50th Edition, Education

Girls in math and science: do the numbers add up?

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

By Stephanie Simon, Volume 25
November 28, 1985

This year, there is only one girl in the Advanced Placement BC Calculus course. There is only one girl in AP Physics, and one in AP Chemistry. There are no girls in advanced computer classes.
According to Warren Manhard, head of the NSHS math department, there are many reasons for the paucity of girls in high-level science and mathematics classes. He believes that one explanation is that “girls still see themselves primarily as homemakers. They have a choice- they can either pursue a career or make a home. However, boys have no choice. They are expected to continue their schooling, go to college, and become a provider.” Because of the cultural expectations placed on them, boys tend to be “more accepting,” says Manhard. “If they have to take a hard course, they take it and don’t moan.”
Vin Bronson, who teaches Advanced Placement Physics at South, says that he agrees with Manhard. “The culture has the potential of instilling some not-okay feelings toward math for girls,” he says. “The boys may be in there (advanced classes) because of the career component for them. They may or may not like it, but if it fits their vision of how to make a living, it is not a bad motivation component.” Both Manhard and Bronson emphasize that their ideas are opinions, not facts based on stud.
The degree of interest in science and math that boys and girls have may be another explanation for the small number of girls in advanced classes. “If you really want to do science, it doesn’t matter if you are the only girls in the class,” says Sharnaz Motakef, who is the only girl in AP Physics and Chemistry. However, Ashley Timmer, the only female student in the highest level AP Calculus course, has a different opinion.“Most of the guys in the class are really interested in computers and math,” she says, “and most of them are taking Physics. When they talk about computers or what they learned in Physics, I kind of ask myself ‘Why am I here with all these people?’”
Social reasons may form a cycle which keeps girls out of the advanced classes. Timmer believes that “girls are more concerned with who they are associating with in their classes.” If a class is composed mostly of boys with interests different from their own, some girls may opt not to take the course. This in turn may discourage other girls from signing up for the class.
Manhard extends Timmer’s theory one step further. He says he thinks that “some girls tend to worry about appearances and grades, and what parents and friends will think about them more than boys do.” Thus, they may be unwilling to take an honors course when they could be getting a better grade in a less challenging class.
Manhard believes that another reason why many girls drop out of science and math classes after meeting the school requirement is that they personalize failure, and drop courses in which they do not experience immediate success. “Some boys would perceive a less than satisfactory test as a result of not having worked hard enough. Some girls tend to see the same thing as ‘I’m stupid.’ They personalize failure and blame it on themselves, whereas boys tend to credit it to not working hard enough. This makes all the difference in the world.”
Another reason that girls are not involved with math and science may be that there are not many women role models for them. However, Manhard notes that in the math department, there are as many women teachers as there are men: “It is not an accident. They are excellent women role models.” He adds that the Enrichment Program is helpful, because it brings women who have careers in the fields of science and mathematics in to talk to students about their experiences.
Junior Luna Shyr says that having a mother who has a career in science (her mother is a chemist) has definitely influenced here. Shyr, who is taking physics and honors math adds, “It’s wonderful- she inspires me to have a career on my own. My mom gives me a lot of input and ideas on what to expect when I grow up.”
Bronson agrees that parents influence their children’s decisions about careers, and adds that in some cases this influence can be negative. He says that parents often “encourage women to be nice, nurturing people and not to make males feel uncomfortable with their own inadequacies” in traditionally male-dominated fields like math.
Sophomore Debbie Frieze, one of eight girls in her honors math class, says, “I get the feeling that boys are wary of having girls in the class, because they think math is a boy’s subject. Because of this, some girls are intimidated.” In a subtle and perhaps unconscious way, boys may be reinforcing the point that girls don’t belong in honors math.
Some girls who elect to stay in honors math and science courses are eager o demonstrate that girls can succeed in these fields. “I’m just staying in the class to prove a point,” says one junior in honors math. Timmer agrees, saying, “I really thought I couldn’t leave the class without any girls.”

Read more

Like it? Share it!


Copyright © Denebola | The Official School Newspaper of Newton South High School | 140 Brandeis Road, Newton, MA 02459.
Site designed by Chenzhe Cao.