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February 23: A Moment and a Lesson

Friday, February 23, 2018

Jeff Sindler

Earlier this week I ran into one of our teachers who had just had ‘a moment’ in her classroom. But that brief disappointment turned into the kind of learning moment that arises from great teaching. In an assignment that other schools may only approach during Black History Month (February) or Women’s History Month (March), but that our teachers strive to weave into the curriculum at any time, the class was working in small groups to research female scientists and the challenges they’d faced. One student group was reporting about the early 20th century heroine they had researched; but apparently the source where they’d gone for information had offered a rather glamorized, sanitized version of the scientist’s story.

The teacher asked the students about the challenges their scientist had faced, but they reported she hadn’t faced any. The teacher was surprised—she knew better! Women scientists worked as a “junior associates” or otherwise under men and were unable to advance; sometimes they were not paid for their work; oftentimes they did not even get credit for it. But she took a breath and challenged the group to do a bit more digging.

I hope it was a lesson for the entire class, and by sharing it here I hope it’s a reminder for all of us as well. Without a complete and accurate picture, we may find it hard to fully appreciate the challenges along with the accomplishments of others. Without the extra digging, we can imagine that the present generation’s students, including young women and children of color, may innocently take for granted the opportunities they have — forgetting the (s)heroic struggles, and often belated triumphs, of their predecessors. As a nation, it’s important that we devote some time to focus on these truths and teach these histories during Black History Month and Women’s History Month. At Burgundy, I hope we can encourage each other to do so the year round!