretation of what it means to be a man and allows for discussion of how masculinity impacts women. Both male and female students want to understand the relationship between the binary genders and this also allows for the exploration of other gender identities. Including discussions on masculinity and male gender roles allows for a more in-depth discussion of homophobia because “proving that one isn’t gay is a ubiquitous and painful experience for adolescent and college-age males. Opening up this painful experience as a socially constructed male rite of passage, helps straight students, male and female, better recognize their investment in addressing homophobia and understanding why they should work, in solidarity with gay men and lesbians.”[10] Males need to understand that gender equality is actually good for men too. It will free them from strictly defined gender roles and allow them to embrace their whole selves and be a complete human being rather than a stereotype of masculinity. When boys have the opportunity to see women as more than an object of their affection or a trophy to win it will help to end the culture of violence against women and LGBTQ people that is so prevalent in the United States today, particularly on college campuses. “When kids are armed with their own voice, their own autonomy, their own sense of self and space in the world, bullies become irrelevant. Girls stand taller because they learn they don’t have to accept what’s been assigned to them; boys stand taller because they know being a man has nothing to do with wearing a “tough guise” and, in fact, is the exact opposite of being a bully, be it toward girls or other boys. Being a man means being strong, indeed, strong enough to stand up for what is right for themselves and others. Not only that but also to allow others the right to do the same.”[11]

The curriculum for a required Women’s Studies course at the secondary level must include discussions of gender and gender identity, gender roles, the intersectionality of race, class, age, sexual orientation and other categories with gender, privilege and oppression as well as the history of the suffrage and feminist movements, social literacy and media awareness. It must ask students to think critically about how gender is defined and how gender roles are promoted in our society. Once students understand gender, gender identity, privilege, oppression, and intersectionality than the class can move on to learn about the work of women to achieve equality and where work still needs to be done. A more in-depth study of current issues facing women, men, and the LGBTQ community will allow students to apply their knowledge to real-world problems. “A curriculum might cover; public spaces, including catcalling, attitudes to dress and the threat of sexual violence; online spaces and harassment; sex and relationships, including domestic violence and yes, affirmative consent; and work, including discussions of equal pay, work-life balance, discrimination and unconscious bias. And it couldn’t hurt to remind students that women’s rights to vote, own property, study, practice professions, and control their own fertility were won by a series of colossal struggles.”[12] Students must be taught to analyze images that are presented in media and popular culture that shape “our notions about beauty, relationships, and sexuality”[13] Students also need to practice the skills of analytical reading, persuasive writing, debate, effective communication of ideas, critical thinking and application of skills and knowledge to real-world scenarios within the Women’s Studies course.

The inclusion of a required Women’s Studies course at the secondary level will be beneficial to both female and male students on many levels and may address many of the social issues faced by today’s teenagers, including sexual violence, teen pregnancy, and bullying. The course will provide male students the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of their female peers and will challenge them to think about masculinity and how our cultural definition of what it means to be a man is, in fact, harmful to women. This will encourage them to make their own definitions of manhood that do not include the oppression and sexualization of women. Female students will finally be given the opportunity to learn about the contributions of women in the development of the United States and to feel that they are not alone in their struggles against discrimination, strictly defined gender roles and negative cultural images of women. Girls will be stronger and boys will be better men for having taken a Women’s Studies course.

 

 

 

[1] A, Paris. “Why We Need Women’s Studies Classes in High School.” Web blog post. Thefbomb.org. N.p., 7 Apr. 2014. Web. 2 June 2016.

[2] Elliot, Nicole Lusiani. “A Lesson Learned in Raising Boys by Teaching Women’s Studies.” Web blog post. Nicole Lusiani Elliot. N.p., 12 May 2010. Web. 2 June 2016.

[3] Jimenez, Ileana. “Teaching Feminism in High School: Moving from Theory to Action by Ileana Jimnez.” Teaching Feminism in High School: Moving from Theory to Action by Ileana Jimnez. Feminist.com, n.d. Web. 20 June 2016.

[4] Ojalvo, Holly Epstein. “Do You Believe in Equal Rights for Women and Men?” The Learning Network Do You Believe in Equal Rights for Women and Men Comments. The New York Times, 2 July 2010. Web. 2 June 2016.

[5] Cruz, Barbara C., and Jennifer L. Groendal-Cobb. “Incorporating Women’s Voices Into the Middle and Senior High School History Curriculum.” Education Abstracts [EBSCO]. EBSCO, 2 Apr. 2010. Web. 20 June 2016.

[6] Laura. “Where Would I Be?” Web log post. Fighting with the Sky. WordPress, 8 Feb. 2010. Web. 2 June 2016.

[7] Baxter, Noel, Laura Sproul, Kerry Kelly, and Jill Franco. “Teaching About Women in Social Studies:Empowerment for All.” Social Science Docket(Summer-Fall 2006): 16-19. Education Abstracts [EBSCO]. Web. 20 June 2016.

[8] Valenti, Jessica. “Should Feminism Be Taught in Schools.” Web log post.The Frisky. SpinMedia, 25 Aug. 2008. Web. 2 June 2016.

[9] Berila, Beth, Jean Keller, Camilla Krone, Jason Laker, and Ozzie Mayers. “His Story/Her Story: A Dialogue About Including Men and Masculinities.” Feminist Teacher 16.1 (2005): 34-52. Education Research Complete [EBSCO]. Web. 20 June 2016, 40.

[10] Berila, 40.

[11] Elliot, blog.

[12] Dodson, Bryn. “Teach Feminism in High School.” Web log post. Tremr. N.p., 2014. Web. 2 June 2016.

[13] Issadore, Michelle. “Why Sex Ed Needs to Start in Elementary School [Opinion].” Noodle. The Noodle Companies, 11 Sept. 2015. Web. 2 June 2016.

My Philosophy of Teaching

Recently, I was asked to write my philosophy of teaching for a program I applied to so I decided to share it here, as I have been working on my new philosophy and how to incorporate it into my United States History 1 Courses. So Here it is:

Philosophy of Teaching

 Throughout the course of my teaching career, my philosophy of teaching has continued to develop and has led to the decision to teach for social justice. I have spent many hours researching and thinking about what this means. Teaching for social justice, to me, means that we recognize that oppression exists in our world and work in our classrooms to disrupt the cycle of oppression.  As teachers, we have many opportunities to help students identify oppression and privilege, understand oppression’s many forms, think critically about who makes decisions in our nation and who benefits and who is hurt by those decisions. We ask students to think critically about whether a policy or action is fair and to think about alternatives to those policies and actions. In addition, teaching for social justice means that teachers connect the curriculum to student’s lives, present multiple perspectives, use authentic assessments, present real-world problems that connect to the curriculum, and foster a classroom culture that is safe for students to express their opinions without ridicule.

In order to fully understand our history, we must hear the voice of all the people living in the nation, analyze primary sources, identify the bias in sources, analyze the motivations behind actions of the United States, and determine the significance of events for all.  Students must also be able to understand the connection between their lives and events in the nation’s history so that they can understand the importance of their actions to the nation’s future. My job as an educator is to teach students the skills that they will need to be successful historians, provide a safe atmosphere that fosters frank discussion of difficult topics, present multiple perspectives, assist students in becoming better writers, and encourage curiosity.

In my United States history and civics courses,  I have found resources that present multiple perspectives not found in the textbook. I focus on teaching students the skills to analyze primary sources, recognize bias, and think critically about each source. My students read multiple primary sources throughout the course from American leaders, Native Americans, African Americans, Women, and Immigrants. I feel that the best way to understand history is through primary sources.  Students also look at stereotypes and how they affected people throughout history and today. As a class we analyze current events and discuss them, the students are required to participate in debates and discussions and deliver speeches on the Constitution. They also do projects to connect historical events to current events. Students conduct a lot of research, use close reading techniques and are asked to think critically about historical and social justice issues. I believe that my students leave the classroom at the end of the course having practiced skills that will not only benefit them academically but also encourage them to see multiple viewpoints. They have been encouraged to have an open mind and to analyze current events with a historical and social justice perspective. They also leave my classroom believing that they can make a positive change in the world and in their community.

Summer 2016

This summer I was lucky enough to attend seven workshops and institutes starting with Fort Ticonderoga’s Annual War College of the Seven Year’s War and Colonial Conference for Educators that have had a significant impact on my teaching and understanding of United States history. It has taken me a long time to analyze all that I have learned and to incorporate it into my teaching. The Colonial Conference was wonderful and very eye-opening as it focused on Race and Slavery in the colonial period. All of the presenters focused on slavery and were excellent but the presentation by Kristin Gallas was the most meaningful for me. She focused on the teaching of slavery and race in the classroom and really gave us a new understanding of how best to do this since it can be such an emotional topic for some of our students. It is often difficult for teachers who are white to talk about slavery, race and discrimination particularly with the minoritized groups who are deeply affected by these topics. Her advice was to discuss the topics in a way that is open, honest and inclusive. She gave us examples of primary sources that we could use in our classroom that can help initiate these discussions.  She presented race as a social construct invented by people to categorize the “others” and that race has become legislated and adjudicated. She spoke about how we define our identity which includes: community region, education, class, race, religion, ethnicity, nation, and family. She then went on the talk about our how our personal narratives affect our perception of the world.Then she gave us scenarios about teaching slavery and race and had us break out into small groups to discuss them. This was really powerful because most of the teachers in the room were white and had never really thought about their race before.

During the spring I participated in a professional development opportunity at the high school where I work that was taught by one of my colleagues which gave an overview of LGBTQ history and how as teachers we can make our classroom a welcoming and safe place for LGBTQ students. Traditionally American history has been focused on the history of the dominant group which was white and male. It has traditionally been exclusive of those not in the dominant group but particularly those whose gender identity or sexual orientation are not considered mainstream by the dominant group. This course gave me ideas about how to incorporate LGBTQ history into my United States History courses. In addition to this professional development opportunity, I also took a graduate course entitled Gender, Power, and Privilege. The course covered several topics including Critical Social Justice Theory, Critical Thinking, Oppression, Privilege, Racism and Race issues, Sexism and Gender Issues, Homophobia and LGBTQ issues, and Social Class Divisions. The course asked us to learn about our own privilege and how it impacts others. We were also asked to analyze modern issues related to race, gender, and social class. This course has really changed how I think about United States history and how events in US History have impacted minoritized groups. The course has prompted me to completely change how I teach US History. I have rewritten the curriculum to include a focus on the impact that historical events have on people both those in positions of privilege and those in minoritized groups.

Once school was out I traveled for two and a half weeks attending teacher institutes, workshops and visiting historic sites around New England and Upstate New York. My first institute was at Fort Ticonderoga and focused on the British perspective of the American Revolution. We spent a week  learning about the American Revolution” from the point of view of the British, German allies, and Loyalists while learning about the pivotal role Ticonderoga and the Champlain-Hudson corridor played during the 1777 campaign.” (From the Institute Description) In the United States, the American Revolution is presented in classrooms from only the perspective of the American colonists fighting for independence and the British are portrayed as oppressors. This institute expanded my understanding of the American Revolution from the perspective of those who fought the Americans during the War, including Loyalists and British and German soldiers and I have incorporated an opportunity for students to analyze various perspectives of the Battle of Saratoga into my curriculum through a Social Studies lab, which was posted on the Fort’s website. wendy20social20studies20lab-saratoga

After my week at Fort Ticonderoga I had a few days before I had to be in Rochester, New York so I was able to visit some historical sites and also had the opportunity to see a friend who lives in New York. My first stop was Stillwater, NY where I visited the Saratoga Battle Monument and toured General Philip Schuyler’s summer home. I also stopped at the Saratoga Battlefield Visitor’s center to use their database to research two New Hampshire men who served with the Americans at the Battles of Saratoga. One of whom was a freed African American from my new hometown and is someone I hope to spend much more time researching. I then went to Albany to catch up with a friend. The next day I traveled to Rome, New York where I visited the Oriskany Battlefield and Fort Stanwix. Fort Stanwix is run by the Parks Service and has a wonderful museum and was an interesting contrast to Fort Ticonderoga. The next morning I headed to Rochester, NY for my next teacher institute but made a few stops along the way. My first stop was at the cabin or Baron Von Steuben, who was a volunteer that served with the Continental Army and was pivotal in turning the ragtag group of colonists into a well-trained fighting force. After the war, the Congress granted him a land grant in New York where he could retire. Steuben built a humble cabin and after his death was buried on the property in a modest grave, which was moved to house his remains in a large decorative tomb, against Steuben’s wishes.

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My next stop on the trip to Rochester was at a place I have always felt a particular draw to, Seneca Falls, New York, home of the first women’s rights convention and one of my heroes, Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The National Parks Service runs the Women’s Rights National Park which operates the Wesleyan Chapel, where the Seneca Falls Convention was held, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home and the M’Clintock House, where the convention was planned. It was a breathtaking experience for me to visit the sites associated with the beginning of the women’s rights movement because I have been teaching about the Seneca Falls Convention for 17 years. The Stanton home was undergoing restoration when I visited and it did not have many furnishings but it was awe-inspiring!

I attended a week-long National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks Institute entitled the Rochester Reform Trail, “focusing on Rochester’s iconic 19th century technological, economic and reform landmarks. In the early nineteenth century, Rochester was at the center of a national effort to reform American society. National figures like Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and Charles G. Finney made Rochester their home and turned the frontier boomtown into an epicenter for progressive thought and action. Working alongside nearby leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton of Seneca Falls, they led the nation in the battle against long-entrenched notions of racial and gender inferiority. More than 150 years later Rochester’s landscape is still marked by their efforts.” (From the institute description). In the mornings we attended lectures by leading scholars focusing on  the reform movements and why Rochester became the center of the efforts to reform American Society. In the afternoon we went on field trips to important sites in Rochester and nearby areas including the Aqueduct in Rochester; Mount Hope Cemetery where Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony were buried; the University of Rochester Special Collections Library; a boat ride on the Erie Canal; Seneca Falls; and Susan B. Anthony’s home. In the evening we were free to explore the area and we took advantage of the wonderful wineries and breweries in the region and visited other historical sites in the city. This institute also inspired me to rework the United States History 1 curriculum to incorporate the experiences of marginalized groups including African Americans, Native Americans, Women, and Immigrants. This primary source resources given to and made available to us during this workshop were extremely helpful in rewriting the course. Not only was the institute helpful to me as a teacher but I found in personally inspiring and met some of the most amazing people who have become good friends.

From Rochester, I drove to Deerfield, Massachusetts to observe the first few days of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association’s National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks Institute entitled Living on the Edge of Empire which “places the Deerfield Raid of 1704 in the broader context of the history of colonial New England. Workshop scholars will explore global issues while also considering ways in which this history can offer a compelling entry point for teaching the complexities of the early American colonial period and the many cultural groups who comprised it -Native nations, enslaved African Americans, the French and English settlers.” (From the institute description) Though I do not specifically teach the 1705 raid on Deerfield I do teach about colonial conflicts with Native Americans and the French. The Deerfield Raid was done as part of the Queen Anne’s War. The lectures by Professor Kevin Sweeney described the reasons why there was a conflict between English settlers and Native Americans, the Native American role in the French and English conflicts, and why frontier settlements were in danger of attack by Natives. This overview will provide a better context for these conflicts for my students. I am going to be including much more information on Native Americans in my United States 1 course, in order to provide a more well-rounded look at the history of the United States.

After a couple of days at Historic Deerfield, I went home for a day before heading to Boston to attend a three-day workshop at the Massachusetts Historical Society on Women in the Era of the American Revolution. We studied female soldiers, spies, camp followers and those who kept the home front going throughout the war. We went on field trips to Old North Church, the Paul Revere house and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The most impactful activity we did was a workshop that the Old North Church does with students called Sacred Seats which asks students to think about the social implications of pew ownership and location in the church building. The education staff at Old North uses primary sources related to the purchase of church pews to guide students in understanding the social hierarchy within a colonial church community. They then guide students in a discussion about social class and discrimination in the United States today. It was a very powerful experience for us even as adults and was something we talked about for the rest of the afternoon.

After this workshop, I attended a one-day Teaching American History seminar on the Civil War sponsored by the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University. The professor spent the first part of the morning dissecting primary sources related to the lead-up to the American Civil War. The latter part of the morning was spent on analyzing primary sources related to the Civil War itself and the afternoon was spent discussing primary sources related to the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War. The pace of the seminar moved quickly but I gained a much better understanding of not just the primary sources but also the Civil War, itself.

The final summer professional development opportunity for the summer was a Teaching American History weekend Colloquium on the Vice Presidency and Presidency of John Adams in Quincy, Massachusetts. The weekend was an in-depth study of John Adams the man and the politician. We also visited the tombs of John and Abigail Adams and John Quincy and Catherine Louisa Adams at the Church of the Presidents in Quincy. I also toured the three homes associated with the Adams family in Quincy, including the home John and Abigail retired to, Peacefield.

All of these professional development experiences have made me really look at how United States history is taught in schools and led me to revise my United States history 1 course to be more inclusive and to challenge students to look at the impact our nation’s history has had on minoritized groups.

 

 

Institutionalized Racism

Racism in North America is “white racial and cultural prejudice and discrimination, supported by institutional power and authority, used to the advantage of Whites and the disadvantage of people of Color.” (Sensoy, 101) This definition explains that racism is institutionalized in the United States and Canada in the structure of government and the creation and enforcement of laws, the education system, and the financial system. It systematically benefits White people, at the expense of people of Color. This system perpetuates privilege and stereotypes.

However, the institutionalized nature of racism is never discussed in our country. We like to pretend that once slavery ended we got rid of all elements of institutionalized racism and that only individual racism still exists. However, we forget the period of Jim Crow and the continued disparity between Whites and Black in the country today. This belief leads to the construction of an individual binary—one is either racist or not racist. (Sensoy, 102) We have stereotypes of those who are racist as being uneducated, ignorant, older, southern and flies a Confederate flag. The not racist folks are educated, open-minded and progressive. (Sensoy, 102) In reality, we all have prejudices and though individuals who hold racist beliefs are discriminatory and occasionally violent, the racism that is most damaging is institutional and widespread. The American focus on individualism helps to obscure institutional racism because we believe that everyone’s success or failures hinge on hard work and not privilege or oppression. In reality, it is much easier for a White person to move up the economic ladder and then it is for a person of Color. This often is based on white privilege rather than just a strong work ethic. The statistics further prove there is institutional racism: 27.2% of Blacks live in poverty compared to only 9.7% of Whites. The median family income for Whites in the United States in 2014 was $59,754 compared to $34,416 for Blacks and 72.9% of Whites own their own homes while only 43.5% of Blacks own homes. (Luhby, Tami Y. “5 Disturbing Stats on Black-white Financial Inequality.”CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 21 Aug. 2014. Web. 06 June 2016.) In addition to economic inequality African American men are much more likely to be incarcerated. “The Justice Department projects that one in three black males born in the twenty-first century is expected to go to jail or prison at some point during their lifetime.” (Stevenson, Bryan. “The Rationalization of Racial Injustice.” Sojourners. Sojourners.net, 20 Jan. 2016. Web. 06 June 2016.) In addition to the incarceration rates “black males are three times more likely to be stopped by police and have their cars searched than White males, although White males are four times more likely to have illegal substances in their vehicles.” (Sensoy, 106) Other areas of society have racial disparities too including schools and health care. All of this makes it extremely hard for people of Color to get ahead in the United States and even translates into shorter life expectancies for people of Color.

The dominant group refused to acknowledge these institutionalized forms of oppression and would rather blame the victims. “If we are White we swim with the current and if we are a person of Color we must swim against it. (Sensoy, 101) When we swim with the current it is harder to see institutionalized racism than for those who swim against it every day. It is not until we put ourselves in other people’s shoes that we can understand how the system works against people of Color. We must listen to the experiences of people of Color and learn from them.

Economic Disparities Today and Historically

There is a huge wealth gap in the United States today between Whites and people of Color as well as between the rich and the working –class. The gap between Whites and people of Color exists because of historic and systematic discrimination as well as discriminatory laws, policies and court decisions throughout the nation’s history and today. The wealth gap between the rich and the working class exists because of laws that protect companies over workers, ever growing profits, the continued growth of productivity, the shipment of working class jobs overseas and the stagnation of wages in the last 30 years. The “institution of the state, influenced by the economy, creates a social class stratification system that is increasingly divided.” (Lui, Meuzhu. “Doubly Divided.” The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2011. 100-07. Print, 100.) The wealth of Whites is ten times more than it is for African Americans and the rates of homeownership are significantly higher for whites than it is for families of Color. (Lui, 101). The wealth of the rich continues to climb while the wealth of the working class continues to decline.

“Throughout history, federal policies—from constructing racial categories, to erecting barriers to asset building non-whites, to overseeing transfers of wealth from non-whites to whites—have created the basis for the current racial wealth divide.” (Lui, 107). While all  minoritized groups face barriers to wealth and discriminatory laws and policies that prevent them from accumulating wealth, Native Americans and African Americans have faced incredible discrimination and have been blocked at every  turn from accumulating wealth and from maintaining their land and other property. Native American tribes believed in common land ownership because the land and its resources benefited everyone in the community but when the Europeans arrived they brought with them the idea that land must be individually owned and should be used to create personal wealth for landowners. Europeans settlers quickly worked to amass land from the Native Americans and that need to conquer land continued throughout American History. As westward expansion began the Americans knew that for it to be successful they would need Native lands for whites to settle on. The federal government began to force Native Americans off their lands and to sign advantages treaties with the United States government. In 1862 the federal government instituted the Homestead Act which gave white settlers 160 acres of land if they lived and farmed on it for five years. They used violence against Natives to obtain much of that land. The federal government set up a “trust responsibility” with Native Americans so that “money from the sale of land or natural resources was to be placed in a trust fund managed in the best interest of the Indian tribes.” (Zui, 102) However, the federal government so mismanaged the money that there was very little left to actually help Native tribes and of course the Native Americans had no recourse when they realized how badly the funds had been mismanaged. In 1953 the trust was terminated by the federal government, “while the purpose was to free Indians from government control, the new policy exacted a price: the loss of tribally held land that was still the basis of some tribes’ existence. This blow reduced the remaining self-sufficient tribes to poverty and broke up tribal governments” (Lui, 102) In 1887 the Dawes Act forced Native Americans to assimilate into white culture by giving up their hunting and gathering lifestyle and participating in formal agriculture. Any “surplus” land was sold to whites and the Native Americans never say any profit from the sale of lands. (Lui, 102) “Thus, over a 200-year period, U.S. government policies transferred Native Americans’ wealth—primarily land and natural resources—into the pockets of white individuals. This expropriation of vast tracts played a foundational role in the creation of the U.S. economy.” (Lui, 102) Though some modern court rulings have allowed a small number of tribes to build casinos the loss of the land, the decimation of Native peoples and the destruction of tribal governments and traditional ways of life can never be compensated and the Native American population today still faces disproportionate poverty. (Lui, 102)

African Americans have faced a similar fate throughout United States History. “From the earliest years of European settlement until the 1860s, African Americans were assets to be tallied in the financial records of their owners. They could be bought and sold, they created more wealth for their owners in the form of children, they had no rights even over their own bodies, and they worked without receiving any wages. Slaves and their labor became the basis of the wealth creation for plantation owners, people who owned and operated slave ships, and companies that insured them. This was the most fundamental wealth divides in American history.” (Lui, 103) After the Civil War, the Freedman’s Bureau was created to help newly freed slaves get on their feet by providing them with education, clothing, food and in some cases land taken from whites. However, after  the Freedman’s Bureau was shut down seven years later much of the land given to formerly enslaved people was returned to whites. (Lui, 103) There were very limited economic opportunities for the newly freed so many turned to sharecropping, which continued to keep them in a state of poverty. After the 1883 ruling of the Supreme Court overturning, the 1875 Civil Rights Act many African Americans left the south to look for opportunity in other parts of the nation. Many did not find the opportunity they were looking for and those that did often faced violence at the hands of whites and even state and local governments. Entire black communities were targets and many black business owners lost everything. Any progress made by African Americans was lost during the Great Depression and while whites benefited from the New Deal, African Americans did not. Domestic and Agricultural work was not included in the Social Security program or minimum wage and unemployment laws. After World War II many whites were able to move to the middle-class thanks to programs like the GI Bill of Rights and home buying programs. These did not benefit most African Americans because they were not accepted into many colleges and universities and home loans were not given out to those who wanted to purchase a home in black neighborhoods. (Lui, 104) “These are the invisible underpinnings of the black-white wealth gap: wealth largely but inhumanely created from the unpaid labor of blacks, the use of violence often backed up by government power—to stop black wealth-creating activities, tax-funded asset building programs closed to blacks even as they ,too, paid taxes. The playing field is not level today.” (Lui, 104)

We have the notion in this country that if you work hard you will get ahead and be able to move up the socio-economic ladder but that is just not true today. At one time is was true, as productivity grew between the 1820s and 1970s so did wages which allowed working-class individuals to purchases consumer goods that were the trappings of the middle-class. However, after 1970 things began to change. While productivity and company profits grew real wages were stagnant. “The real hourly wages of a worker in the 1970s was higher than it is today. What you could get for an hour work, in goods and services, is less now than what your parents got. “ (Wolff, Rick. “Capitalism Hits the Fan.” The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2011. 108-11. Print, 109) Company profits have gone wild in recent years and has created the largest economic disparity in this country since slavery. Many Americans are working second and third jobs to make ends meet and most families are dual income. This leads to exhaustion, illness and the need for a second family car and daycare for children, which is very expensive. To pay for all of those things working class Americans have turned to borrowing money and using credit, which only increases the wealth of the already rich who own financial institutions.  The profits made by companies is now being used to purchase the presidency and the votes of members of Congress. The Supreme Court recently ruled that companies are people and therefore can contribute to and in essence control the political process of the nation.  “.. you can’t have a real democracy politically if you don’t have a real democracy underpinning it economically.” (Wolff, 111)

 

Understanding the creation of Race

“When European explorers in the New World “discovered” people who looked different than themselves, these “natives” challenged then existing conceptions of the origins or the human species and raised disturbing questions as to whether all could be considered in the same “family of man”.” (Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. “Racial Formations.” The Social Construction of Difference and Inequality. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2011. 19-29. Print, 20) The idea of racial groupings became popular during the period of European colonization in North and South American, Africa and Asia and began in 1775 with the work of Carolus Linnaeus in which he described 5 human races. Defining racial labels allowed for Europeans to enslave native populations and later people from the continent of Africa. “The exportation of property, the denial of political rights, the introduction of slavery and all other forms of coercive labor, as well as outright extermination, all presupposed a worldview which distinguished Europeans—children of God, human beings, etc.—from “others”. Such a worldview was needed to explain why some should be “free” and others enslaved, why some had rights to land and property while others did not . Race, and the interpretation of racial differences, was a central factor in that worldview.” (Omi, 20) The idea of race was supported by science until more modern times when scientists determined that faulty science was used to determine race. (“Understanding Race.” YouTube. YouTube, 03 June 2014. Web. 02 June 2016.) Cultural anthropologist, Franz Boaswas, was instrumental in proving that there is no connection between race and culture and that no one “race” is superior to another. (Omi, 21)

As it turns out “race is fiction” and that there is not “enough evidence in the human race to categorize anyone as a subspecies.” (“Understanding Race”) I particularly liked the analogy in the film of the cat. Cats come in many different colors and patterns yet they are all the same subcategory, cat. (“Understanding Race”) The film goes on to explain that, much like the cat, the differences in humans is superficial and that the reason we look different from one another is due to “purely random genetic mutations”, new genes that are introduced through trade and the conquest of other areas, and evolutionary adaptations.” (“Understanding Race). Despite the research of scientists that prove there is no biological reason to classify people according to “race” many, including some in the scientific community, refuse to accept that race is a social construct.

Why do these people refuse to acknowledge that race is a social construct rather than a biological fact? It all goes back to the need of human to classify things, including people. The classification is really not the issue but what is done with those classifications is. Racial classifications are used to denote a dominant group and a subordinate group. This hierarchy is then used to oppress the subordinate group. It is when oppression and prejudice exist that “race” has meaning. As one man said in the film race often means “empowerment for some, disenfranchisement for others.” (“Understanding Race”)

To watch the film  go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMxrrK-bao0

Old Fort Niagara

Over my April vacation, I had the pleasure of presenting at the National Council of History Education conference in Niagara Falls, New York. While I was in the area I visited Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, New York. The fort is in a beautiful location on Lake Ontario and is well worth a visit. The fort served in three early American wars: The French and Indian War; American Revolution and the War of 1812 and during periods of unrest in both the United States and Canada.

The first fort was established on the site by the French in 1679 and was named  Fort Conti. It was replaced by a new French fort, Fort Denonnville in 1687, again this was a temporary fort and was replaced by a permanent structure in 1726 when the French built a large building on the grounds, commonly referred to as the French Castle.

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The French Castle

The French occupied the fort until 1759. After a nineteen-day siege, the fort fell to the British during the French and Indian War. The British occupation of the fort lasted throughout the American Revolution but was recaptured during the War of 1812 by the British. The fort did not see much action during the Revolution but was a place that Loyalists went to escape bad treatment at the hands of Patriots in their hometowns. Loyalist men were recruited by the British to fight in the war and the fort was home to Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist militia regiment. The Fort launched British and Loyalist attacks into the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania and into other areas in New York. These raids were devastating to the Patriot cause, leading to the Sullivan Raid on the Iroquois in Upstate New York. The raid had a devastating effect on  Iroquois communities and many went to Fort Niagara for the winter. Despite the Treaty of Paris being signed in 1783, the fort remained in British hands. The 1794 Jay Treaty required the British to turn their forts over to the United States which was finally done in 1796.

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Butler’s Rangers Cartridge and symbol of King George III

Fort Niagara played a much more important role in the War of 1812. The Americans used Fort Niagara as a launching point to attack Canada across Lake Ontario, though the Americans were not successful. The British fort, Fort George,and Fort Niagara bombarded each other throughout the fall of 1812. It was during one of these exchanges that a woman named, Betsy Doyle, stepped up to help save the fort. Mrs. Doyle warmed shot in a fire and carried each shot to the top of the French Castle so that the Americans might destroy Fort George. Hot shot, as it is called, will start a fire when it hits its mark making the consequences that much more devastating. Carrying hot shot upstairs during a bombardment is no easy task and Betsy Doyle is considered a hero for her work. She was compared to Joan of Arc, at the time. After many bombardments Fort George fell in May The British rebuilt Fort George and used it to launch a nighttime assault on Fort Niagara, which led to the fall of the fort.The Americans regained control of the fort with the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812.

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A map showing the locations of Fort Niagara and Fort George in relation to one another.

The Americans used the fort, following the War of 1812, as a garrison post and actually expanded the fort after the Civil War when they used it as a training location for soldiers. The fort was deactivated for short periods of time between the end of the War of 1812 and the Civil War. It was reactivated after the start of the Civil War because the United States feared that Great Britain would enter the war on the side of the Confederacy. Construction on new artillery casements began in 1863, though they were never armed. After the war, a new garrison arrived and built new barracks outside the walls of the old fort. The fort would be used to house prisoners and as a training location for reserve troops that would serve in the Spanish-American War and as an officer training location during World War 1. The old fort was in disrepair until the Old Fort Niagara Association was formed in 1927 and worked to raise money and repair the fort. The French Castle was the first building to be repaired in 1929. Other buildings and the walls were restored once the Castle restoration was complete. The last garrisoned troops left in 1940 but with the start of the second World War the fort was reactivated as a prison for Axis Power troops. The end of the military uses of the fort came in the early 1960s. The “new” Fort Niagara was turned into a state park and the buildings were cleared. Today, Old Fort Niagara is run by the State of New York and the Old Fort Niagara Association and is open to the public year round.

Dr. Benjamin Church, Spy

When asked to name a traitor to the American cause in the Revolutionary years most people would name Benedict Arnold, but Arnold was not the only or the worst traitor to the American cause, Dr. Benjamin Church was.

Church was a Boston physician with close ties to the Patriot cause who used those connections to sell information to the military governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage. On the outside Church seemed the ardent Patriot, he was close friends with the Adamses, John Hancock and Dr. Joseph Warren and he volunteered for every committee the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts could create. In the summer of 1775, Church was appointed the director of the Continental Army hospital in Cambridge, the first such appointment for the Continental Congress. Though, Church played the part of Patriot well he used his many connections, congressional committee appointments and hospital connections to his advantage as a spy.

John Nagy, in his book Dr. Benjamin Church, Spy believes that Church began selling secrets to the British because he desperately needed money to keep up the appearance of his being a well to do doctor. He built a lavish house in Boston and a summer house outside the city and filled those homes with expensive articles. Does the need for money turn someone against their principles and make them a spy? According to Nagy it does and Church does accept money for his activities on behalf of the crown. Though throughout his correspondence with Gage Chruch does express his loyalty to the King and Great Britain. Was he saying these things to keep Gage happy or did he actually believe them? That we will never know, but one thing is for sure, Church’s activities as a spy were extensive.

Church was found out when a letter that he entrusted to his mistress (who also seems to have been a prostitute, at least, some of the time) fell into the wrong hands. She was tasked to deliver the letter to a British officer in Boston and asked her former husband to assist her. He became concerned about the contents of the letter when he saw that it was written in cipher. The letter was forwarded to Washington, who questioned the mistress. She quickly named Church as the author and he was arrested.

Church confessed to writing the letter but claimed it to be innocent, no one was buying Church’s explanation and word quickly spread about his treachery. Church was convicted by the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1775. His punishment was to be held in close confinement indefinitely but he was exchanged in 1778 for an American physician held by the British. Once freed Church boarded a ship headed for the island of Martinique but the ship vanished and Church was never heard from again.

Church’s treachery shocked those who were closest to him, especially those Patriots that he had worked with in the name of independence. Church was a successful spy making his actions much worse than Arnold’s who was unsuccessful in delivering information to the British.

For more information on Church, I suggest that you read John Nagy’s book, Dr. Benjamin Church, Spy.

Betsy Ross and the Making of America

I just finished reading Marla Miller’s biography Betsy Ross and the Making of America and am truly disappointed by the experience. I was excited to read the book when I bought it during the Seminar on the American Revolution at Fort Ticonderoga last fall but ended up having a hard time finishing it. Maybe I expected too much, but I thought the book would focus more on the story of Ross making the first American flag, which by now most know to be a myth created by Ross’s grandson. However, no real time was given to this story until the epilogue, though it alludes to it a few times during the main part of the book.

The book should have been named Betsy Ross, Revolutionary Philadelphia, the life of Quakers and Upholsterers. The focus on the book was much more about the Griscom family (Ross’ maiden name) and their relationship to the city of Philadelphia and the Quaker church. It also takes an in-depth look at the work of upholsterers and the women who worked for them. If you are interested in 18th-century mattresses, curtains and chair covers then you are in luck! There are some interesting bits on the development of the Free Quaker movement in Philadelphia as well as the life of Betsy Ross and her three marriages.

If you are looking for information on whether Ross was in fact asked by George Washington to create the first flag for the new nation, then skip to the epilogue or read the attached article from Colonial Williamsburg and save yourself some time.The Truth About Betsy Ross

Robert Barnwell

Have you ever heard of Robert Barnwell? No, neither had I until about 7:30 this morning when I received my daily “today in history” email from the History Channel but what I read about him peaked my interest so I did a little research. Robert Gibbes Barnwell was born today in 1761 and he lived a very interesting life.

At the age of 16, Robert joined the militia as a private in his hometown of Beaufort, South Carolina. He participated in the Battle of Stono Ferry and after the battle was camped on St. John’s Island off the coast of South Carolina in June 1779. The British led a surprise attack on the colonial encampment in a battle that will be known as the Battle of Matthews’ Plantation. The battle was a massacre and Robert Barnwell was injured over 17 times in the battle. He was so badly injured that he was left for dead on the field of battle but was found by  a slave and was taken to his aunt’s, Sarah Gibbes, home to be nursed back to health.

Once he was well enough he rejoined the militia as a lieutenant and joined in the battle for Charleston, South Carolina. This time, Barnwell was not injured but was rather taken prisoner when the Americans, under the command of Benjamin Lincoln, surrendered Charleston on May 12, 1780. He and the other men captured at Charleston were held prisoner aboard the ship Pack Horse until they were released in June of 1781. Upon his release he would return to the militia and would serve through the remainder of the war, eventually reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

After the war, Barnwell would become involved in state, local and federal politics. He served in the South Carolina House of Representative and the Confederation Congress from 1787-1788. He was a member of the South Carolina Constitutional Convention that ratified the United States Constitution. He served briefly in the United States House of Representatives before returning to South Carolina government. He would become the Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1794-1797 and would later become President of the South Carolina Senate for 18 days in 1805. Despite having very little education he served on the board of trustees for Beaufort College, even serving as chair in 1795.

Barnwell died in 1814 at the age of 52 and despite all of his accomplishments and defeating death after being wounded 17 times is largely unknown to most Americans, but he is a great American hero.