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Proposed women's studies course at East High School causes debate at board meeting

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WATERLOO — Plans to offer a women’s studies course at East High School raised concerns Monday for one Board of Education member because a similar class focusing on men isn’t being proposed.

Social studies teacher Jason Knittel framed his idea for a semester-long elective course on women’s history around the concept of equity during the board’s discussion of the 2022-23 high school program of studies.

Jason Knittel

Knittel

“Equity is one of the strongest points that we talk about in our district,” said Knittel, noting that he started thinking about proposing the class because East already has an African-American history class. “I feel that females also deserve an opportunity to be educated for their history.”

But board member Lyle Schmitt took issue with the idea that equity would be achieved by offering only that class.

“You mentioned equity,” he told Knittel. “I guess I’m not sure I understand that if you don’t have anything equivalent for males. ... What are we doing for our young males?”

Lyle Schmitt

Schmitt

Schmitt cited a female graduation rate in Waterloo Community Schools that “is significantly more” than it is for males and noted the majority of college students are now women, which is part of a growing trend. And, he added, males are more likely to end up in prison.

“So, I don’t quite understand why you aren’t proposing something for males,” Schmitt said.

“It’s not directly just aimed at females, it’s aimed at anybody,” Knittel responded.

The class would examine “women’s struggles, women’s rights, take a look at different aspects,” he explained. “I’m not talking about just focusing on the concept of feminism or anything like that. I’m talking about the women, how they impacted our history.”

Astor Williams

Williams

“It’s the female experience in the country, just like we have African-American studies,” said board member Astor Williams. “It’s a focus on the contributions of African-Americans.”

Board member Stacie Mills contended that textbooks historically have emphasized men’s contributions to society.

Stacie Mills

Mills

“They’ve been male-driven and their content, that’s what it is. That’s how history has been, white males,” she said. “So, I don’t think there’s an issue just pulling together for one semester information that may even be in those textbooks but is not being highlighted.”

Still, Schmitt insisted, with a trend line that “especially in the last five years has been at the disadvantage of the males” the district needs to look at offerings for males, as well. “If we don’t, we’re missing a whole group of potential graduates and affecting their success in life.”

Superintendent Jane Lindaman said the board was looking at the course “because of women being a marginalized population.” She noted that “there’s still an equity gap between men and women” with more men holding chief executive officer positions at companies and average wages being lower for women.

Jane Lindaman NEW

Lindaman

“Even though females may be at the top of the class at a higher level and they still may be graduating at a higher level they’re still holding far fewer positions of power, as far as talking about the top levels,” said Lindaman.

Schmitt argued that changes occurring in society mean that students now in school won’t face as severe disparities when they get into the workforce and that conditions could continue improving. “You can’t just take the data from 50 years ago and say that applies today,” he said.

Despite his concerns, Schmitt joined all other board members in approving the program of studies, which serves as a course catalog for what is offered at the high schools.

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Education Reporter

I cover local schools and higher education for The Courier, where I’ve been a reporter for the past two decades. I’m a Minnesota native and have previously worked for newspapers there and in Illinois.

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