Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Girls ARE Good at Math - Despite What Connor Says

A few nights ago, we walked to a nearby restaurant. I love walks like these, because I can almost always count on one of my kids saying something entertaining. Connor threw me for a curve with this ditty.

I asked him how he liked his new math class.

"I like it. It's THIRD GRADE MATH, so it's fun!"

"Are there any other kids from Mrs. H's class in Mrs. R's [new math teacher] class?"

"No. But there are five other kids that went to Mrs. Rs class with me. One from Mr. F's class isn't that smart. He had to leave. It was too hard for him."

Imagine me being a little blown away by how insensitive this sounds. What happened to - he had a little trouble, so he might try another week? Or, he doesn't really love math so he went back to Mr. F's class?

While I was trying to decide how to respond, Connor carried on: "And, there are only boys in my class.[PAUSE] Maybe because girls aren't good at math."

And then I exploded right there on the sidewalk and hopefully Connor learned that girls are, in fact, good at math. Or, perhaps he learned I am crazy. But either way, I was more than a little annoyed by his postulation. I could see Ed was tempted to laugh and I can assure you, that reaction was stifled quickly. Because nobody - especially not my daughter's father - will have any role in convincing her she can't be good at math.

So now, I've spent the past several days wondering if there's a perfectly good explanation why no girls are in Connor's gifted math class, like the girls are in another group that meets at another time. Six IS a small sample, after all. But a small part of me wants to march into the principal's office and let her know that she needs to drum up some female business for that class - quick.

Because the principal? She also already knows I'm crazy. So in some ways, I've got nothing to lose. Anyone want to toss out some advice?



  1. There are no girls right NOW--maybe because the girls who are good in math just haven't been discovered yet?

    Also, you are entering the age of boys vs. girls. Girls are automatically not-boys in boy world. So to boys--girls aren't cool, or smart, or funny, or fun to be with.

    1. Ugh. Although Connor loves playing with at least a few girls in the class. Not looking forward to this next stage.

    2. And also, there are 100 first graders - and there are 6 in his math group. It certainly seems possible that there would be a second group - of girls, hopefully?

  2. I agree girls are good at math! Did you champion for Connor to be in that class? Did his teacher? Maybe it's a parent who didn't do it for his/her daughter? Were all parents aware of the class?
    And yes it could be coincidence but well done you for sticking up for girls. (Give Ed a kick in the pants from me.)

    Scads of material from AAUW.org to throw at the principal by the way.

  3. Well, I totally agree with you that girls [does not equal] bad at math.

    But I don't think having girls in the class, just for the sake of having girls, is an answer. I think kids should be taught at their ability, and it may very well be that no first-grade girls are ready for third-grade math.

    Maybe you could make this a math or logic question for Connor? Talk about how his class size (20 or whatever it is) is a small sample, the number of girls in there even smaller, so the number of girls *not* in the class, and the number of boys *in* the class, really tells you nothing about the relative ability of girls and boys in math. That is, six boys in the class doesn't tell you "boys are good at math," it tells you "these particular boys have shown that they have mastered what the rest of the class is learning, and thus they are doing different, more advanced stuff." No girls in the class does not mean "girls are bad at math," it means, "of these particular girls, none is ready for third-grade math."

    I guess I also think it's a bad idea for a kid to get it in his or her head "I am good at X" independent of hard work. Eventually he or she will hit something he or she can't easily do, and I think it's huge (and unnecessary) take-down. "I thought I was gooda t math, but I can't do X, maybe I was wrong and I'm not good at math." I prefer a kid (well, my kids) to think, "If I want to master X, I need to do Y and Z. Then I will be able to do X." If the kid can already do X, well, then, it's time for something more advanced.

    I think the sorting of others (boys are good at X, girls are not) is totally a typical thing though.

    I would not be surprised if this question is a hornet's nest for your school. Who gets advanced instruction, who is labeled "G&T" -- very political. I know in California the question is often why almost all the kids in the G&T program are Asian or Jewish . . . .

    Let us know how this plays out.

    1. Stay tuned. I missed the presentation on the gifted program at the PTA meeting last month, so feel a little guilty asking a bunch of questions now. I think the feeling good at something can help, not always result in a smack down. As in - I'm good at math. There is a really difficult problem in front of me. But because I'm good at math, I can figure out how to solve it. I should look more into this. And, even though I hate it, people spent they're whole day telling kids how great they are in public school - I say, confidently, with my less than 6 months of experience at such a place. So it's really hard to fight that.

      I wonder if this is a big issue? Now I really want to learn more. I'll keep you posted.

      And, I am happy that Connor's doing the class. I think it's good for him to stretch his mind. He loves math and he was coming home telling me how boring math was because it was too easy. I'd hate for him to fall out of love. I'd like them to find the right spot to teach to him at, at teach there - which I think is what's happening.

  4. Send the teacher an email and simply ask ;)
    But it would aggravate me no end if that was the misconception he was living under too!

    1. How logical! I'm going to talk to the principal next time I see her.

  5. Show him Helen's response. Just her logic using X and Y demonstrates a girl being good at math.

  6. Just catching up with this. As an aside, I too struggle with the "good at" argument. I think it's possible that we've embraced this praise for work not smarts a leetle too much, and maybe have gone a little overboard, particularly in the not praising department. So I also think it works sometimes to say, you're good at this, I know you are, so let's hear you add, or read, or whatever.

    Anyway, Connor likes logic puzzles, doesn't he? Maybe he's ready for the - on, there's a specific name for it, I'm blanking on- the if this then that argument. But I know this is a concept that is taught, though i don't know what age - fish swim in the water, therefore all things that swim in the water are fish, true or false? There are no girls in advanced math, therefore girls are not good at math, true or false. Pink ice cream tastes like peppermint, therefore all pink things taste like peppermint. I'm coming up with some bad examples, aren't I? But you get the idea.

  7. Isn't Connor in the age group where girls are still generally ahead of or on par with boys in science and math? And what's the gender breakdown in that gifted program anyway? Ok, now I'm getting a little worked up... Would really like to know what you find out and am making a note to ask some questions about this kind of stuff when we're readying for elementary school. I hear there's all kinds of crazy parents in our school district so I'll just blend.

    1. Yes! It's not until middle school or high school that girls slip, and there are lots of random explanations of that. But this is NOT the time we ought to be seeing a difference between girls and boys.

      My rule is to wait a week whenever something at school throws me for a loop. That way, I can limit the number of times I go crazy at the school and hopefully when I decide to take issue with something, I'm not written off at totally crazy.

      In any case, I may make this my new project.

      I have discovered that either I misheard Connor or he misspoke and there are actually only 2 boys in Connor's class, not 6. He now says there used to be three, but the one dropped out. Two doesn't bother me nearly so much as 6, but still... Lots of questions to be asked here!