Throughout history, women have played a vital role in shaping our educational system. From Clara Barton, the person responsible for our nation’s first public school, and Mary McLeod Bethune, educator and president of the National Association of Colored People, the impact of women in education continues today. Of the nearly three million full-time elementary teachers in the U.S., 76% are female.[i]
In honor of Women’s History Month, Edmodo wants to celebrate the unbelievable contribution women have made to education. To start our four-part series, let’s take a look at the nation’s most powerful woman: Michelle Obama. Although her career in teaching was brief, her current emphasis on America’s youth makes her a driving force in education today.
The daughter of a City of Chicago Waterworks pump worker, Michelle Obama, born Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, grew up on the South Side of Chicago during the 1960s and 70s. With education an important part of family life, Michelle and her older brother Craig each learned to read by age four and skipped second grade.
“Without being immodest, we were always smart, we were always driven, and we were always encouraged to do the best you can do, not just what’s necessary,” her brother, Craig, has said. “And when it came to going to schools, we all wanted to go to the best schools we could.”[ii]
A cum laude graduate of Princeton University with a B.A. in Sociology, as well as a J.D. from Harvard Law School, the First Lady cited her parents’ “unwavering belief in the power of education” as a vital tool to her success.
Making Motion a Movement
After supporting and helping to fundraise her husband’s two campaigns, First Lady Obama has since devoted her time to promoting the well-being and improvement of the nation’s youth, both mentally and physically. This past year, she introduced the Let’s Move initiative, designed to get children moving again and to fight obesity. The U.S. Olympic team and other sports organizations, along with the First Lady, joined forces in order to get young people to try out a new sport or activity.
“This year, 1.7 million young people will be participating in Olympic and Paralympic sports in their communities—many of them for the very first time. And that is so important, because sometimes all it takes is that first lesson, or clinic, or class to get a child excited about a new sport,” Mrs. Obama said in a statement.[iii]
Sharing Personal Struggles
Drawing from her own personal life, the First Lady also extended her support to students struggling in environments that limit advancement. In front of a group of 10th graders from Bell Multicultural High School, minutes from the White House and in an area similar to South Side Chicago, First Lady Obama offered advice on overcoming adversity.
“Some of my teachers straight up told me that I was setting my sights too high. They told me I was never going to get into a school like Princeton. It was clear to me that nobody was going to take my hand and lead me to where I needed to go; instead it was going to be up to me to reach my goals.
“I went to law school, became a lawyer. I’ve been a vice president for a hospital. I’ve been the head of a nonprofit organization. And I am here today because I want you to know that my story can be your story. The details might be a little different, but let me tell you, so many of the challenges and the triumphs will be just the same. That is my message for all of you today. And over these next few years, I’m going to continue sharing that message all across the country and all across the world to students just like you.”
Mrs. Obama’s success personifies the American Dream; the belief that we, as individuals, are endowed with an inalienable right to improve our lives and seek out happiness and prosperity. The First Lady’s example proves that it’s the student who can make the most of his/her situation, that regardless of background, there are still means to reward those who truly put in the effort.
“No matter what the president does, no matter what your teachers and principals do, or whatever is going on in your home or neighborhood, the person with the biggest impact on your education is you…It’s going to take young people like all of you across the country stepping up and taking control of your education.”[iv]
To recognize Women’s History Month, we thought it fitting to illustrate the educational history of the female figure under arguably the nation’s largest spotlight. Michelle Obama’s passion for and dedication to furthering the education of children is an extension of her own struggles and accomplishments. Her story provides a platform from which students can launch into new academic frontiers and truly reach their full potential.
Who are you honoring during Women’s History Month? Share in the comments section below, or in the Edmodo Communities, and check back every Thursday in March to read about another historical woman’s contribution to education.
[i] National Center for Education Statistics. Teacher Trends. U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences National Center for Education Statistics, n.d. Web.
[ii] A+E Networks. “Michelle Obama Biography.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, 2014.
[iii] Obama, Michelle L. “First Lady Michelle Obama Speaks on The Power of Education.”The White House. The White House, 12 Nov. 2013.
[iv] Ibid 2