Women’s March Offers Lessons

On January 21st, hundreds of thousands of women and men gathered in Washington, D.C. and across the United States, as well as in cities around the world from Berlin to Auckland to express their ongoing resistance to President Trump and his mandate. Among the crowd were thousands of educators and teacher’s unions, including many who supported Secretary Clinton during her run for president in the 2016 election.  With the debate about how to teach under trump continuing (and many educators defying traditional agreements to remain neutral in the classroom), the women’s march offers valuable lessons too.

Ms. Sanders, a high school history teacher from the New York area, boarded a bus to Washington at 5:00 am on Saturday: “I wanted to be there to protest and bear witness,” she explained. “I teach history and this is history in the making. I’m bringing 15 young women from our school’s feminist club along with me. It’s their first protest, and they are energized and excited to be part of this movement.” Kyle Lockhart, who is currently completing an education degree and hopes to soon obtain his first full-time teaching job, agreed. “I’m training to be a middle school social studies teacher. I want to be there to have a voice and to be a witness to history. I can share this with my students. As a gay man who has chosen to work in the education system, I’m also afraid. I just need to be there.”

Women’s March Offers Valuable Lessons on History and Social Change

Women's March in WashingtonAs Gloria Steinem’s presence at the march and her speech so clearly conveyed, social change is never linear. Hard fought battles may need to be fought again, and at 82, Steinem knows this first hand. A major voice in the Women’s Liberation movement of the late 1960s and the founding editor of Ms. Magazine, Steinem has watched America undergo massive changes over the years. When she was first lobbying for women’s rights, women were still not allowed to wear pants to work in most workplaces.  Perhaps, an even more powerful reminder of the fact that social change is never linear was expressed through the presence of NAACP Chairperson, Rosyln Brock, and Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X. In different ways, both speakers’ presence at the march served as a reminder that the civil rights movement is not yet a closed chapter in U.S. history. To the extent that the women’s march offers valuable lessons on history and social change, there is ample ways for educators to use the march as a catalyst for classroom discussions.

Women’s March Offers Valuable Lessons on Diversity and Inclusion

There is no question that the women’s march offers valuable lessons on diversity.  The march was born in the aftermath of the election when many women and men were still in shock. Indeed, it started with a simple Facebook invite. From there, the march quickly grew into a full-scale day of protest not only across the United States but around the world. The organizers, however, were not seasoned activist but rather regular people who wanted to express their outrage. This may explain why some lessons learned from earlier activist movements were initially overlooked. For example, initially the organizing committee only included White women. For educators, there is rich potential to use the women’s march, including the mistakes made along the way and efforts to respond to these mistakes, as a way to explore questions of power, diversity and inclusion in the classroom.  If there is one lesson the organizers learned, it is that promoting diversity has to begin from the ground up. If people of color are not present from the onset, you can’t have a truly diverse event or movement.

Women’s March Offers Valuable Lessons on Mansplanning

Women's March in WashingtonEvery good lefty loves filmmaker Michael Moore. This Detroit-born, ball-cap wearing, Canada-loving good old boy has a knack for exposing American politics in a new light and mobilizing people across identity categories. At the Women’s March in Washington, however, Moore made a fatal error: He was invited to speak at the march, which was meant to empower women, people of color and other minorities, but rather than stick to his allotted speaker time launched into a long-winded mansplaining episode. Mansplaining is not simply Moore’s problem. It is widespread and apparently has no cultural barriers (a Swedish union recently piloted a mansplaining hotline to help tackle the problem). To mansplaine at a feminist march, however, may be a particularly heinous crime. For male educators, Moore’s example should be read as a gentle reminder: Sometimes, less is more.

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