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Since the emerging of the first mass secondary education systems in the United States there was an issue with education of girls. This issue consisted of the fact that girls education was lagging behind the education provided to boys. In fact, the secondary schools were not the only ones involved in this inequity. This discrepancy touched upon all levels of education system, starting from elementary and ending at postsecondary.
It was widely believed that the task of a woman was to sit at home with the children and to be the bearer of one’s own wine and fig tree. And consequently, if it was meant for the woman to sit at home and perform housework, there was no actual need for her to get proper education, as if her husband and children were happy, she succeeded in her life.
Rooting of Sexism
In the beginning of the 20th century, what we now call sexism was rooted in not just American education system, but in all education systems all over the world. But back then there was no such definition as sexism, as such treatment of female gender was considered to be a social norm.
Sexism was rooted not just in education but its essence lied much deeper, in the reproductive biological differences, and just like racism it intertwined with class. This phenomenon was quite wide spread in almost all educational institutions and its basis was an idea of that a man and a woman had different roles that they were obliged to perform by their nature.
There was a historically formed belief that women were genetically inferior comparing to men, but really they were just genetically different. This very difference was exploited as basis for sexism. This phenomenon was also closely linked to class, as girls from upper class families were able to obtain better education than those from lower working class.
This could be explained by the following. The owners of production means require those individuals that could dedicate their time to labor. But such laborers can not be viewed as machines, as they have physical and emotional needs, as well as their children must be raised for the purpose of entering the workforce in the future. As it was pointed out by Oakley, “Industrial capitalism requires somebody to buy the food, cook the meals, wash the clothes, clean the home, and bear and bring up the children. Without this backup of domestic labor the economy could not function.” And since it was nature for women to bore and nurse children, they had to become servants of unpaid labor at home, the labor which produced other laborers required by capital.
As a result of the above, the society not only refused the concept of a woman as emancipated from other men individual, but the girls and later women themselves did not fell that need to get education and succeed in life through it.
Around one hundred years ago the most popular academic aspect concerned female education. Professor Silliman of the Yale University gave address of this topic in 1853 and stated that the best diploma for a young woman will be a happy husband and a large family, as well as that the man in the family should have priority in all fields of family life. At that time the education of women, especially girls was debated. These debates focused around three questions: what was the woman’s sphere, could a woman’s mind be educated, and could her mind be viewed equally to a man’s mind.
According to the traditional convictions, the sphere of a woman was mainly home based, and therefore education for girls was somewhat limited. As the industrial revolution progressed, the woman had less tasks to do at home, and her activity range contracted. As the financial status due to husband’s profits improved, the number of activities for a woman became even smaller. What used to be her direct responsibility, like the kitchen and nursery had stepped out of the woman’s sphere.
It was a while before the education of women gained its critical momentum. In 1944 along with the Butler act came mass secondary education for girls, and from that time the tendency of females towards education became unstoppable. If we were to compare the situation from one hundred years ago with the current one, we would observe a totally opposite tendency. Right now girls are getting better results at GCSE, and get more A level A grades comparing to men. More women than men enter universities and there are more Firsts and fewer Thirds among women who graduate from universities comparing to their masculine colleagues.
Resulting from the most current trends in education, there is nobody left to do all the labor that used to be performed by women. Consequently, many men might have to adopt female roles, but play them in their own fashion. A good example of this might be the past tendency of hiring women for the positions of teachers, as they were moderately intelligent, highly motivated, and good-at-coursework.
In fact, this was one of the only opportunities for a woman to make something of her career. Right now, we are seeing more and more male teachers, as this position needs substitution, and some women that could have been teachers, are making their careers are doctors and lawyers, which would be impossible in the past. Right now girls are outshining boys, as this year men got less first-class degrees than women. In today’s world everything is controlled by knowledge, interpretation, and analysis, as these things are crucial for economic success. With girls now being motivated to receive better education, they might be the ones running everything in the nearest future.
List of References
Annie Oakley, Subject Women (New York: Academic Press, 1981), p. 167.
Webb, Dean. The History of American Education: A Great American Experiment. Prentice Hall, 2005.
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Western Plow Boy, vol. I, no. 3, 1853, p. 48.