Science: a girl’s thing (I guess?)

Please look at this.  Make sure you are seated and that your eyeballs are firmly secure in your skull.

Normally, backassery like this would be a product of some division of the U.S. government or Hollywood that thinks it knows everything about everything and in fact knows very little about next to nothing.  However this time, it is the European Commission that can take the blame for this non-attempt to recruit women into the sciences.  Note to the U.S. government:  don’t do this!

In fairness, the goal was certainly a good one, but the follow through was just horrible to the point of sexism.  I expect better from the continent that gave us Lise Meitner and Marie Curie!  Also in fairness when there was enough flack received over this, the Commission had the ad pulled.

That said, it is interesting to note that Europe seems to have the same problem that the US does:  we could use a lot more women getting involved in the physical sciences (women now account for over half the degrees granted in the biological sciences in the U.S, but are far, far underrepresented in chemistry, physics, and geology).

To place the female issue aside for a moment, the United States has a problem of getting anyone involved in science.  We live in a fairly anti-intellectual era (more about that in a future post) and as a teacher, there is a very difficult balance to maintain:  you want to get students involved and engaged and interested, but at the same time:  science is a lot of difficult work that involves a lot of high level thinking skills.  There are a lot more people who have the interest but lack the work ethic or skills.  The hard part about being a teacher is having to tell a student that despite their interest, that they need to work on some very basic skills.

I had a student this year who demonstrated exceptional interest.  He was also, sadly, lazy to an extreme.  He did well enough in the first semester of my non-accelerated class for seniors (he was a junior who had dropped down from the accelerated classes because  of poor grades).  Second semester, he did not do as well.  He informed me that he fully intended to take AP Physics.  We looked at his math grades.  He had no grade higher than a “B” (freshman year), and had gotten “D”s through advanced algebra and trig.  He intended to take pre-calc over the summer and then calc as a senior.  He had taken our engineering classes and earned “D”s in both classes, and his teacher confirmed that he was the only student to score that low, and that it was laziness.

His request was denied, and his parents filed a letter requesting to override the decisions of the department chairs (the math department chair also denied this entry into AP calc).  The parents argued that “shouldn’t kids be able to pursue their interests?”  The parents have a point, but when it comes to AP tests, the department chairs have to be cautious about who they let in, because the rate at which students pass the AP tests has become a measure of the success of the school as a whole … so any student who looks like they aren’t going to cut it can cost future students in terms of the standing of the school in the eyes of universities who are deciding to accept students.  To make matters worse, you may be familiar with the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of high schools (this ranking is not a very good system of ranking).  The ranking is based almost purely on a formula related to AP tests.  Because it has become a big deal nationally (even though it is a terrible system), the schools are now under even more pressure than ever to get AP scores up while recruiting more students who can assuredly pass the test into their ranks.

Another example of how schools have had a gun put to their head to do more stupid things that aren’t related to sound educational ideas.


2 Responses to Science: a girl’s thing (I guess?)

  1. Beth says:

    OMG- No! Just No. I am so sick of the whole “Science equals CSI and sexy!” nonsense that has been spreading like wildfire. When HS start dumbing down their standards for entry into AP courses (just like anything else) bad things happen. Don’t get me wrong. I’m one of the first to promote girl learning power and opportunity, but young women should study and “get into” science (or any other field) because it is their passion to study, not because they can buy a microscope that matches their lipstick. (BTW – That’s “girl” G-I-R-L, not the stupid “Grrrrl” crap!)

    I believe that every student in the public schools should have an opportunity to pursue what their interest through study, but if you’re interested enough, you’re also willing to do the work, or find another level of exploration in desired field. It’s a balance. If one pursues a career path based totally on aptitude and the ability to make more money from that aptitude, well that person may turn into an over-worked and unhappy person. But if it’s all pursuit of dream/desire, and no real interest in actually doing what is required, then eventually that person winds up frustrated because, not only have they wasted time and money, but simply cannot get any closer to what they have convinced themselves they “have to have” as a career.

    No wonder the kid in your example is so lazy–his parents obviously feel he is entitled to do whatever he wants despite the lack of effort or ability, and are willing to fight with a school about it. Really? In that case, I want to be a virologist, even though I damn near flunked honors biology in HS, and haven’t studied it since-but I really , REALLY am interested in curing diseases… Know a good attorney who will take on the admission’s board at John Hopkins for me?

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