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Teaching style makes women less drawn to math and science

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Posted: Friday, August 1, 2014 7:45 am

Dear Straight Talk: I’m a woman in high tech and a regular Straight Talk reader. The disproportionately small number of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) is all over the news. Yet I’ve never seen anyone asking young people about this. What turns girls off? Is it how these subjects are taught? Or is it uncool socially? What’s the “straight talk” on this? — Ellen, Sacramento

Ashley, 26, Auburn: I’m tech savvy and I like figuring things out — but I HATE MATH. Hate it, hate it. My mom believes I might’ve liked it if I’d been taught differently. I hope they do start teaching it differently.

Lyric, 16, Santa Rosa: I’m not very good in these subjects. I probably would be if I tried, but they don’t interest me. Surprisingly, I’ve never had a female math or science teacher. Perhaps that’s why.

Taylor, 17, Santa Rosa: People say sexism is dead, but girls are totally taught that being pretty and sweet is more important than intelligence. Boy toys are geared towards building (Lego, trains, etc.), while girl toys are dolls and makeup. The differences are continuously beat into them by the media and schools. While I enjoy math and science, and have had both male and female teachers, English comes easier, so I like it better.

Jake, 18, Grass Valley: It’s mostly genetics. More men enjoy “tangible creation,” whereas more women enjoy “intangible problem solving.” My electrical engineering field is focused on creating tangible innovations based on already-defined concepts, whereas female-dominated fields, like psychology, require more deep thought.

Rachel, 23, Corte Madera: I loved math as a kid, but struggled as I got older, while boys who had struggled, suddenly understood. Working with children, I saw the same trend. Are young girls just better at sitting and completing worksheets, or is it something cultural, or brain-based, that makes boys excel later on?

Brandon, 22, Mapleton, Maine: One deterrent is socially-inept intellectual young males. There’s an aura around this generation’s programmers, science majors and technology majors that you should be male, use a “troll” website like 4chan or Reddit, and share beliefs about women “staying in the kitchen.” Online jokes about women in barbaric roles have created huge gender tension. Truthfully, many of these intellectual nerds are Internet shut-ins and their lack of social interaction makes them hostile. I witnessed top members of my computer programming trade telling women, “Go back to your Easy Bake oven,” rather than help them with their programming error. Not all geeks are nerds. Many geeks are cool and socially connected, however, they could be much more active in encouraging women.

Dear Ellen: The panel has shoveled the muck from the truck, revealing cultural sexism from society, “neo-caveman” sexism from the industry, ineffective teaching, and brain-based genetic differences. Brain-based differences have been pooh-poohed by the “enlightened,” but new brain science shows that male and female brains, while equally capable at math and science, (and at being collaborative and emotional), are wired significantly differently — thus responding differently to different teaching styles.

I believe this is the lynchpin, and highly recommend you read “Why Gender Matters” by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D., where this science is laid out. Many girls start strong in math because elementary school teachers are overwhelmingly female and are teaching (unconsciously) to the female brain. They typically begin struggling in high school and abandon ship because their STEM teachers, now often male, are teaching (unconsciously) to the male brain — and virtually all STEM textbooks are geared toward the male brain, influencing even female-taught classes. To see more women in STEM, and more men in education and humanities, a real solution is single-sex classes with teachers teaching to that sex. — Lauren

Ask a question or go deeper in today’s conversation at www.straighttalkadvice.org — or write P.O. Box 1974, Sebastopol, CA, 95473. Straight Talk Advice.org is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and relies on reader support.

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