Post submitted by Kimmie Fink, Welcoming Schools Consultant
Today, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg turns 84 years old. Ginsburg has served on the Supreme Court since 1993 and is its oldest member. Only the second female justice in history (after Sandra Day O’Connor), Ginsburg experienced significant gender-based discrimination throughout her career and has long been a champion of gender equality. This Women’s History Month, and in honor of Ginsburg’s birthday, teachers can share biographies of Ginsburg and other trailblazing women like her.
Educators in search of quality biographies of women for their elementary students need look no further than the HRC Foundation’s Welcoming Schools resource “Biographies: Courageous, Diverse Role Models for Students.” Students can get to know Ginsburg herself in the first picture book about her life, I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark. Fellow justice Sonia Sotomayor also makes the list with the bilingual book Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx/La juez creció en el Bronx.
Other recommended books feature eminent figures such as the indomitable Rosa Parks (I Am Rosa Parks) and more than a few first ladies (Who Is Michelle Obama?, Hillary Rodham Clinton: Dreams Taking Flight, and Eleanor). The list also includes lesser-known (but no less noteworthy) individuals like the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story) and a 19th century female architect (Julia Morgan Built a Castle).
Another biography to share with students is I Am Jazz, a first-person account of transgender youth and trailblazing advocate Jazz Jennings. Jennings was one of the first transgender children to talk publicly about her identity. To assist with classroom discussion, teachers can refer to the Welcoming Schools lesson “I Am Jazz: Using Children’s Books to Help Understand Transgender Topics in Elementary School.” Jennings’s book has also inspired community readings across the nation, and this month is a prime opportunity to host one (To coordinate a school or community event, check out HRC’s organizing kit.)
Elementary students can interact with biographies in multiple ways. Teachers might choose to highlight a particular individual with a read aloud or assign students to research historical figures. As students read text and engage in discussions about the lives of these women, they will expand their perceptions about activities and careers and find exceptional role models.
Studying biographies is a time-honored tradition in school, but it doesn’t have to be dull or tiresome. Biographies can be used to celebrate and inspire. Learning about people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg can encourage our youth to see every future pathway as a possibility, even a seat on the bench of the highest court in the land.
HRC’s Welcoming Schools is the nation’s premier program dedicated to creating respectful and supportive elementary schools in embracing family diversity, creating LGBTQ-inclusive schools, preventing bias-based bullying, creating gender-expansive schools, and supporting transgender and non-binary students.