Unschooled: Breaking In
Not every girl got to go to school. Some girls stayed home to contribute to the family income by working in fields and factories, or by helping out in family-owned businesses. Other girls faced racism and were blocked from public schools. Still others dropped out of school because of bullying. School is complicated. It holds up a mirror to America—a mirror that also reflects the determined faces of girls demanding an education.
Many schools refused to educate African American girls. Some went to great lengths to get an education. In 1853 Charlotte Forten could not go to school in Philadelphia. So she had to leave home to attend an all-white school in Boston.
To-day school commenced.... There is one young girl and only one who...has no prejudice against color. I wonder that every colored person is not a misanthrope.
Farm girls often miss school to help out at home, as Frances Ransome remembered.
Papa was a farmer and he made us work so hard that we didn't go to school half the time. We had to stay at home in the fall and grade [tobacco] and pick cotton and in the spring...we had to plant it.
One in three girls who doesn't conform to gender stereotypes is bullied. One in ten leave school for their own safety. Willow, a transgender teen girl, recalled when she came out as gay.
I went into the locker room and everybody beat me up. I didn't feel safe telling people because I thought they'd beat me up more.
In American agriculture, child labor laws don't apply. Today many children work the fields, unable to attend school because they must travel to work long, low-paying hours, even during the school year. Iris, a daughter of migrant workers, recalled.
I started working in the fields when I turned 12...If it weren't for my mom telling me...your school's more important, honestly I would've dropped out.
Unschooled: Breaking Out
Girls are schooled into what society expects from them when they enter the schoolhouse door. They confront adults' assumptions about what it means to be a girl and what kind of girl they might be. These categories can be uncomfortable and don't fit many girls' images of themselves. Many girls absorb these lessons, but they also talk back. Through words, actions, organizations, and fashion statements, girls tell us who they are and what kind of future they envision for themselves.