Equity and Gender-Based Education: Elizabeth Wolfson at TEDxMileHighWomen

Equity and Gender-Based Education: Elizabeth Wolfson at TEDxMileHighWomen

September 10, 2019 1 By Ronny Jaskolski


Translator: Maricene Crus
Reviewer: Mile Živković Hi. I know who I am, I know that I matter, and I know what matters to me, and thank you for allowing me
to share that with you tonight. Five years ago, I started on a journey to build girl schools based
on the brain science of movement, and how it readily boosts
cognitive achievement, and the best practices
in gender-based learning. I was determined and still believe that if I could convince
the general public – you, that if you have a body, you are an athlete, then the rest – traveling to cities around
the country and building schools – would be a piece of cake. I came up against three major obstacles. The first was my own story and history. The second, the phenomenal animal
called public education. And the third being
the current discourse around whether women
can or cannot have it all. So, first, this is my story. I am the product of a successful first generation
in American ’70s household, where my mother’s advice centered
around smiling and looking pretty – (Laughter) The second, my father’s advice,
and diligent support of my success was based on doing it
the way men did it, the way he did it, and, simultaneously, acting like a lady. This was confusing, but appropriate
for the Mary Tyler Moore times. After a privilege of that bringing,
including an Ivy League education and a division one athletic experience, I made many a good and bad decision
on my way into adulthood. Trust me, there are some doozies
and I have the scars to prove it. But one week, and about 15 years ago,
while I was living overseas I found myself at a spa weekend
with three friends, three women I deeply admired, and they are all deeply immersed
in feminist activity. One night, we were sitting at the pool, and under the stars we did share
those scars of our lives. And like scars do, theirs had propelled them
to proclaim and work diligently in the feminist arena. But at that point in my life, I was not ready to declare
myself a feminist. I’m pretty sure and my biggest fear was that, if I did, there would be this big bushel of hair
growing under my arms and on my legs. (Laughter) But, giving in to peer pressure as we do, the next morning, even at the age of 30, I declared, “I am a feminist!”,
and they cheered. But, honestly, until now, I really don’t think I knew
what that meant to me. Okay, public education. As late as 2011, last year in September, Salon magazine and the Huffington Post reported on how boring
schools continue to be and its devastating effect on our kids. In the last few years, cutting-edge new schools
have developed and I submit to you that the public high school
in Naperville, Illinois, the Namaste school, in Chicago, and the Girls’ Athletic
Leadership School, in Denver, are anything but boring places to be. These schools are pushing the edge
on active pedagogy and teaching content through movement. They invite new forms of movement
and health curricula in order to ensure the nourishment,
stimulation and engagement of our students’ minds and bodies. And all three of these schools
are showing positive achievement results. And then, when we are all
paying attention as parents, there’s this obsession
with high stakes testing, teaching to the test, rigor upon rigor, where education reform is narrowly defined
and mostly experienced as ultra-traditional models. So, where does that leave the rest of us
who want a creative, compassionate education for our children one where the schools truly know
our kids well, from the inside out, and our kids are taught
to know themselves well? And then in the middle
of all this bureaucracy and chaos, remains the question,
“Do gender-based schools – do girls’ schools give
their students an edge?” So, here’s the research that grabs me: UCLA came to the conclusion
in their latest social research, in 2010, that simply put,
“Girls’ schools teach girls there is enormous power
and potential in being a girl.” (Laughter) (Applause) The research also shows
that the biggest difference between girls’ school graduates
and their co-ed counterpart is the confidence
and aspiration that girls have. This is exactly what I want
for my two daughters. Now the discourse
that’s going on in the world – like many men and women,
I have been tangled up inside by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article
in the Atlantic Magazine entitled “Women Can’t Have It All”. And then, to make it more confusing, a friend told me that nearly every
third article on the Atlantic magazine publishes some angle on the “mommy” word, “Should I be an executive,
should I stay home?” “Must I be an executive,
must I stay home?” And then two years ago, Sheryl Sandberg gave this amazing,
rousing graduation speech to the sitting graduates
at Barnard College saying to them, “You must lean into your lives and own the responsibility
of becoming leaders of industry.” And while you can be sure that I deeply
appreciate “leaning into our lives”, the tunnel vision of “this is what
our girl graduates must be” didn’t make me feel so good either. And then one year ago, my colleague Rachel Simmons was
at the TEDxWashingtonDC event, and she shared her research
on that today’s girl school graduates absolutely have twenty-first century
leadership external resumes, but their internal resumes, their sense of self and that they
can be who they want to be and their ability
to navigate relationships is lagging behind. So, where does this all leave us? Here is my conclusion I want you
to take away with tonight: we need to stop the bickering about
whether women can or cannot have it all, because the next generation
of equal opportunity is here. It is not about equal opportunity. It is about “every” opportunity. Our girls can break barriers in poetry,
science, nature, art, rugby and dance. They can solve hunger, write books, build buildings, fly into outer space. They can choose to have children
or not have children. They can stay home and take care
of anybody’s children. They can volunteer in organizations,
protect the environment, and teach yoga on the side. And you know what? We are allowed to toggle back and forth between two, three or four
of these at any time we want. It is perfectly American,
perfectly feminist, and I love it. Isn’t this the definition of feminism
our foremothers have been fighting for? The one where our girls know that it is
absolutely possible to have it all and that having it all is their inherent right
as American citizens to make their own decisions at all times. But this right must be
backed by an education system that embraces an educational path to most successfully
find their way to fulfilment. As we’ve said all night,
it’s not just good for girls; it’s good for humanity. After-school programming
in summer institutes, they’ve taken us really far. And opting in based on scars of your lives
has worked for so many, and thank goodness for that. And women’s colleges and women’s programs are a terrific resource, but here we are. In the last decade, it was reported that 82% of female executives
played sports in school. Combine this with the latest
social research that shows girls’ school graduates have higher
aspirations and higher confidence. We can’t allow this generation to miss it. Gender-based schooling
may not be the final choice for all, but it must be taken seriously. Our schools have adopted a pledge;
it goes like this, “I know who I am, I know that I matter,
I know what matters to me.” And we end with the line, “I know I can make a difference
in the world in my own unique way.” Wonder Woman knows it! Eileen Fisher knows it,
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and pop-star Katy Perry knows it. And surely, our own
Missy Franklin knows it. But now you know it! So you and I together
must take what we now know and lean into gender-based schooling
with our whole bodies, our time, energy, money, and participation
of our daughters. Let’s make sure that the glass ceilings
of this generation and the next come crashing down. Thank you. (Applause)