Thursday, November 4, 2010

Girls Need Good Mentors

Although frequently in elementary schools, girls are ahead of the boys in math, Why is it that by the time they go to junior high school or high school so many girls shy away from or even declare they hate math? I suspect that to some degree what pushes them away from mathematics is what I'd call "bad role models". That is, they meet various older women who are anxious about math and they copy the behavior of those women.

Who are these role models? Females in their family and teachers. Most elementary school teachers are female - in fact, in the elementary school I attended, the only male teacher there was the gym teacher (this may have changed over the years.). Just for fun, I googled something similar to "Gender profile of teachers" and got back a number of interesting articles. One from Florida was a 2003 report showing approx 90% female elementary and approx 60% female secondary teachers. Boston.com talked about Massachusetts schools becoming desperate to recruit male teachers to provide role models for boys since so few men teach these days.

I also found a report that backed up my theory about female teachers passing math anxieties on to their female students. The report also stated that for some reason the boys were not influenced by the math-phobic teachers)

How did my interest in math and science survive the bad influence of the math-phobic teachers / role models? I was fortunate that both my parents were math / science teachers and they continuously reinforced not only the value of knowing math and science but also the fun (can you say "home chemistry experiments"?) of it all.

What can we do for those who don't have good math/science female role models in their lives? What else can we do to help influence the young girls to encourage them to pursue technical professions? Where are the highly technical females hiding?

One good place to not only find strong female role models but also something that appeals to youngsters is in Japanese Anime. Unlike American cartoons - where the smart and competent characters are portrayed using negative stereotypes -- thick glasses, ugly, terrible in sports -- Anime heroines are beautiful and amazingly competent in everything from sports to music to academics. Best of all, they are astoundingly competent with computers.

Here's a brief list of anime with strong female leads (character name when I can think of it in parens) :
  • Serial Experimanets Lain (Lain)
  • Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuustu (Nagato Yuki)
  • Rideback
  • Mission E (*not* the 1st series, 'Code E,' but the second series called "Mission E")
  • Black Lagoon (Revy)
  • Ghost in the Shell (Kusanagi Motoko)
  • Pumpkin Scissors (Alice)
(I’ll add more as I think of them. )
I’d also recommend David Weber’s Honor Harrington series as something for young ladies to read in their spare time.

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