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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 18, Number 7, May/June 2006

Grade 12 course with real life relevance

Do women gossip more than men? Do men talk about sports more than women do? Why do we learn so little about women in Social Studies? What is sexual harassment and how can it be prevented? If students are curious about discussing the answers to these questions and learning more about women and men in general, both their differences and similarities, then this is the course for them. Grade 12 teachers looking for subject matter to prepare their students for life in the "real world" need look no further than the new Gender Studies 12 course, rewritten and Ministry-approved last year under the new graduation program requirements.

The former Vancouver locally developed course—Women, Gender, and Society 12—has been taught for the past 10 years at Britannia Secondary School by Mary Filleul, and was substantially rewritten over the years. Shifting the focus from women only, to a more inclusive examination of gender relations made the course more relevant and of more appeal to Grade 12 students. In order to attract young men to the class, Filleul incorporated many curriculum modifications to examine issues of concern to males as well as females. Among them, body image issues such as the requirement to be buff and the health risks of steroids. "Young men are subjected to similar kinds of media messages in popular culture that young women are," Filleul maintains, "and those can offer a very limited range of what’s considered socially acceptable. In an intense time of identity and values formation as students prepare to leave high school, it’s important that they have the tools to deconstruct these messages and develop the confidence to challenge the ones they find objectionable. This course offers that opportunity."

Gender Studies 12 will provide students with an understanding of how their life choices and experiences are profoundly influenced by their gender. This course differs significantly from other secondary school classes in that it employs a multidisciplinary and cross-cultural examination to study societal expectations along gender lines. For example, concerns and issues of women largely have been left out or receive only passing reference in the curriculum. Historical and sociological reasons and their consequences for such omissions and other examples of gender discrimination form part of the course’s inquiry. A unit on relationships examines healthy and unhealthy relationships, the issue of domestic violence, and whether men and women have different communication styles.

Gender Studies 12 contains nine thematic units: the social construction of gender; health issues for teenagers; relationships; history; law; work and economics; cultural perspectives; education and schooling; art and literature. Oral participation is key as students are encouraged to make their own meaning from material and defend their point of view. "No opinion is unwelcome has been the course philosophy," Filleul states, "provided students are able to defend their views with logic and reason. Often that extends to passion as well, as students engage deeply with social, moral, and ethical issues." Course evaluation includes journal writing, term projects, and presentations.

"I never thought I would be excited about a high school class," says Amy G., former Gender Studies 12 student, "but I couldn’t wait for this class every day. It was always interesting because it was about our lives, our work, our rights, and about dating and advertising, lots of cool stuff."

Teachers interested in learning more about this great course can check the Board/ Authority Authorized Courses (BAAC) list on the Ministry of Education’s web site. (www.bced.gov.bc.ca/graduation/boardauth.htm, go to SD39, Britannia Community, Liberal Arts and Humanities, course code YGS12.)

For a course outline, contact Mary Filleul, Learning & Development Consultant, at the Vancouver School Board. E-mail: mfilleul@vsb.bc.ca.

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