The Truth About Girls & Science

As I was perusing the Internet looking for an article about girls’ education abroad, I stumbled upon an article about 9th grade girls creating electric desks.  The desks are powered by the foot shaking of the students.  As a perpetual foot shaker, I thought to myself, “What a great idea!” Not only will the desks be useful, as they’re sending them to Tanzania and South Africa with funds from Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams Program, but they’re getting the girls to be interested in working in science, and for a good cause; the schools they will be sent to currently run without electricity.

With all of the attention on girls’ education, it is important that we do not forget that the girls in the United States need help too; they are lagging behind in science professions.  The  story about the girls who made the electric desks made me research girls’ education in STEM subjects here.  According to the National Girl’s Collaborative Project (NGCP), which strives to get girls connected to STEM projects, girls receive the majority of Bachelor’s degrees (57.3%) in 2009, but they are not  proportionally represented in the STEM professions.

Why is this? Why do women earn more degrees than men but much less in science, math, technology and engineering? From my experience, it’s in our culture.  The article mentioned above about the electrical desks would not have been such a big feat had it been done by boys. This is evident in the title “Girl power!…” Girls are not expected to do as well in sciences and math, and so when they do something, it is considered exceptional and news worthy. Had the same project been undertaken by boys, it would still be lauded but it would not be linked to sex; the article would not read “Boy power!” To most this would sound ludicrous; boys already have the power, there would be no reason to point it out. Only in a culture like ours, where girls are expected to be good at subjects like reading and writing, would it matter what sex completed the project.  Despite expectations though, girls, according to NGCP, are more likely to take precalculus, and though their is evidence to lower test scores in the science, this is linked more to socioeconomic status/race than it is to just sex.

Growing up as an average American girl, in the suburbs of New Jersey, science was never a priority.  My struggles began in the 3rd grade when I could not for the life of me understand inertia, even after a hand on demonstration in which my mom went over the handle bars of her bike.  But that did not mean I was not curious; I had dreams of becoming an ocean biologist after a trip to the Jersey shore  introduced me to the diversity of sea creatures.  As I went on in school, though, I was not encouraged to study science or math. I was often told my strong subjects were in the humanities and thats what I ended up studying, a “subject for girls” I was often told.

In order for our own nation to move forward, girl’s scientific capabilities need to be developed.  The only way to do so is to fight the stereotype that women are not good at math or science.  While I was on the hunt for information about girls’ science education, I came across this article in Live Science debunking the myths about girls and science.  6 myths are explained and the truth is exposed regarding girls and science but I would like to point out a few based on my own experience. Myth #1 is that girls are not interested in science.  While this is obviously very wrong, I found it interesting that as early as second grade both boys and girls draw WHITE MEN when asked to depict a scientist.  The women that were drawn are angry. Though I knew this to be true from my experience, I was a little shocked at just how young it appeared.  Similarly, Myth #6 says that its innate; women are born disadvantaged and therefore choose other careers. People who uphold this view cite men’s superior spatial abilities. Studies show that in cultures where women dominate this phenomena is reversed.  Both are cultural; both can and need to be reversed.

In a world that is saturated with news regarding girls’ education abroad, it is important not to forget those at home. Cultural biases leave girls lagging in the STEM professions. The girls who created the electric desks are a great example of what girls are capable of if they are in an encouraging environment.  The myths about girls and science need to be more than debunked, the truth needs to become the standard.

Sources:

Roach, J. (2013, October 23). Girl power! 9th grade girls developing electricity-generating desks. NBC News. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from http://www.nbcnews.com/science/girl-power-9th-grade-girls-developing-electricity-generating-desks-8C11443267

About NGCP. (n.d.). National Girls Collaborative Project |. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from http://www.ngcproject.org/about-ngcp

6 Myths About Girls and Science. (2013, October 21). LiveScience.com. Retrieved October 27, 2013, from http://www.livescience.com/40572-myths-girls-math-science.html