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?