Feminist Friday Discussion Round 4: Education

If we manage to have a discussion about gender inequality here this weekend, we’ll have talked about it for a solid month.

We started with a discussion of Feminism as a label, and moved from there to prioritization of issues. Last week, we talked about rape. Every step of the way, we’ve made people uncomfortable. That just can’t be helped. Inequality is an uncomfortable topic; but if we don’t talk about it, it will never get better.

This week, we’re talking about education, because a lot of people have mentioned a need for improved education from various angles over the past three weeks. The problem with ¬†education as a topic is that it can become a catch-all term if we’re not careful. It’s a big, it’s complex, and it means different things to different people.

So what I’m giving you today is an attempt to break education down into a few useful categories, and an invitation to add your own categories, to say something about how specific aspects of education could address specific problems, or to point out flaws in my categorization scheme.

I think education starts at home, the moment a child is born. The first four or five years of learning are very important. By the time a child reaches the public school system, in my opinion, their personality is more than half-formed. Having said that, I think it’s best to talk about early childhood learning and family influences separately from formal education. They just don’t work the same way.

So we separate formal education from the rest. Next, I think we need to break it down into a minimum of three categories:

  • Primary education,
  • Secondary education, and
  • Higher education.

That’s because differences in age matter. We can talk about third graders, seniors in high school, and college sophomores all at the same time; but really, I don’t think we’re going to make much progress doing that.

I think, in order to really get at gender inequality – we have to look at differences in the way girls and boys are treated at home, in elementary & middle school, in high school, and in college. And that’s minimum. (See? Like I said, this topic is large and complex).

Now, here are some things we could talk about, and talk about in different ways for each of those four categories:

1. Gender differences in access to education.

2. Gender differences in subject areas that are considered socially acceptable for girls to pursue.

3. Improving sex education at every level of our educational system (and of course it goes without saying that all sex education should be age-appropriate), because while poor sex education is bad for everyone, it’s worst for women.

4. A role for adult education. This one is especially important, in my opinion, and here’s why. Children learn by imitating the adults who spend time with them and care for them, right down to facial tics and body language. So, if we want little boys to respect little girls, we have to teach domestic partners to respect one another. And if we want little girls to grow up into women who view themselves as assertive, autonomous individuals who are free to pursue their own destinies, we have to teach their mothers to view themselves that way.

 So, my questions for you this week are, where do we start? And what have I left out?

Which part of education would you like to talk about first?

As always,my perspective is U.S.-centric, because I have never lived anywere else. If you live outside the U.S.A., feel free to share your thoughts on gender inequality and education in your own country with us.