Récrire l’histoire des Etats-Unis
Article de Anne Collet paru dans le Courrier international du 12 mars 2004 © courrierinternational.com
Les livres d’histoire en usage dans les écoles américaines n’oublient pas les femmes, mais ils se contentent de les mentionner de façon superficielle. Des enseignants se sont donné pour tâche de rendre aux femmes une plus juste place.
“Sur vingt-trois livres d’histoire utilisés couramment dans les écoles américaines, sept seulement mentionnent des femmes ayant contribué à cette histoire", constate The Christian Science Monitor, quotidien de Boston, citant une étude menée par deux chercheurs. "Quand les femmes sont présentes dans les livres, elles sont traitées séparément, comme si elles ne faisaient pas vraiment partie de l’histoire", expliquent Karen Zittleman et David Sacker.
L’idée de remédier à l’absence des femmes dans les programmes scolaires remonte aux années 80, quand deux autres chercheurs ont fait le tour des écoles du Connecticut et remarqué que ni dans les livres ni dans les textes étudiés, les femmes n’apparaissaient. Forts de ce constat, Carole Shmurak et Tom Ratliff avaient alors décidé d’écrire une série de livres à l’usage des écoles, centrés sur des femmes ayant participé à l’histoire des Etats-Unis. Leur premier ouvrage avait pour cadre la conquête de l’Ouest ; ils en sont aujourd’hui à la fin de la guerre de Sécession. Outre redorer le blason des femmes, ils espèrent aussi rendre l’histoire plus attractive. "Les femmes sont plus présentes aujourd’hui que dans les années 80", constatent de nombreux observateurs, qui reconnaissent cependant que leur apport est toujours traité superficiellement.
“Plutôt que de simplement mémoriser des noms et des dates sur le mouvement des suffragettes par exemple, on devrait expliquer aux élèves comment le 19e amendement de la Constitution, sur le suffrage des femmes, voté le 4 juin 1919, a été déterminant pour la condition féminine ou bien l’influence de la révolution industrielle sur la vie quotidienne des femmes", propose Susan Adler, enseignante à l’université du Kansas.
“Pendant des années, à l’université on avait le choix entre suivre un cours sur l’histoire des femmes ou un cours d’histoire générale qui les excluait. Aujourd’hui, un effort est fait dans de nombreux établissements pour qu’il n’y ait plus qu’un seul cours", explique Peter Wood, professeur d’histoire à l’université Duke. En travaillant sur la réunion des deux programmes, il a redécouvert nombre de femmes trop peu connues : Belva Lockwood, première femme juge à la Cour suprême, a été candidate à l’élection présidentielle de 1884 ; Gertrude Ederle, première femme à traverser la Manche, en 1926, avait battu de très loin le temps de tous les hommes qui l’avaient précédée.
La bataille n'est pas pour autant gagnée : si quelques enseignants ont le sentiment qu’aujourd’hui les femmes ont envahi les livres scolaires, nombreux sont ceux qui s’alarment, car, "avec la révision générale des programmes qui a eu lieu ces dernières années, les femmes en sont de nouveau expurgées".
Dessin d’Altan (Italie) paru dans L’Espresso, Rome “Cela ne sert à rien d’avoir un homme fort. Ce qu’il faut, c’est une nounou.” http://www.courrierinternational.com/article/2011/03/03/quand-je-serai-grande-je-veux-etre-mere-au-foyer
from the March 02, 2004 edition
Women's roles, now writ (too?) large
By Lisa Leigh Connors | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
"You're what?" says Neely. "Enlisting," says Matty, a young girl. "Lincoln's going to issue another call for volunteers, and when he does, I am signing up. I can't sit by and let this war pass me by."
- excerpt from "Matty's War," a book based on a true story about women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War.
Ten years ago, Carole Shmurak visited a dozen middle schools and 80 classrooms in central Connecticut to find out how much women's history was being taught.
A VOTE FOR INCLUSION: A suffragist in 1914. Efforts to integrate women's contributions into textbooks have stalled - even backslid - in recent years, say some educators.
THE US LIBRARY OF CONGRES
The results? Just about zilch.
"Textbook publishers dd include women in history books, but they were usually boxed off in a separate box and teachers would tend to skip over it," says the author and professor emeritus at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.
"When we talked to language arts teachers, very few of the books had female protagonists. When we questioned them, they said, 'That's just the way the curriculum is.' "
After finding almost no women on bulletin boards, or in textbooks, or classroom discussions, Ms. Shmurak and her coauthor, Tom Ratliff, decided to write a series of historical novels, such as "Matty's War," that would illuminate women's history. Since then, the pair has written several more books, which feature stories about a woman doctor on the frontier to post-Civil War women's rights.
The movement of trying to write more "her-story" into history, of course, has been going on for decades. But even as this month marks the 17th year that women's history month has been celebrated, there is still much dissatisfaction with the way women have - or haven't - been worked into history curricula.
Women are much more present today than they were anytime before 1980 or so, most observers agree. But the degree to which they should be present and the way that presence should be handled are still in dispute.
Opinions range from those who feel that women-in-history advocates have gone overboard to those who believe that a recent backlash against "diversity" has actually edged women back out of the curriculum and diminished their presence in recent years.
Finally, there are many who contend that women are definitely receiving more attention in history class - but often in an artificial way that doesn't include a broader context that would make their presence more meaningful.
Sure, textbooks today go beyond Rosie the Riveter, Betsy Ross, and Pocahontas, but what's missing is a push for critical thinking, says Leslie Lindenauer, a history professor at the University of Hartford and executive director of the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame.
"Just a few years ago, with every class I taught, my students were woefully lacking any sort of background in an integrative history," she says.
"Their level of knowledge didn't go much beyond what they could have learned in the 1970s. They were able to list a number of famous women, but they couldn't talk about the issues surrounding these women."
For example, instead of just memorizing dates and names during the suffrage movement, students should understand how the 19th Amendment affected ordinary women. Or students could be encouraged to investigate ways in which the Industrial Revolution changed household work, says Susan Adler, an associate professor of teacher education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. "Our curricula too often reflect one focused on great events. Important events and key people are a significant part of what kids ought to learn, but it's the ordinary folks, [including women], that we need to understand as well."
Today, there is increased attention toward integrating women into textbooks because there's been a backslide, says Ms. Lindenauer. "There are scholars who would say that the 1990s and early 21st century have seen a backlash against diversity with regards to gender. In learning environments, we're reenergized."
Peter Wood is leading the pack. A professor of early American history at Duke, he is the lead author of a recent US history survey text, "Created Equal: A Social and Political History of the United States" (Longman). Mr. Wood says the efforts to integrate women into history textbooks is partly being pushed forward by publishers like Longman, but it's also simple logic.
"For a while, there was a whole generation of 'either-or,' " says Wood. "You might take a women's studies course or you might take a traditional American political history course, and the two were kind of separated. There's an effort now to try to bring these back together."
While Wood was working on this book with four other authors (three of whom were women), he discovered a flood of women's history that is only now starting to be absorbed.
For example, Belva Lockwood ran for president in 1884. She was also the first woman to practice law in front of the US Supreme Court in 1879 and was a women's suffrage proponent. Gertrude Ederle was a 19-year-old Olympic gold medalist when she became the first woman to swim the English Channel in 1926. Though six men had preceded her, she beat their best time by two full hours.
"So it's rediscovering people who were quite well known at the time," says Wood, "but who slipped through the cracks for too many years."
So, are the cracks completely filled? High school teacher Jana Eaton thinks so, maybe a little too much.
"If anything, some of the texts have gone too far the other way," says the teacher of AP government and politics at Unionville High School in Kennett Square, Pa.
"I think we've come a long way from the white European male-dominated history texts that were so prevalent before the 1980s. In fact, I wonder if we haven't gone overboard in the other direction with political correctness, resulting in history that's distorted or mythologized."
But according to Karen Zittleman and David Sadker, authors of the report "Teacher Education Textbooks: The Unfinished Gender Revolution," that's not the case. The pair studied 23 teacher-education textbooks. Of these, only 7 percent of their text was devoted to women's contributions.
And when they do appear, says Ms. Zittleman, they're still fragmented, put in a special box, or treated as a special feature. "It sends a subtle message that those women aren't really part of history."
To further integrate women, Wood says, there are many things a teacher can do. For instance, the topic of Asian immigration in the Progressive era leads to a discussion of Asian-American family life and women as workers. "It comes up in any time period you pick," says Wood.
Judith Cowell, who teaches seventh and eighth grades at McGee Middle School in Berlin, Conn., uses Shmurak's books in her language arts class because "it's realistic fiction and it helps generate a discussion about the history of the war and why the war started."
That's one of the reasons Lyn Reese, director of the Women in the World History Curriculum in Berkeley, Calif., started writing "Spindle Stories" in the 1990s, a series of historical tales for middle school students that helps get them interested in history. It shows the importance of the spindle as a tool for women's economic contributions.
"It's a way," Ms.Reese says, "to bring women in the classroom without simply saying, 'and the women were there, too....' "