Skepchick Quickies, 1.27


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. The first time I learned that girls were believed to be bad at math in the US, I refused to believe that was an actual stereotype. I mean, it’s just so bizarre. Why would you even think that?

    It’s like that other American belief, that French soldiers are cowardly – unless you grew up with that stereotype, it’s just bizarre.





    In all reality, I’m all for cheerleaders, footballplayers, or any other stereotycally stupid group becoming scientists. If these people can do it, so can you! :)

  3. I have the deepest respect for chemists. Chemistry is one of the biggest reasons I didn’t pursue a degree in any science field. I was terrible in the labs. I couldn’t get any experiment to work. I had yellow stains on my hands all the time from acid and broke a lot of the equipment. I had to take general chemistry 3 times before I scraped out a C. At that point I decided I needed to look for some other way to earn a living and there didn’t seem to be any jobs in biology.

  4. @Gabrielbrawley:

    I love chemistry so much! It’s just so awesome to know what’s going on RIGHT NOW in the air, on my desk, and even inside my own body.

    I remember my chemistry lab on freezing point depression and boiling point elevation of water. It’s so amazing that I can determine the molecular weight of any water-soluble substance with nothing but a hot plate, a thermometer, and a lab scale! I think about it every winter when trucks deposit salt on the roads. I don’t understand anyone can not be amazed by it. Chemistry is just so fascinating.

  5. My middle school mathematics teacher was fond of telling me that it was OK that I wasn’t any good in the subject, despite the fact that I was getting straight A’s. I went on to score a 798 on the SAT and an 800 on the Math II college board – clearly, I was wretchedly bad at mathematics. Still am. Just terrible, terrible…

    Seriously, I balked when my university placed me in advanced theoretical calculus freshman year. I was convinced I’d fail the class. I didn’t.

  6. When I was in middle school in the early 80s my math teacher told me that because I was so good at math she thought about giving me a spot on the math team. But since I was a girl and would just be having babies in a few years she gave it to one of the guys instead. The guidance counselor also laughed at me in front of class on career day. My report was on becoming an astronaut. She told me to do it over and pick a career a girl could do, like nurse or teacher. Unfortunately I listened to them.

    I had hoped things were better by now.

  7. @cybele: ARG, please tell me that you made a late-in-the-game comeback and are now kicking ass, either career-wise or at least interest-wise.

    I mean, you’re commenting here so I have to assume that you retained some substantial amount of awesomeness!

  8. Oh, but just to add to the conversation: The most inspiring teacher I had in elementary school was a woman who was passionate about literature. I absorbed her passion and her confidence, and she’s the reason I became a writer.

    What if I had had a similar teacher for science? I can certainly see how it would have had a similar impact.

  9. @Rebecca: Unfortunately, I don’t kick ass career-wise. I dropped out of university because (surprise!) I didn’t believe I could do math. I do plan to go back one day, though, and finish up. I was majoring in biology, and I make every effort to stay up to date.

  10. @Gabrielbrawley:
    The difficulties of organic chemistry* are the reason why I’m not a doctor. Which is good because I love what I am doing instead.

    I don’t remember getting authority figure-based math discouragement. I was one of few girls in most of the advanced classes, though, which was uncomfortable and weird at some points.

    * That and the fact that during advanced biology cat-dissection week I got frustrated at the dull scalpel and just ripped the cat’s heart out with my hand. I knew then that I should not be directly responsible for the health or safety of others.

  11. The student comments in the article about CU canceling its ‘critical thinking’ course requirement are excellent examples of why CU should not cancel its ‘critical thinking’ course requirement. Also, those students need a refresher.

  12. @Rebel 16:
    Some of the early comments, and people quoted in the article, made a good point, though. Critical thinking should be part of every course. It sounded like some of the courses that specifically met the requirement had reputations as “easy-A” no-brainer classes. So maybe enough of the courses weren’t that well designed to keep it as a general requirement?

    I do absolutely agree on the general concept of teaching critical thinking and would love to see it emphasized more in earlier education as well.

  13. @chistat: I completely agree – critical thinking should be a part of every course. It’ll be a while before that happens, though.

    @Skept-artist: Yeah, the earlier the better, but better late than never. I took a required Library Studies course at the end of my stint in Community College and realized I would have gotten much more use out of it had I taken it before my English courses. Still, it was my decision as to when to take it. Rather than mandate the taking of certain classes in certain sequences (other than for fulfilling prerequisites), schools should probably put more effort into helping academic counselors get the info they need to make intelligent recommendations to students who seek assistance.

  14. This makes me feel so much better about trying to be equally interested in all subjects that I teach. I remember teachers saying things like, “I can’t draw” or “I’m not good at math” and even as a child I remember thinking, “Why would you say that??”

    I love math and science, even though they weren’t my strong points. Because I knew that I was weakest in those areas (despite my passion), I took extra math and science courses in college and made it my concentration. I figured it would be better to improve my weak areas than my strong ones.

    It paid off, big time. I often challenge stereotypes of all kinds in my classroom. Teaching first grade, “pink is for girls” rears it’s ugly head a lot. The good thing about 6 year olds is that if you teach them to question things early, they are less resistant to it.

  15. Slightly OT – I’m left-handed. One of my college professors commented that, “surprisingly”, I had excellent handwriting. I snarled at him – I mean, FSM’s sake, “surprisingly”? I’m left-handed, not hand-eye-coordination challenged. Or a doctor.

  16. Also – in counterpoint to the idjit third R teacher, I had a great [female] science teacher who encouraged girls no end.

    And the condescending bio teacher in high school who offered to let the “ladies” absent themselves during dissection, lest our delicate stomachs be offended, had the embarrassment of seeing his son puke his guts out over a foetal pig, whilst the ladies demonstrated their familiarity with the texture of raw pork.

  17. I had a similar experience in GCSE Chemistry – despite acing all my module tests in the lead up to the exams, my teacher told me I’d better buck up or I’d fail. I was convinced I was terrible at science and maths. Got As in the finals.

  18. @Narvi:

    It’s like that other American belief, that French soldiers are cowardly – unless you grew up with that stereotype, it’s just bizarre.

    Its a common stereotype in Great Britain (and by extension, many of the former colonies) as well. It stems from the speed with which France surrendered in the early years of World War II.

    This is of course unfair. The French army was very capable, but wasn’t fast of flexible enough to handle the highly unorthodox Blitzkrieg strategy used by the Germans. And you can’t really blame the French for being unprepared since Blitzkrieg was totally unlike anything any army had tried before. I defy anyone to argue they wouldn’t surrender if they woke up one morning with the Wehrmacht parked on their front lawn.

    Finally when you consider the courage shown by the Resistance and De Gaulle during the war, its hard to reasonably conclude the French are cowardly.

  19. @Gabrielbrawley:

    I actually teach a general university chemistry lab. I would easily say that my best students have predominately been female, who are both better at doing the labs correctly, and more rapidly understand the chemistry concepts.

    My mom has told me many stories about her highschool physics lab teacher, who consistently told her not to come to class and that he’d just give her a C, since girls weren’t supposed to know physics.

  20. After reading that article on DIY stigmata, I SO want to screw around with some religious nuts by using the chemical method.

    Be a nice April Fools joke. Wouldn’t it?

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