My Photo


  • Jen-Luc Piquant sez: "They like us! They really like us!"

    "Explains physics to the layperson and specialist alike with abundant historical and cultural references."
    -- Exploratorium ("10 Cool Sites")

    "... polished and humorous..."
    -- Physics World

    "Takes 1 part pop culture, 1 part science, and mixes vigorously with a shakerful of passion."
    -- Typepad (Featured Blog)

    "In this elegantly written blog, stories about science and technology come to life as effortlessly as everyday chatter about politics, celebrities, and vacations."
    -- Fast Company ("The Top 10 Websites You've Never Heard Of")
Blog powered by Typepad
Bookmark and Share

« myths are bustin' out all over | Main | missed me by a millimeter »

Comments is the corrected url. you have

Thanks for posting this great response!
I brought the piece to my undergraduate science education students this afternoon for their comments. One of them said: "I think there were some good points in here but I was so angry by the end that I forgot what they were."

I fully agree with the point you make about different people learning different ways. It's more about audio/visual/kinetic learning than a mere gender difference (although cultural and peer pressure figure in also). The truly good teachers I've experienced were just damn good and interested us (their students). And the odd thing is that these teachers were considered good not just by males or just by females, but by all the people in the class. Let me state that again: I have not had a good teacher who only interested the guys or only the girls in a class.

It also always amazes me when a teacher (and now professors) mention(s) something cool, maybe (if you're lucky) demonstrates it once and then goes into full on derivation. I always wonder: "hey!? Where's my hands on time?". What's lost is the wonder, the amazement which engenders curiosity. Furthermore, there goes the opportunity to develop a feeling for the subject matter, a realworld experience.

I'd say students will appreciate (for example) Maxwell's equations much more when they've played with a plexiglass tray of iron fillings and a magnet for a while ... it might even motivate them to look up the derivations outside of class. A classroom with a teacher should be a place where someone shows people something they wouldn't think of themselves and then asks them a question about it, allows them to interact with it (do things they can't/wouldn't anywhere else), after which they are motivated to learn much more about it on their own. Do that, and you don't have to copy the textbook equations on the blackboard; the students will look them up themselves, if they have the curiosity to do so and a goal to work towards, a question asked of them which they are curious to find the answer to. Give people (men and women) opportunity (the classroom), motive (make 'em curious, fill 'em with wonder at what they're seeing/hearing/feeling, then ask them something they feel they either should be able to answer or are almost able to answer) and means (the observational, logical and mathematical tools) and men and women will be drawn to any subject.

And if the student wants to ask a different question, allow that. Not all students like doing the rote work a thousand before them have done; some actually want to use the same principles to answer their own questions. I think that too goes for men and women, although this last one has always been the one which bothered me most.

Sorry that this has turned more into a teaching rant than the subject at hand ... but to be honest I think that women would be more interested in science if the teachers were more engaging and challenging, also teaching more of the drama and actual 'life' in the sciences (experiencing not just the wonder of the phenomenon, but also how and why the questions came up, and the interplay of people which led to certain questions being raised [purple dye, DNA structure, synthetic panties]), instead of just fact-regurgitating.

As a Canadian, I should point out that the Globe and Mail is a fairly right-wing publication, at least for Canada (it isn't quite Faux News, but only because they would lose even more readers than they already are).

It's entirely possible that Rajagopalan's article may well have been more nuanced when she originally wrote it, but was edited down by one or more right-wing, white men.

I just don't see why they're being singled out for special concern.

You make some great points and I haven't read the article you referenced (I will assume you are being fair in your assessment.) However, an answer to your implicit question may ease your anger a bit.

First I have plenty of examples that agree with yours about those atypical of stereotypes. But facts are stubborn. Boys and girls develop differently. It is generally true that girls develop better verbal abilities earlier than boys for example.

How have girls been dealt with by education historically? Many people saw the need to address that issue and have. What result? The pendulum has swung. This is why boys need some emphasis now (without taking anything away from girls) and I will give you some reasons to consider.

In the book 'PLEASE UNDERSTAND ME' points to the destruction of children's minds, predominantly boys, with Ritalin for behavior that has long been associated mostly with boys. Using massive amounts of narcotics to get boys to be more like girls is indescribably vile. Especially since their are other ways, not using pharmacology, to deal with 'objectionable' behavior. Boys being boys is now considered objectionable rather than accepting what is hardwired. Yes you can find specific girls exhibiting similar behavior (they drug them as well) but it is just a fact generally that boys suffer the most of this abuse today. This alone justifies some emphasis.

We now have more women than men attending and graduating higher education, reversing the historical trend. Some may consider this good, or perhaps hope it to be equal one day. My opinion is that education should be available and common to all, but it is an indicator that something has changed to the detriment of men. A gender war is not a good thing, again IMHO.

We are still today blind to the content of character. We don't need to be doubling down on our mistakes.

Ken- there's no substantive proof that any of that nonsense is genetics. It's way more to do with how we socialize our kids. So we are not "feminizing" the boys, ok? There's a standard that says girls must be quiet, talkers, polite and well behaved. That boys are allowed to be rambunctious and energetic. That we then turn around and expect them to behave in classrooms is hypocritical yes, but we still allow them to "be boys" outside the classroom when really these behaviors for "boys" and "girls" are most likely taught by societies. And your comment about something changing "to the detriment of men" is bull. For the last thousands of years of human civilization women have never had the opportunity to be educated equally to their male peers, let alone many other opportunities. Now that the percentage attending college is something like 51 to 49 it can only be to the "detriment" of the men? How about when we extended the vote to women, was that to the detriment of men that suddenly a lower percentage of men were voting? How about when the vote was extended to newly freed African American males, was that to the "detriment" of white men? All these stereotypes of "manly" vs "feminine" hurts both boys and girls, until we can wrap our heads around that we'll do nothing to improve education in this country.

I don't know that drills and abstract problem solving have to be at odds with the socio-cultural context of math and science. I think the discussion of "rigor" in Rajagopalan's argument is particularly interesting, and I definitely agree that math classes the way they are taught now (or at least a few years ago when I last looked at homework from one) are still akin to practicing scales- even if it is not as "rigorous" as it used to be. In any case, drills are not interesting if you don't know why you're doing them and the socio-cultural context can provide that important "why" factor for both boys and girls.

This discussion reminds me of Paul Lockhart's 2002 essay "A Mathematician's Lament" that appeared in MAA online. He makes the case that in math classes it's not mathematics that kids are learning but "mindless manipulation of symbols". He likens it to painters learning to paint by numbers. You can find the link to the pdf here:

This is quite scary ... So what a lot of the comments here indicate is that there is no genetic difference between men and women. Give me a break. Is this what is passing for enlightened thought these days? Come on.

@Jager: Try reading a bit more carefully. Nobody is saying there are zero genetic differences. The post is about pointless gender stereotyping.

"Look, it's not that I don't care about the boys; I just don't see why they're being singled out for special concern. We need to do a better job educating all our students about math and science, steering them toward careers in those fields -- regardless of gender."

I won't speak to the validity of any evidence in question. But I will point out the obvious. That any group gets singled out for special concern when it starts empirically failing at a greater rate than any other theoretically equivalent group (here men vs. women). This is logical & natural & nothing to be alarmed about & possibly just a statistical outlier.

I guess boys might be failing more at the lower levels K-12 more than girls these days. I haven't a clue. But in my undergrad classes, I can only recall 2 girls in my graduating physics class of 30ish. In my graduating math class, there were more though like maybe 20% girls. Anecdotal evidence. But if this wave of male failure at the lower levels of math and science is happening, I haven't seen it in the upper levels yet.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    Physics Cocktails

    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
      1 oz dark rum
      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
      Crushed ice
      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
    • Combustible Edison
      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
      2 oz brandy
      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
      Combine Campari and lemon juice in shaker filled with cracked ice. Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Heat brandy in chafing dish, then ignite and pour into glass. Cocktail Go BOOM! Plus, Fire = Pretty!
    • Hiroshima Bomber
      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
      3/4 Triple sec
      1/4 oz Bailey's Irish Cream
      2-3 drops Grenadine
      Fill shot glass 3/4 with Triple Sec. Layer Bailey's on top. Drop Grenadine in center of shot; it should billow up like a mushroom cloud. Remember to "duck and cover."
    • Mad Scientist
      Any mad scientist will tell you that flames make drinking more fun. What good is science if no one gets hurt?
      1 oz Midori melon liqueur
      1-1/2 oz sour mix
      1 splash soda water
      151 proof rum
      Mix melon liqueur, sour mix and soda water with ice in shaker. Shake and strain into martini glass. Top with rum and ignite. Try to take over the world.
    • Laser Beam
      Warning: may result in amplified stimulated emission.
      1 oz Southern Comfort
      1/2 oz Amaretto
      1/2 oz sloe gin
      1/2 oz vodka
      1/2 oz Triple sec
      7 oz orange juice
      Combine all liquor in a full glass of ice. Shake well. Garnish with orange and cherry. Serve to attractive target of choice.
    • Quantum Theory
      Guaranteed to collapse your wave function:
      3/4 oz Rum
      1/2 oz Strega
      1/4 oz Grand Marnier
      2 oz Pineapple juice
      Fill with Sweet and sour
      Pour rum, strega and Grand Marnier into a collins glass. Add pineapple and fill with sweet and sour. Sip until all the day's super-positioned states disappear.
    • The Black Hole
      So called because after one of these, you have already passed the event horizon of inebriation.
      1 oz. Kahlua
      1 oz. vodka
      .5 oz. Cointreau or Triple Sec
      .5 oz. dark rum
      .5 oz. Amaretto
      Pour into an old-fashioned glass over (scant) ice. Stir gently. Watch time slow.