Alternative Journal #3, "Girls Byte Back" : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

Karen Rigdon

Alternative Journal #3

Teacher Magazine

April 1999

An Article Review: Girls Byte Back

By Rachel Hartigan

She had a vision, immense and in Technicolor. Her vision became a reality, methodically and with the creativity of a genius. Kathleen Bennett of Silicon Valley wants her newly opened Girls Middle School to be the model for girls education in the Information Age.

Even the most vehement critics of single-sex classrooms can not argue with the research statistics that prove that girls are less likely to study computers than boys, and women are less likely to pursue computer careers than men. Bennett, having had fifteen years of computer industry work experience, hopes to empower her adolescent female students with computer skills and provide a tinkering environment in her school where young women can figure out how things work. (Pg. 1) She does not want her students to feel limited by what they think is feminine: she aims to keep the girls self-esteem high in the years that studies have proven it declines.

Bennett hired Diana Reed, 25, to be GMSs technology instructor and systems administrator. Reed hand-built all the schools computers from a hodge-podge of donated equipment. The computer curriculum is in the developmental stages, but will be incorporated as a tool in all subject areas and center around the girls interests that have been pinpointed through a minisurvey. Reed believes that working in pairs at computers is the optimal learning set-up. Her goals include introducing programming in 7th grade and robotics in 8th.

Reed agrees with Cornelia Brunner, American Association of University Women, commission on technology member, that womens interest in computers center on them more as tools than toys. (Pg. 5) She feels that men find appeal in the raw power of technology. They want it to make them more godlike, says Brunner. In support, Reed says, Girls tend to be less interested in computers as their own end, but as a means to an end. (Pg. 5) Regardless of gender, Patty Ross, an International Falls secondary school educator, says, It is important to remember that technology is just a tool. It is used to help students learn. It is not an end in itself and it cannot replace a teacher.

There are several debatable questions I feel are raised in this article. The first is How critical is the gender gap in technical education? Edward Mettler, Information Services manager at Boise Cascade International Falls, says that at the University of North Dakota, 1987-1992, females outnumbered males two to one in computer science program. On the other hand, the AAUW reports that girls test scores have climbed in every subject except computer science and that girls account for only 17% of secondary students taking the Advanced Placement computer science test.

Diane Ravitch, an AAUW critic and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, The shameful aspect of the AAUWs phony crisis is that it diverts attention from the large and genuine gaps in American education, which are not between boys and girls, but among racial groups. On this debate, I stand bipartisan: I agree there are issues to be dealt with on both sides of the fence with each institution of learning facing its own particular circumstances.

The second question buried in this article is Are single-sex classrooms the right setting for [technology] instruction? (Pg. 7) Many gender equity advocates and technology boosters promote that it is. Personally I agree with Roberta Furger, author of the recent release Does Jane Compute?, that single-sex classrooms do not solve technology gender-gap problems. Fundamental, long-lasting changes will only occur when we re-think what goes on every day in coed classrooms. (Pg. 7) Even the AAUW backs off slightly and concludes that what really matters are small classes and schools, unbiased teaching, and a focused curriculum. (Pg. 7)

Eventually the young girls at GMS in Silicon Valley will be back in a coed environment. They will have had an impressive cast of inspiring women educators facilitating their learning. Perhaps the knowledge they gained about how things work will empower them. Perhaps they will have been less distracted from their studies, since there were no boys at their school. Certainly having a technology curriculum geared to their interests will have fueled their desire to learn more. GMS sees themselves as the research arm of the world. (Pg. 9) Time will tell if this novel approach to girls education in the Information Age is one to be imitated.

Hartigan, Rachel. Girls Byte Back. {Online} Available April 1999

-- Anonymous, April 06, 1999

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