28 May 2010

Confused about Gender Equity

Last year, there was an opportunity in the state for certificated teachers who wanted to add a math endorsement to their certificate. There is no simple route to adding endorsements in this state outside of your major field. Basically, you have to do enough college-level coursework in order to be eligible for consideration---and depending upon the endorsement, you have to do a whole new round of student teaching, too. Seriously. The new program for math would pay all associated fees for teachers who wanted to take the math coursework---sponsors were even willing to send professors out to the masses, so if there were several people in a district participating in the program, Muhammed would indeed go to the mountain.

Someone suggested that I participate. "No way," I said. I like math, but I don't want to teach math. Just because I'm aware that I could be math teacher doesn't make me want to run out and be one.

I have wondered if similar sorts of things might be influencing the perceived gender inequities in other areas. I read a recent statistic that only 17% of college graduates with computer science degrees are female. Some are outraged by such a statistic. Me? I think it's possible that we're mixing equity of access with lack of interest. If there's no policy preventing females from majoring in computer science, all the outreach in the world isn't going to lead to equal representation at graduation.  Seventeen percent doesn't necessarily mean women are adverse to computer engineering, it may well mean that they're interested in something else even more. Can we reliably tell the difference?


Hugh said...

You've got a point there, SG.

Once again, PC folks in high positions mistake statistics for reality.

Really a shame that so many decisions at such high levels are made in such...abysmal...ignorance.

Can't force interest where it doesn't exist.

Dr Pezz said...

Sometimes I think our society raises kids in ways that push them into certain fields. I watch how parents, community members, TV, films, music, and more teach our girls to be more social, open, and nurturing.

These are not qualities associated with math, science, and engineering.

Maybe the choices our students make are more affected by our socialization of them rather than by the opportunities we provide.

The Science Goddess said...

It may or may not be societal, but I do think that your right about the opportunities that are provided. To me, equity of access---especially when it comes to expanding the range of experiences for students of poverty---is the more important fish to fry.

Still, it will be a challenge to tell the difference between opportunities and interests. I really wonder if we can measure one without the confounding influence of the other.

Roger Sweeny said...

If we say that a gender imbalance is a problem, then almost all majors have a problem. There are substantially more women than men in just about all of them. In fact, there are substantially more women than men in higher education period.

Does that mean we need radical reform of higher ed?

hschinske said...

I thought this was interesting too: http://www.iq.harvard.edu/blog/sss/archives/2008/11/interest_in_com.shtml

There has been a big boom/bust cycle in how interested students are in computer science generally, and I wouldn't be surprised if the points where fewer students are interested coincide with the points where mostly it's the hardcore nerds (whose culture does tend to the misogynistic) are left. I'd like to see the numbers on how many black/Latin@/low SES students go into CS and how they've fluctuated, too. They probably felt there was more room for them at times when computer science seemed to be in the middle of a big shake-up anyway, and it was no longer such an advantage to be part of the old guard.

I do think computer science is presented with far more mystique than necessary, and that it hurts the field generally as well as being somewhat hostile to women and minorities specifically. People who say the heck with the nerd glamor, it's a solid field where I can get a comfortable salary, and you really don't have to be some special sort of person, except perhaps at the highest reaches, seem to do better, boom or bust.

I am not *that* worried about what happens to privileged women who do in fact have a lot of choices about what they can do with their lives anyway (though of course I would prefer it if they didn't face sexism in CS or other fields either, and I've heard a lot of reports that they still do). And I'm certainly not worried about those who know exactly what they want and simply aren't interested in a particular field. What I am very worried about is that a job avenue that could be a ticket out of poverty (sorry, mixed metaphor) tends to get closed off quite early to anyone who isn't already "into computers." I'm also not happy with the effect on *anyone* of working in a field that has a distorted view of itself and puts up artificial barriers to entry. I think educators can do a lot to present a more realistic view of the field that would enable students to make more informed decisions.