To Answer Your Question

My current professor at ETSU, Dr. Nivens, asked this in response to this blog: How do you think educators can help level the playing field for both males and females in regards to STEM professions?

Well, first off, if I knew, and if I told you, and if I shared what I knew with all educators and policy makers in our country, would my advice be taken and system-wide changes made–even if it was well-grounded in scientific evidence, or even anecdotal evidence? Truly, many people have great ideas about how to accomplish this, and collectively, their message is strong. But the way our world works today, it seems important messages get lost in the deluge of Internet information, conferences and workshops, professional development, and even conversations over coffee. Even if the message is received, change is difficult because it not only happens through rules and policies on the grand level, but through internal, personal change such as stopping stereotypical thinking. So change will come slowly, at a grassroots level, or through little blogs like mine, or when one or two brave teachers set a new example in their school and are encouraged and supported, or when parents offer more than just baby dolls to their little girls. Maybe the change will come when students begin to understand what they’re not getting in school and rally for change–or maybe their parents will notice and storm school board meetings. However and whenever, it is a slow process.

I’m not trying to be sarcastic. I’m absolutely sincere in my response. I think many great ideas and examples circulate in the world of education. In the pursuit of a STEM certificate at ETSU, I’ve been introduced to amazing books and works of scholarship that hold the answers. I’m currently enjoying TED Talks that relate to educational revolutions, and not reform, mind you. (See my TED Talk summary/critique by tabbing over on the menu bar to “TED Talks” and scroll down until you find the first Sir Robinson video to learn more about the revolution idea.) These things hold many answers, but they do not cause change.

I also think that equity is being worked on at many different levels right now. For example, the #metoo movement opened up conversations about male dominance in general. Recognized female celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey often discuss issues of equity. It’s also about social justice, which is something Melinda Gates sinks her heart into. Influence can come from surprising places. When we bring equity and social justice into our culture as the norm and rid the workplace, social places, and homes of stereotyping, then students will easily adopt an equity mindset, so to speak, as it will be a natural assumption on their part and their teachers’ part. This is asking a lot of humankind, though, as it means people all over need to find it in their hearts to see all people as equal, doesn’t it?

The more exposure people get to positive ideas, the more likely they are to change. Yet how many educators have enough down time to soak in inspirational TED talks, or read Oprah’s magazine “O?” In my years of being a classroom teacher, I aimed for that 40-hours workweek club but never got below 60 hours per week. I was lucky to squeeze in a movie with my spouse or a phone call or chat session with any of my seven children.

Many people I talk to in the education world know things have to change–education must not be based on the factory model any longer. Many administrators and school districts are on the technology bandwagon, and my most recent school, Indian Trail Intermediate School in Johnson City, TN, briefly considered becoming a STEM-designated school but lost its momentum when a key person in that endeavor (or shall I say dream?) left for a new position. I also think most people will agree that educators and parents play a crucial role in raising up girls who believe they can succeed in STEM classes. Yet statistically, the change is happening at a snail’s pace.

So the question was, how do you think educators can help level the playing field for both males and females in regards to STEM professions? The bigger question, to me, is what will it take to bring about changes in thinking to eradicate negative stereotypes, racism, hatred, and so on? It’s very philosophical indeed. Change comes one person at a time, doesn’t it? So let’s begin with the youngest of all and teach them as parents and educators to see the value and potential of everyone. Let’s eradicate gender-typified toys and offer up similar play tools and explorations to boys and girls alike. Let’s change our speech to reflect the equity that we’ve come to believe in…and so much more. Wow. This is huge, isn’t it?

Moment of Lift

I had the pleasure of listening to Melinda Gates last week as she talked about her new book, The Moment of Lift, (Flatiron Books, April 23, 2019) at the Philadelphia Free Library. Author John Green interviewed her, using his sense of humor to lighten the serious nature of Melinda’s message. Topics included marriage, empowering females around the globe–especially in places with extreme poverty such as India and many African nations–increasing STEM education in schools, and drawing more females toward STEM careers. Everything she said resonated with me, yet I wish she had spent more time talking about education since that is my passion. I do know that the Gates Foundation does so much for education, but the stories this night had a different focus altogether.

How will you commit to the lift? #MomentofLift

What really stuck with me was her advice to listen carefully when offering help. When she traveled to villages in remote places to see that children were immunized, she often heard women ask, “but what about my health?” They would point out to her that while it was super nice to save their children with immunizations, what about their next child, and the next, and then the toll upon their own health and the high risk of death from childbirth, among other things? It took years for her to really listen, to really hear that message, Melinda admitted, in part because it rubbed against her Catholic beliefs about birth control. Truthfully, she and Bill had used birth control, she said, so she began to awaken to the pleas for help she kept hearing from women in developing countries. Eventually, not only did she realize that too many women (and girls) were dying during childbirth, she also realized that giving women power over their reproductive health solved many societal problems. Now, providing family planning education and contraceptives to women is an important mission for Melinda.

She gave a second example of listening carefully when she visited another remote village with one set of intentions for assisting its development only to discover–through listening to the community members–that nothing could be fixed until wife beating stopped. So, even though that wasn’t initially on her agenda, it became the primary focus for assisting that community. One solution village men agreed upon was that when they heard a man in a neighboring hut beating his wife, they would go there to stop it. Eventually the small village healed from its abusiveness, at which time other programs for its development could begin.

My daughter-in-law and I enjoyed seeing Melinda Gates and receiving a signed copy of her new book!

These are just two of the stories Melinda told at the Philly Free Library that night, and there are many more in her new book, The Moment of Lift. As soon as I return home from my Philadelphia trip, I will begin reading her book. Afterward, I will pass it to my husband to read upon her and John Green’s recommendation. They both agreed: If we are to create gender equity in our world, then both women and men need to hear these stories.

I left the library so inspired, and yet I wondered if gender equity, world peace, and so on, could be as easy as just improving our listening skills. Could the people of the world rise above hatred, injustice, racism, and divisiveness if we all just listened to each other better? What do you think? Do you plan on reading The Moment of Lift? Furthermore, how could listening carefully be used to help change the direction of American education? Who do we need to listen to? I’d love to hear your comments below.