Veranstaltungen: Dokumentation

5.9.2002

Forum 8: Political/Civic Education

The two presenters at this conference argued that educational systems have not done enough to bring about gender mainstreaming, either at the secondary school or adult education level, and presented two different approaches to reaching that goal.

Any successful changing of attitudes toward men and women and their respective roles in society must begin at the educational level, according to the panelists at the Political Education forum. Whether that means changing content in school curricula that either subtly or overtly reinforces stereotypical thinking, or building a whole new framework based upon gender-appropriate education methods, gender mainstreaming will not succeed unless instruction methods for both adults and children are rethought.

Dr. Karin Derichs-Kunstmann of the Work Education Participation Research Institute at the University of Bochum, who specializes in adult education, wants to see educational institutions develop new groundrules for gender-appropriate instruction that take into account different needs and expectations of men and women.

Derichs-Kunstmann began her talk with a overhead transparency of a cartoon in which a man holds forth on political theory in a seminar. He dominates the discussion and the three women present sit silently and withdrawn, with uncertain looks on their faces. "We're are familiar with this scene," she said. "Even thought this drawing is some twenty years old, it still holds true today."

To start to move beyond this decades-old model, she said institutions need to incorporate gender-sensitive structures into their existing systems, making gender mainstreaming an integral part of their programs.

To do that, she presented the centerpiece of her strategy, four cornerstones of gender-appropriate instruction that institutions could use as a base. Her first requirement is that institutions change the content of instruction to take into consideration different gender perspectives. Equally important she said was ensuring that teachers did not encourage, even inadvertently, gender stereotypes with their behavior and ways they interact with students.

The final two cornerstones dealt with the design of educational institutions and programs themselves. A framework had to be in place that did not put women at a disadvantage, particularly mothers. That means, for example, courses should not start too early, to allow mothers to get their children to school or child-care.

Finally, she encouraged educational institutions to reexamine the methodology of their instructional programs, and suggested that separating men and women might be the best way to allow each gender to flourish. "Men and women need single-sex spaces to fully realize their potentials," she said.

The discussion that followed was lively, with one participant picking up on the Derichs-Kunstmann's argument about single-sex classes with her own real life examples. She described the first day of a physics seminar in which the professor started by discussing the intricacies of a electrical outlet.

"Not every man is going to have taken apart an electrical outlet, I know, but I can assure you, there certaintly weren't many girls in that classroom who had," said the participant. She added the girls in the class felt immediately put at a disadvantage.

The following panelist, Ivo Hartman of the Institute for the Public and Politics in the Netherlands, felt that kind of direction could be dangerous in that it could lead to a reinforcement of old gender stereotypes, such as the types which say a man can take apart an engine, whereas a woman can arrange a lovely floral bouquet.

Where Derichs-Kunstmann focused on overall structure and big picture issues, Hartman preferred to focus on the nitty gritty. He had praise for lofty goals, but said the loftier they were, the less likely they were to be implemented. His focus was on concrete changes in the classroom at the secondary school level. His strategy is to encourage students to question their world views.

He brought in an example of a documentary he had recently seen on women in Burkina Faso, who hold the economic power in their villages. "When students see that it can be different in other places, and that our gender roles are not God given, it can start to change thinking," he said.

Instead of plans for changing methodology or didactic methods, he presented smaller, concrete steps that classroom teachers could take in several subject areas. In the area of political decision making, which is one of the domains of political education in the Netherlands, Hartman suggested teachers ask provocative questions regarding gender: why are women underrepresented in politics, do female politicians think differently than their male counterparts?

Hartman also suggested reaching young people in way that they can relate to. While politics may bring about instant boredom in the average 17 year old, pop music probably will not. He suggested teachers broach the subjects of gender roles in this context, in song lyrics and videos. He described seeing a report put out by Germany's Federal Agency for Politicial Education on pop music. It was a perfect place, he said, to address gender issues. Unfortunately, no mention of gender was made.

"It's so easy and obvious, but it often doesn't happen," he said. His comments about questioning students assumptions about gender roles found a great deal of agreement with the audience. His position against adapting male and female instruction methodologies did not. Several women in the room argued that current instruction methods largely benefit male students and can intimidate females. But Hartman insisted that the concept made popular by the book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" is damaging and should not be encouraged.

Neutral Language

But political education continues outside the classroom, the forum participants insisted, and entered in a lively discussion centered around gender-specific language in the public sphere, especially in the media. It is not so much an issue in English, where most names referring to people such as "teacher" or even "participant" do not carry gender with them. In German on the other hand, nearly all professions indicate whether the person involved is male or female.

One irate participate pointed to an article on the conference itself in that day's edition of the local paper. The article printed an estimate of the number of participants, using the male form. That raised hackles all over the room and several women stepped forward with other examples. It was all agreed that they needed to start a letter-writing campaign to newspapers across the country, insisting that the feminine form be given equal standing.

Referent und Referentin:

  • Ivo Hartman

  • Instituut voor Publiek en Politiek
    Amsterdam, Niederlande
    PDF-Icon Thesen, PDF-Icon CV

  • Karin Derichs-Kunstmann

  • Forschungsinstitut Arbeit, Bildung, Partizipation (FIAB)
    Recklinghausen, Deutschland


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