This will not come as surprise to those who know me: I don’t like math. But thankfully (?) I’m not alone. Many women I know don’t like math. It’s not that I am bad at math; in fact much of the work I do regarding family engagement in education requires that I understand data, and break down the data into language. I just was never encouraged to like math. Or science. Or technology. Or engineering.
As a child I showed a natural inclination toward reading and language, and because my parents were artists, I was always enrolled in some music, dance, or art class. When I started school, I was encouraged to pursue those interests. And while I was able to make good grades in math and science, I just wasn’t that interested in those subjects. I did just enough and that was good enough. And for so many of my female friends, they had the same educational experiences growing up.
Now, when our children ask for help in math, or science, or technology, we don’t say “I can’t help because I don’t understand the math you are being taught,” or “I’d love to help you with your science project but you’ll have to let me brush up on how cells divide first,” or anything that isn’t overly negative about those topics, instead we say “I’m bad at math.”
What does that show our children?
As our cultural attitudes about gender roles continue to shift, and there is a strong, even urgent, focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) we must–women especially–willingly re-educate ourselves about math, and become…STEMinists.
STEM as an initiative partners well (and doesn’t diminish the goals of) Common Core, which is a state-led education standards initiative, as it creates a more intense focus on areas that have been often seen as less emphasized, particularly as these subjects apply to how we educate girls.
Let’s lose the STEM gender divide
In order to maintain an innovative and competitive workforce, the idea is that we must start encouraging our children to seek out STEM subjects and help advance our nation. Currently all the buzz, schools, districts, and entrepreneurs are working to create the newest and latest program or app to support this type of learning environment. And yes, I completely acknowledge that some boys are often not encouraged to pursue these fields, nor are many of our minority students, but overwhelmingly we continue to dismiss STEM as a viable educational pursuit for girls.
I think the best example of this, to me at least, is that for years LEGO toys have been marketed to boys, encouraging creativity and now even robotics. LEGO realized that they were missing an entire portion of the consumer dollar and created pink LEGO toys for girls. My daughter has always just played with regular LEGOs, building whatever she could imagine, encouraged by her older brothers to do so. But the pink LEGOs want her to build an ice cream shop or a beauty parlor… not a road racer, space ship, or fire house. I’m not saying she couldn’t build all that with pink and purple LEGOs, but she still is being culturally prescribed a path of discovery that will lead her in one direction.
Let’s hope that as the push for STEM increases, this divide between the genders will diminish, creating a new equation for all our children that allows them to explore all subjects with passion and zeal and doesn’t discourage their love of any topic of learning.
I believe that LEGO has the right intent (even if poorly executed) because we do need to ensure that our girls are encouraged to create. And thanks to technology, all students (not just girls) are now being asked to create an app or go to various websites that enhance and encourage this ear of interest and expertise.
From STEM to STEAM
I also hope that we update STEM to STEAM and include the arts as another emphasized area of study; many see the arts as an essential partner to multiple STEM subjects. The arts are also a way to help many disconnected learners to re-engage in education, and should be emphasized in any curriculum.
As Susan Riley points out in a recent article in Edutopia, “The arts have unique parallels to the Common Core Standards that may make their implementation a beneficial addition for teachers and administrators. These parallels attest to the rigors of the arts and the need for their processes in today’s global workforce and the unforeseen future.”
And while I would much rather be a STEAMinist than just a STEMinist at least I’m working hard to shift the conversation in my house from “I hate math” to “why don’t we learn that together.” That, I think, is a solution we can all support so that no student is left behind.