LESSON IDEA: Do girls have a voice at the mathematics “table” in your classroom?

Since Monday’s Supreme Court ruling, I have bounced around among the various stages of grief. First came denial. Denial that our country’s highest court would uphold that protecting the religious rights of corporations (people) justifies sacrificing individual female employees’ (also, people?) right to affordable healthcare and right to choose options based on their own beliefs. The anger rushed in quickly as I read through various articles shared on social media sites. Anger mixed with denial at times, and in other moments, I felt overwhelmed by sadness. In this swarm of emotions, there were thoughts of bargaining…”Maybe if I spend days protesting in front of Hobby Lobby…” Sitting in these spaces of denial, anger and sadness can be uncomfortable and frustrating, which perhaps explains why some people begin to feel hopeless and transition to the final stage of grief – acceptance. But not me. I refuse to accept the systemic sexism that this court ruling brings to the surface, and instead, remain committed to finding active ways to resist.

I’ve read several articles that open with the statement, “Even in 2014…” This statement suggests to me an underlying assumption that we should have somehow transcended sexism. That sexism was a non-issue until this happened? But as some recent advertisements have highlighted, this was never the case.  Yes, even in 2014, girls are bombarded with messages that discourage them from pursuing careers in math, science, engineering and technology (STEM). And even in 2014, doing something “like a girl” is still an insult. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised at the court’s ruling after all. Perhaps we should have been outraged all along.

As an educator, one way to resist, to combat the sexism, is to help young girls and boys to understand the myriad ways in which sexism influences our lives. In my opinion, this is particularly important for math and science educators if they are to empower girls to excel in STEM fields. I recently came across this article that describes the ways in which young girls are socialized to embody subservient habits while boys are taught to display dominance. The article presents some interesting statistics:

Parents interrupt girls twice as often and hold them to stricter politeness norms.

 

Indeed, in male-dominated problem solving boards, committees and legislatures, men speak 75% more than women, with negative effects on decisions reached. That’s why, as researchers summed up, “Having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice.”

The author invites those readers who doubt the frequency with which males interrupt females to “sit quietly and keep track of speech dynamics at your own dinner table, workplace, classroom. In the school bus, the sidelines of fields, in places of worship.”

Students could take a closer (and critical) look at some of the claims presented in the article and perhaps gather statistics about interactions in their own classroom or school. They might also examine statistics about women in STEM fields and consider the way that classroom interactions might contribute to women’s choice to enter (or not) these fields. A teacher could craft a lesson that involves proportional reasoning, percentages/decimals and data collection and analysis. (At the very least, teachers could examine their own patterns of gender-based interactions.) Students’ and teachers’ examination of gender-based interactions in the classroom (and beyond) could help boys and teachers to be more aware of their role in silencing girls and give them the knowledge to encourage others to change behavior patterns. Increased awareness of gender-based interactions could translate into more empowerment for girls as they stand up for their right to be heard in any setting and, more specifically, find the confidence to excel in mathematics.


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