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Women's roles, now writ (too?) large

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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."

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