Did You Catch the New Study on Girls and Math?
Here’s one report on it, in the Times: www.nytimes.com/2008/07/25/education/25math.html. It turns out that the gap in math performance in schools, which we have seen for 20 years, has disappeared. Why? Simple: girls are now taking as many math courses as boys, so they do as well on tests. There was no essential gender diference, no "math gene," no gap between abstract male rationality and intuitive female sociability. The article explains, "Now that enrollment in advanced math courses is equalized, we don’t see gender differences in test performance,” said Marcia C. Linn of the University of California, Berkeley, a co-author of the study. “But people are surprised by these findings, which suggests to me that the stereotypes are still there.”
Parents, teachers — even girls themselves fearing being seen as odd — used to steer girls away from math. And I suspect that librarians — those who so often say, "I Hate Math" — may also play a part. The danger is that so long as the library world still associates math with boys — and especially nerdy, geeky boys — and girls with fiction, it will be out of touch with those it serves. The study quoted in the paper said we still don’t see as many girls taking higher level physics, or becoming engineers. In other countries, especially in South and East Asia, it is common to have female engineers, scientists — using skills requiring strong math skills. It is still less common here.
I was never good at math — I was not diligent and patient enough. So I understand the emotion behind the I hate math phrase. But, as today’s study shows, my limitation was my limitation, it says nothing about math and kids in general. The study shows that kids will respond to challenges, expand their minds; they are not limited by our preconceptions. And that means all of us who work with young people as authors, editors, librarians, teachers need to be sure we not turning our experiences into stereotypes that limit kids.
The great thing about this new study is that it suggests many other limiting beliefs can be challenged — and in fact they must be. Kids are moving on, we must be as open minded as they are.