Girl Power


For nearly a year I’ve been spending way too much time on Twitter with a group of people who have absolutely nothing in common but our love of sharks. We represent several countries, who knows how many religions, political ideologies, and lives, but we have become friends.  Monday morning, I became involved in a fascinating conversation with a life-long teacher.  I must immediately state that I have a tremendous admiration for people who have the intestinal fortitude to teach.  I swear being a ‘real’ teacher is as special a calling as going into medicine or the ministry.  They sure aren’t doing it to get rich.

Somehow our discussion ended up on STEM studies.  My friend thinks they are extremely beneficial in pushing girls into math and sciences.  She also thinks girls need to be in separate classes when it comes to math.  Quite frankly, I think the genders should be completely segregated into different locations, especially in high school. Getting back to STEM, I think it is hurting students in this country, by assuming all students should be prepped for college.  It is wrong to push STEM over a liberal arts education.  The humanities are critical if you want to know how to think.  Unfortunately, STEM studies are pushing girls and minorities out of the very fields STEM studies were created to help.

Evidently, STEM studies are not helping girls.  I don’t want to be considered gender biased, but maybe there are girls who just don’t want to be in science/tech.  There are boys who don’t want to go to college, yet they are not being well served with a career path that only engages STEM studies.  Granted, if someone wants to be in the trades, knowing how to calculate, do basic and not so basic sciences is incredibly important, but it is not a be all and an end all.  Why must it be assumed that everyone is going to college.

The problem with the assumption that girls need special treatment and that everyone is headed to college is just plain old doing a disservice to students. In 2016 something like 69.9% of high schools students enrolled in college.  Only one in five adults living in rural areas in the US graduate from college.  Another interesting statistic is that only 42% of people ages 18-24 are enrolled in higher education.  Only 29% of people from rural areas enroll in higher education while 48% from cities do.

There are other problems.  Women are not being encouraged to enter the trades.  Instead, they are pushed toward lower paying careers like cosmetology or child care, when they could be learning to do things like automotive repair, welding, plumbing.

“…So-called middle-skill jobs, such as welding, automotive repair, cosmetology and medical assisting, account for 53 percent of United States’ labor market, but only 43 percent of workers are trained to the middle-skill level, according to 2015 data from the National Skills Coalition, the most recent available. Middle-skill jobs require more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree.

Getting more women into nontraditional certificate programs could help lift more families into the middle class and ease a labor shortage that is expected to only grow worse as more baby boomers retire. Yet not much is being done to change the enrollment pattern.

“We’re missing something obvious that would help employers and help the economy,” said Barbara Gault, executive director of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Women make up 55 percent of middle-skill workers, but 83 percent of those in jobs that pay less than $30,000 a year, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. And the median wage for women with a certificate is $27,864, compared to $44,191 for men, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce reports.

Much of that gap is due to occupational segregation —women clustering in low-paying careers including cosmetology and child care and men in more lucrative professions such as welding and automotive repair….”

Women are not being given the information to go into the trades.  They are encouraged to go into traditional women’s careers where the pay is much less.  They are also being pushed into ‘certificate’ programs which cost money but have no real value.  Yet, women, especially, are being duped into them.

In many ways, I consider myself something of a pioneer.  Once upon a time, when I worked as a lobbyist dealing with the space program and NASA, I was the only woman in what was the National Coordinating Committee for Space.  I worked to get there.  I took advantage of the situation, but asked for no special favors.  I was doing what I wanted to do.  That is the way it should be for women.  They should be allowed to do what they want to do.  Everyone should be allowed to pursue the life they choose.  There should be no quotas or barriers other than qualifications.

Don’t get me wrong, I love science.  If I did not have such a rare type of dyslexia, I would probably be an archaeologist.  But, I have such a difficult time dealing with numbers, I’ve learned my limitations.  That’s what a real education should be about – learning your limitations and knowing where to go for answers. You don’t need to know the answers, or even the questions, but how to get those answers.  When it comes to science, it needs to be tempered with the humanities.  The reason Star Trek was so successful was because it blended science and humanity.

Five hundred years from now, if humans are still around, and I suspect we will be, Shakespeare will be just as important as it is today.  I suspect women will still be sighing over Mr. Darcy.  Gibbon’s lead pipe theory will still be discussed as a reason for the fall of the Roman Empire.  In order to understand where we are going, we must understand where we have been.  I have been, on numerous occasions, accused of bashing STEM studies.  Far from it.  I think those studies are critical.  But, when they are used as an excuse to do away with theater, music, and the arts, yes, I will bash them.  Students who can blend the two – STEM and fine arts – have a tendency to do better.  They know how to think, critically.

When a young woman has been with both STEM and the ability to think her way around the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she is empowered.  The same thing is true when her cousin is a welder.  I’ve thought about taking welding classes, not for the welding, but the arts!  Can you imagine a young woman who is artistic, can support herself as a welder, and turn out incredible pieces of sculpture?  THAT is what education should be.