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Levstik, Linda S., and Jeanette Groth. “‘Scary Thing, Being an Eighth Grader’: Exploring Gender and Sexuality in a Middle School U.S. History Unit.” Theory and Research in Social Education 30(2) (2002): 233-54.


The study reported here provides an example of the complex interface among historical study, current issues, and adolescents' complex social worlds. The authors investigated the ways in which a group of eighth grade students conceptualize the significance of gender in the context of a study of antebellum U.S. history. Fifty students participated in a set of inquiries into women's involvement in nineteenth-century U.S. reform movements, industrialization, and culture contact and conflict on the shifting frontier. Classroom interactions, museum-like displays, presentations, and interviews contrast students' public constructions and private responses to issues of gender and sexuality in the context of historical study. Among other findings, students identified women's experiences as historically significant, recognized, analyzed, and expressed interest in the variety of perspectives represented by women they studied, and worried about "reverse sexism"--studying women at the expense of men. In addition, students' historical inquiries generated discussion about current issues of gender and sexuality, both inside and outside the classroom. In discussing the contrasts between the classroom culture and the encircling "homophobic hallways," the authors suggest the importance of establishing environments where 1) gender is not an "add-on" or "extra" but fundamental point of analysis, and 2) adolescents build a vocabulary for discussing human rights issues and engage in critiquing current practices in regard to gender and sexuality.