Do we have to window-dress academics to appeal to Girls, Minorities and Boys
This morning, I read an interesting piece inside of the fashion blog Refinery 29 article which highlighted 8 Women in Technology Making Waves in Tech. I found the spotlight subjects refreshing and almost immediately noticed how very attractive they all were. It quickly reminded me of a recent Entertainment Weekly article featuring women who have starred in “kick ass” roles in action movies. They were part of a panel during Comic Con conference which is usually attended overwhelmingly by men. I figured both articles and the photography accompanying them tried to show a different side of women in tech or the comic world — and consequently, to also showcase how one can be feminine while subsisting in a male-dominated field.
Skip to the comments and I see some point out that the majority of the nine women are not all really in tech, in terms of having invented something, but more so into internet business or are working as tech journalists. Ok Sure, there’s that. There also seemed to be opposition over the fact that the article asked the women about their style (even though one should expect that from a fashion blog after all). The blog’s editor chimed in to point out that the dual purpose of the piece besides to introduce its readers to these women is to also encourage girls that being into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and show you can be girly, attractive and into fashion while being a techie.
I get it.
Recently, Michelle Obama announced plans to produce a rap album to encourage kids to exercise and get healthy, as part of her Let’s Move initiative. About a decade ago, the makers of a popular rap math CD series had to fight against critics of the program who said they dumbed down to minority and low-income kids. They rebutted saying the goal is to go where the kids are and that they had success in enriching the target demo’s comprehension and retention of math tables. Since then, many other producers have hopped on the background with their own projects.
On the surface, the activist in me would want to object to what appears to be “window-dressing” of academics for hip-hop loving low-income urban kids whose parents cannot afford tutoring and to girls who should be able to find value in math and science without having the subjects wrapped in a big pink bow
But then, I had to step back and realize that there are dozens if not hundreds of books written each year to help educators and parents get males to enjoy reading and to improve boys’ reading comprehension skills.
A couple years ago, my husband and I used spent several hours each day trying to get out then 9-year old son to comprehend a book he had to read and summarize into a report for class. The kid struggled through it and I blamed myself for not being more aggressive in nurturing a love of reading in him. As a kid, I loved reading.
During visits with friends, I used to notice how many of the girls in various families I’d see would be crouched over deep into novels while the boys were usually somewhere rough-housing or challenging each other in front of video game consoles. It had me wondering if girls were just naturally more into books than boys.
The query popped up in my head as I read piece a couple years ago from fellow Washington Times Communities writer Cynthia Lim. In it, Lim noted that the key to her daughter earning a near perfect SAT score was her love of reading.
That same morning as I dropped off the kids at school, I saw copies of a local parenting news magazine Washington Parent still bound and stacked from the weekend delivery in front of the school entrance. I helped myself to set a copy free because a very relevant cover story caught my eye. Boys v. Girls: Do they learn differently? is about differences in learning abilities based on gender. I dug into it in the school parking lot and read it in its entirety before pulling off.
In the piece, author Jeanette Der Bedrosian points to research which states that girls were leaving boys behind in language, attention and fine motor skills, especially in lower grades; and that boys had higher rates of mood-managing medication and lower SAT participation rates. Of girls, the story notes they have higher rates of anxiety, stress, and depression related to learning and lag behind boys in spatial learning and math. She noted that boys in first grade are more likely to poke the seat in front of them and blurt out answers, possibly contributing to the two times higher rate of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis.
The author sort of hypothesized that these differences are reasons for more single sex classes cropping up. But then, she noted how some schools, like the all boys Landon school in Montgomery County, Maryland started complex math earlier based on research that says boys are quicker prepared and perhaps more hard-wired to grasp math. Other schools are pulling out the girls for certain classes to make sure they get enhanced instructions in a way that comports to the way research says girls learn best.
It is all interesting really and probably better that parents take the information with a grain of salt because although there are nuances, at the end of the day each individual child usually exhibits characteristics and learns concepts in a matter unique to them.
We have just got to be attentive, pick up the cues and respond appropriately.
In any event, I picked up at least two of the books recommended in the piece: Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps – And What We Can Do About It by Lisa Eliot; and It’s a boy! Your Son’s Development from Birth to 18 by Michael Thompson and Teresa Barker.
As children return to school this fall and parents continue to try to find ways to keep them intellectually stimulated and interested in their schooling, it’s up to parents to be creative and do whatever is necessary to steer their children’s learning.
…and it pays to not be reactive and reflexive but thoughtful and meticulous.