It’s a wonder they can think at all

I’ve written a fair bit on this topic in the past, and I recommend reading all the posts linked here. These are good background and decent posts. I am fond of this sentence, “[Harvard President Larry] Summers has offered obeisance to all the Feminists offended by his remarks regarding the factors possibly affecting penetration of females into the ivory towers of hard science.”

But enough feminist-baiting self-indulgence, today’s item is the recent confirmation that Larry Summers, formerly President of Harvard University was just as misogynist as NOW claimed when he had the temerity to ask a question about “under-representation” of female scientists at elite universities. He asked, based on a significant body of supportive scientific research, whether the phenomenon could be due partly to “innate” differences between men and women. He deserved to be fired by the Harvard Humanities faculty: Math study finds girls are just as good as boys

Research of this sort, for which the archetype is the “wage-gap” between men an women, always make me wonder about premises. In this case, just reading the story revealed that this study does not actually demonstrate anything meaningful.

As Hyde and her colleagues looked across the data for states’ testing, they found something they didn’t expect: In most states they reviewed, and at most grade levels, there weren’t any questions that involved complex problem-solving, an ability needed to succeed in high levels of science and math. If tests don’t assess these reasoning skills, they may not be taught, putting American students at a disadvantage to students in other countries with more challenging tests, the researchers said.

I take that back. The meaningful part of the study is that boys and girls are equally ill-served by government schools. What math is taught there is generally disconnected from any actual accomplishment in science or math. It’s a wonder we have any mathematicians or scientists of either sex.

The damage doesn’t stop at failure to prepare either sex for careers in math and science. You may not like math, or desire a career that involves math, but taking math courses that do not expose you to critical thinking skills is not just a waste of time, it is a failure an order of magnitude greater. To paraphrase the philosopher Paul Simon, “It’s a wonder they can think at all.”

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