This post, about a high school CS teacher, who was not proactive about dealing with the sexism in his classroom, is making the rounds. I highly recommend reading it. CS teachers, both at the HS and College level, who are sensitive to gender issues, talk about this problem all the time. Boys tend to take over, assume the girls don’t know what they’re doing, and belittle girls who do tackle coding.
I’m lucky to teach in an all-girls’ environment, so I don’t have to address that specific issue; however, in both my MS classes today, the ingrained perception that computing is too hard for girls, was prevalent. I had girls saying, “I don’t get this kind of thing”, “This is too hard.” Sigh. I said to those that said that to just be patient, and they’ll learn more. We’re just beginning. It’s new to everyone. And it’s sad that girls feel the need to express their perceived inadequacy. Because half the class was talking about how cool programming sounded, and asking what kinds of things they could do with it.
The sexism doesn’t have to be direct for it to have an impact. Girls receive the message over and over again that technology is not for them, that math is hard, that science is hard, that certain fields are incompatible with their lives, that they should just sit back and look pretty (still, in 2013). It takes work on the part of parents and teachers to get past that. It’s the hardest part of my job to convince a girl who thinks she’s not good at tech that she can be.
The follow-up post is also good, and offers more explanation, and ways to help. Towards the end, she writes the following:
I strongly believe that every kid should have access to computers and the internet, an introduction to programming, and an understanding of the variety of roles computing plays in our society. I see these things as essential as learning how to read and write, math, science, history, government, and geography. Not every kid who takes a programming class — regardless of how the class is taught or who is in it — will become a programmer. But we can do better, and maybe increasing diversity starts one class, one teacher, and one kid at a time.
I agree. That’s what I’m trying to do, every day. It’s why I get up every morning.