Despite compelling arguments for gender mainstreaming in political science education, evidence indicates that very little mainstreaming is taking place. This is likely related to a knowledge gap regarding politics and gender. As Ernest Boyer noted: “[A]s a scholarly enterprise, teaching begins with what the teacher knows.” Nevertheless, professors would be hard-pressed to know everything there is to know about their discipline. Plus, we do not typically have the time and resources to create class materials from scratch. Instead, we often rely on textbooks to help shape course content, and the textbooks we choose often provide students’ first exposure to a discipline. I argue that the central challenge to effective gender mainstreaming in the political science classroom lies with the lack of substantive gendered content in existing textbooks.
Why do textbooks matter?
Textbooks are an integral part of the academic enterprise. Indeed, textbooks teach particular paradigms that shape students’ disciplinary worldview. Textbooks reproduce scientific knowledge for the student audience and shape not just what students think about a subject but how they think about it. The information in the book demonstrates to students what practitioners consider “legitimate” knowledge in the field, which means it is important to note that what is left out of textbooks is just as important as what is put in them. What is left out sends a very clear message to students about who (white male elites) and what (institutions) are important in political science.
The research on gender content in political science indicates that gender-related content is limited in government texts. The research has primarily focused on American government texts, so it is no surprise that gendered content is most often found in chapters that address civil rights. If textbooks tend to drive our curriculum and curriculum is “constituted as a normalizing text,” then the evidence indicates that gender is not being normalized in introductory American government classes. The question is whether or not there is a similar lacuna in other introductory areas of political science education. I am particularly concerned about introductory political science texts because an introductory class typically exposes students to political theory/ideologies, regime types, institutions, and political participation. This matters because in an increasingly globalized society, how gender-related information is presented to students sets the tone for how they view women’s issues both domestically and globally.