EDMONTON — Alberta's education minister wants a school division to immediately revamp a course entitled "Women Studies'' which teaches tween girls about hairstyles, flattering clothing, dinner party etiquette and polite conversation.
David Eggen says the NDP government has made gender equity a top priority and understands why concerns are being raised about the course offered by the Pembina Hills School Division to girls in Grades 6 to 9.
His officials have spoken to the school division, he said.
"We informed them that all problematic or offensive components must be changed. They have assured me they will make appropriate changes,'' Eggen said in an emailed statement.
"My office will be actively monitoring this situation, and I trust that Pembina Hills will make the appropriate changes necessary to this course.''
David Garbutt, acting superintendent for the division in central Alberta, was in a board meeting Wednesday and unavailable for an interview. In a statement, he said the course is a "work in progress" and the board is listening to the constructive criticism it has received.
Click for a full size copy of the course syllabus
"People are rightly concerned that our students not feel stereotyped. We agree,'' he said. "We want to ensure that the girls who are enrolled — and indeed all students regardless of gender expression — understand gender stereotyping.
"These are issues that the girls are talking about in class. We will be reviewing the curriculum to ensure that it doesn't reinforce stereotypes in the process of encouraging positive self-image and self-esteem.''
The division, which oversees 3,800 students in 15 community schools, is mulling over an invitation from the University of Alberta's women and gender studies department for students to visit the campus and attend a class.
The course, which drew 25 girls when it was offered last month, was featured in a blog post on the division's website last week. Teacher Michelle Savoie said the curriculum is intended to help girls navigate adolescence with healthy self-esteem.
"In this age of social media, girls are being frequently compared to others and exposed to messages about how they aren't good enough unless they dress and behave a certain way," she is quoted as saying in the post.
"I hope the girls will learn to be supportive of each other and gain confidence and self-esteem as they discover who they are and who they want to be."
Students will learn how to "enhance their natural beauty and express confidence'' by "analyzing the shape of their faces to determine which hairstyle is most flattering (and) assessing their body shape to choose clothing styles that are the most complimentary,'' the post said.
The girls are expected to do a report on a woman they admire, as well as complete a personality test to help determine what career might suit them. Students are also to look at a history of women's beauty in North America.
The course includes a field trip to a food and cosmetology high school classroom where they will "plan recipes, table settings, dinner music and review dinner party etiquette and polite conversation.
"The girls will spend the afternoon learning about nail care and application."
Strong social media reaction
The reaction on social media was swift.
"I'm just wondering, are you teaching boys about how to dress for their body shape and what hairstyle suits them best?'' Ashley Corcoran wrote in response to the division's Facebook posting.
"Can you demonstrate a similar course for the boys that teaches such valuable, success-building, empowering, beneficial lessons? I'll wait."
"It is sad to see that your field trips and syllabus are reinforcing gender stereotypes rather than challenging them,'' added Lexi Fatale. "You are teaching these girls that their purpose in their life is to be pretty, when as educators you should know they are so much more than that.''
Others defended the course and denounced criticism aimed at a well-intentioned teacher.
"When you see what young girls are wearing I don't think teaching them to dress neatly is a bad thing,'' wrote Joan Libby.
"It is a skill that will help them be successful at interviews and the like. Perhaps she could re-frame it as 'how to dress professionally' so that she would not get as many haters online. I see what she was going for and all these people need to realize it's not very 'feminist' to bully another female online for her ideas."