Friday Round Up: What Kind of Education = Girl and Woman Power?

MathGirlsAutumn has officially arrived, and with it back-to-school education talk has been a big topic this week. Today’s Friday Round Up explores the power of education in general, and its power to foster gender parity specifically.

President Obama gave his traditional Back-to-School Speech on Tuesday at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School in Washington telling students their achievements are a critical part of a secure future for the United States.

“Soon enough, you’ll be the ones leading our businesses and our government; you’ll be the ones charting the course of our unwritten history. All of that starts this year. Right now. So I want you all to make the most of this year ahead of you. Your country is depending on you. So set your sights high.”

First Lady Michelle Obama pointed the education discussion toward girls and women this week as well and voiced the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education for young women while at a visit at the National Science Foundation. The NSF was announcing their 10-year plan to increase workplace flexibility in the STEM fields to encourage women and girls to enter these career fields.

First Lady Michelle Obama“And if we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, then we have to open doors to everyone. We can’t afford to leave anyone out. We need all hands on deck. And that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

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And it starts with lighting the spark for science and math in elementary school and grade school… so encouraging girls early not to lose heart in those fields, and encouraging them through high school is important. But it also means making sure that these young women can keep pursuing their dreams in college and beyond.”

AAUW Executive Director Linda Hallman attended the event with Ms. Obama in recognition of the AAUW’s renewed commitment to building successful local programs to attract girls and women to STEM fields.

“We welcome the administration’s recognition of the vital role the federal government plays in removing occupational barriers to women in these fields. AAUW’s work in this area shows that even small improvements can make a big difference in retaining the best minds in the science and math fields.”

AAUW’s 2010 research report “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics” provides compelling evidence of the environmental and social barriers that continue to limit women’s participation and progress in those fields.

Girls in ScienceIn Columnist Anna Holmes piece in the Washington Post “Technically, science will be less lonely for women when girls are spurred early” highlighted a story of Maresa Leto, 19, a sophomore at Michigan State who is taking her first computer science course this semester.

“I think it’s just part of what teenage girls are taught, which is to act dumb and cutesy so they don’t intimidate guys,” says Leto, whose older sister Lauren, a tech entrepreneur, urged her to give programming a try. As for the computer science class she’s taking, Leto says that she is one of a handful of women in the class. “No one has commented on the gender disparity, but I am conscious of it. I try to seem smarter than I actually am, just to prove I belong there.”

And even the method of teaching of students was in the news. In Kelly Wallace’s post on iVillage “Girls Rule in Math & Science (Okay, They Don’t Yet But Maybe Someday!)” spoke to the ways young women are taught STEM subjects and seeing some of the old stereotypes crumbling. Wallace profiled a school in Queens, New York that by using the all-girl classroom approach is seeing success.

”The motto at the school is “Girls Rule.” Laura Mitchell, the school’s principal, said with a chuckle, “We like boys but girls rule.” So what’s the message behind “Girls Rule,” I asked? “Empowerment, self-esteem, confidence, and whatever you put your mind to, you can achieve it.”

Women in ScienceBut a contrary view, “The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling” was published recently in the journal Science by researchers at Arizona State University. ScienceDaily article “Single-Sex Schooling Does not Improve Academic Performance and Can Lead to Gender Stereotyping, Study Finds.” explained a bit about what the research has found so far by the ASU team, including comments by Richard A. Fabes, the director of the ASU School of Social and Family Dynamics and one of the numerous authors of the study.

“Is it ever good to segregate on the basis of race, income or age? I think the answer is no,” Fabes said. “There is no good evidence that it is ever a good time to separate and segregate. Any form of segregation undermines rather than promotes equality.”

There was a rousing debate about this subject on KPCC’s AirTalk that featured Lynn S. Liben one of the co-authors of the ASU study and Dr. Leonard Sax, Director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.

I’m conflicted–what do you think? Is “separate but equal” a step ahead or a step back when it comes to women and STEM education? If you are a professional in a STEM field, what’s the right solution? Would love your thoughts!

 

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