A Teenager Got More Women of Color Represented in the History Curriculum of a Large School DistrictBreaking News
tags: activism, womens history, teaching history
If you happen to get into a conversation about American history with Prasidha Padmanabhan, you will have to keep reminding yourself of this: She is only 16.
The names of historically overlooked women flow from her in the same way the names of modern-day A-list celebrities flow from other kids her age.
She can tell you about the lives of Rebecca Lee Crumpler (the first African American woman to become a doctor), Queen Liliuokalani (the first woman and last person to rule Hawaii) and Claudette Colvin (a Black teenager who refused to give up her seat on a bus before Rosa Parks did).
She can tell you how the United States Sanitary Commission, which was created to support sick and wounded Union soldiers during the Civil War, grew out of the work of women and depended on the work of women.
She can tell you why, if you know about Paul Revere, you should also know about Sybil Ludington. Ludington was 16 when she rode through the night during the American Revolution to warn militia members of a British attack.
But Prasidha’s U.S. history knowledge is not why we ended up talking on a recent evening. I wanted to hear about what she had done with that knowledge. The teenager has not only spent the last few years learning about the historic and too-often unseen roles of women, and in particular women of color, but also has worked to make sure students in one of the country’s largest school systems have a chance to learn about them.
During the pandemic, Prasidha went from seeing people on social media talk about repealing the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, to creating a student-led nonprofit, to working with educators from Fairfax County Public Schools to add more women’s history to curriculum offerings.
Her collaboration with school officials is ongoing, but so far, she has worked with social studies teachers to create Civil War material made available for sixth-grade U.S. history lessons, and she has written minibooks about Native American women for the school system’s young readers.
“She like many others noticed that when it comes to the stories we tell about Indigenous people in our K-12 classrooms, too often Native American people do not show up as individual people with lives and interests and contributions,” says Deborah March, who works for Fairfax schools as a culturally responsive pedagogy specialist, a position that calls for her to support teachers and curriculum writers. “She created these short, accessible, image-laden biographies so that our younger elementary school learners can encounter Native American women as full human beings whose lives are worthy of study.”
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