Strategies for Empowering Students

  • To encourage students to read and learn about women and their contributions to society
  • To promote an appreciation for the contributions women have made
  • To make students aware of equity issues concerning women and minorities

  • Development of research skills
  • Acquisition of new knowledge
  • Use of knowledge, inference, and metacognitive skills

  • Social Studies
  • History
  • Language Arts
  • Library Science
  • Career Education

Read the story "Not Just Woman's Work" to the class. Discuss and address the following points:

  • the historical period and events that were happening
  • why it was so unusual for a woman to be a spy
  • what Mary's expected role was, given the period, and why it was so difficult for her to fit into this role
  • how John demonstrated his empathy and understanding for how Mary felt

Next, discuss the equity issue of roles that are traditionally assigned to women. Working in cooperative teams, have the students make a list of responsibilities that are generally perceived as things women should do and a list of jobs that are customarily thought of as appropriate for women.

Have students research if, why, and how these assigned roles and jobs have changed over the years. Encourage them to look for unusual vocations and career fields that women are pursuing. Consider why women and other minorities have been denied entrance into certain career fields. The issue of equity in pay between women and men should be included in the discussion.

Not Just Woman's Work
Mary Harper stood in sullen silence as she replayed in her mind the words her new husband had just said to her.

"Make dinner?" she thought. It completely contrasted with what she had been doing a week earlier for the Union Army. She had been the most valuable spy they had. And now she was reduced to a common housewife. Well, she had promised John, her new husband, that they would get married after the war. But cook for him? John himself had met Mary during the war, and knew all about her independent ways.

"Now, John," she began, "I saw you myself, making all of that hardtack and salt pork for your dinner. Don't tell me you forgot how to cook already!"

She could tell John really wanted to smile, but he tried his hardest to show that her comment was not appreciated.

"Mary, I know how you are and everything, but for a minute, I was thinking you were more like other wives."

"Other wives? Are you trying to say that all women are the same? Do you think just any woman could have been the best spy in the whole state of Illinois? Think it was easy?" Mary was on the verge of rage.

"Mary, I never said it was easy for you," said John, trying to calm her down. "The main reason I married you was because of your determination."

"I am determined to let you make dinner yourself," Mary replied in a much calmer tone than before.

"Mary, think you can show me how to make some of your good fried chicken?" John asked as he put on Mary's apron. Finally, Mary smiled.

"Of course," she said. They started making the batter--together.

Call the students attention to the quote by James Howell: "One hair of a woman can draw more than a hundred pair of oxen."

  • Ask the students to interpret what Howell meant.

  • Have students research literature, such as Greek mythology, African folktales, or other cultural literature, that contains stories about women who had phenomenal strength of character and conviction. The students may also use fictional or nonfictional contemporary women.

  • Have the students tell:

    • who these women are/were
    • what made/makes them so unique or extraordinary
    • how their feats or accomplishments have helped others

  • Have students research James Howell;s life.

    • What was his profession, career, or vocation?
    • What were his beliefs, values, and views about life, the world, and people, especially women?
    • How were these beliefs and viewpoints reflected in this particular quote?
    • What other quotes or statements by Howell indicate his character or convictions?
    • How do these quotes or statements give insight into Howell¹s character and personality?

  • How were students able to demonstrate their comprehension of the situation presented in the story?

  • How did students exhibit their understanding of the equity issue regarding jobs and salaries?

  • Were students' research skills enhanced? How?


Excerpted from Beyond Rhetoric and Rainbows: A Journey to the Place Where Learning Lives ©1996 University of Illinois Extension.