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Donato, Ines. “Portraying women: Government education documents and history textbooks of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.” M.Ed. Thesis, York University, 2002.


Focusing on the way women are portrayed in grades 7 and 8 textbooks throughout three decades (1970s, 1980s and 1990s), this study has three central goals: to investigate the portrayal of women in grade 7 and 8 history texts used in the last three decades; to explore the roles played by board and government personnel in textbook production, particularly with respect to gender representation; and to contribute to the study of pedagogical practices by comparing the Ministry of Education’s and York Catholic District School Board’s policies on Gender Equity and Curriculum over three decades in relation to textbooks.

Using feminist theory and textual analysis as a theoretical framework, three themes are explored across intermediate textbooks: Native Peoples, the Fur Trade, and the settlement of New France. One textbook from each decade was analyzed: Canada: Colony to Centennial (1970); Discovering Canada: Settling a Land (1982); and Canada Through Time Book One (1992). In analyzing content, data was collected on gender representation on each topic and within each text. The work is based on representation (photographs, drawings/sketches, tables and graphs), historical events (mainly through prose written about each topic or subtopic, as well as poetry, letters, and diaries that were included within the text) and values and beliefs (either subtly incorporated into the text or interpreted by the reader). These portrayals of females are analyzed in relation to provincial and federal government documents and school board (York Catholic District School Board) policies.

Although education has undergone significant changes within the three decades in question, traditional images of women evident in the 1970 text continued to be vividly present in the 1992 text as well as in the 2000 textbook Canada: The Story of Our Heritage currently being used by many Ontario students and teachers. There is an obvious gap between the proposals and promises of documents and policies and the actual content of textbooks. Native females and other women during the period of the fur trade and French settlement were largely absent from the textbook and there have been few progressive changes. Women are still largely invisible in the making of history: they are portrayed as helpmates, maternal care givers and moral pillars. Although these are roles that women have held in history, curriculum has fallen short in demonstrating the value and significance of these roles and in showing other roles women have played in the making of Canadian history.

This study includes a discussion of the relationship between knowledge and text, and between feminist theory and education; it also includes an overview of Ontario government and York Region School Board education policies during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

How do educators put a halt to perpetuating inequitable curriculum? It is proposed that texts be written by and reviewed by a wider cross-section of Canadians and that Native people be included in the writing process. Why couldn’t intermediate students also be asked to review sections of a textbook since they are the primary audience for these texts? The hopeful future for the education of girls and boys lies in valuing all males’ and females’ experiences. This can only be accomplished in its entirety by giving a greater voice in history textbooks to females who, like their male counterparts, contributed to the making of the history of Canada.

Mary Chaktsiris