Sunday, April 20, 2014

Why Girls and People of Color are Less Likely to Choose Science

One summer, in the middle of college, I worked for a Parks Council project in Central Park in Manhattan, supervising 24 high school students on a jobs training program. I wrote about this experience in the context of a proposed jobs bill by Obama back in September 2011.

In 1983, I scored a summer job working for the Parks Council in New York City.  I was a "supervisor" of two team leaders and 24 high school students for a CETA jobs program. There were 20 African-American kids and 4 Latino/Latina kids; the team leaders were a Latino community college student and an African-American student from Howard University. I was the only white person, for the first time in my life.
Do you remember CETA? It was the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, a federal program that offered people with low incomes, as well as the long-term unemployed, with jobs and job training programs in the public and non-profit centers.
I think because I was white, I got assigned to the tony southern end of Central Park. Some of the other New York City parks were not so nice, and they had longer commutes from my house. At lunchtime I could sit by myself, or with my boyfriend, and watch Dustin Hoffman eat his lunch with his friends. Yes, he would come to the park too. 

The animals had been removed from the Central Park Zoo by 1983.
Our headquarters were in the Central Park Zoo, which was mostly closed for renovation in 1982--a good thing since the original animal stalls were truly prison cells. There is a nice history of the zoo here. The only animals that I remember still being at the zoo were the sea lions. (Photo taken from here.)
The kids taught me slang--"I've got my main squeeze and my two side squeeze"--as well as why we couldn't rake leaves in certain areas (rats). I'm not sure what I taught them. . .
But one day we were on a field trip and one of the girls came up to me. She had just finished 10th grade and she was probably the most diligent worker in the group. Her mother was from Jamaica and worked as a nurse's aide.
"I was thinking," she said to me, "that maybe I could become an LPN [Licensed Practical Nurse].""Great!" I said. "That's a great idea!"
But in my heart, I thought, "Why be an LPN? You're smart enough to be an RN or a BSN. In fact, why not be a doctor? You're smart enough to be a doctor."
I didn't say that to her though.
Why didn't I say that to her? Well, probably partly because I was only 20. I couldn't even give myself career advice.But probably also because I wasn't trained to have Great Expectations from poor black kids.
I flashed back to this memory when I heard Neil DeGrasse Tyson address the question, "Why don't girls choose science?" It's worth--really worth--listening to his answer. [I couldn't figure out how to set this to start at 1:01:31, but that's where you want to start it.]

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1 comment:

  1. Neil DeGrasse Tyson's response here was brilliant - summed up, in just a few paragraphs, many of the effects of racism and sexism on who participates in science. I really appreciated this!