Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How *GIRLS* Hold Themselves Back from Pursuing Computer Science

Full disclosure - this is a rant. If you are not in the mood, keep browsing.

First, the facts here are a-OK.

"Changing the World Starts with Changing your Perception". Quote from the bottom. I couldn't agree more.

I can only hope the rest of this was created innocently and the blame the victim tome in unintentional. Because really, it is the girls fault that they experience these misconceptions?

So a little back story, I was one of these girls. I had programmed as a hobby for 5 years by the time our AP Computer Science teacher showed up to recruit in my precalc class. In fact I was probably one of the only kids in my school that had programmed at all - it was the early 90's and my coding was definitely odd.

So why didn't I sign up? Honestly it wasn't any of what is listed below. I was a smart kit, a nerd. I went on to major in math in college - a predominantly male field. I had professors that openly said that girls didn't understand math, and yet I stayed, because I am rather stubborn like that.

I remember sitting there thinking - there's a class about this? Cool. Then he said the magic words "if you are good at math then you'll be good at this".

And that did it, I was out. At 17 I didn't see myself as good at math, even though my 99% was one of the highest grades in the class. I studied hard, did my homework, therefore I had a high grade. It wasn't innate ability, I just worked hard.

And this perception wasn't my fault. Just like the stereotypes in this infographic are not the fault of the girls who internalize them.

And in full fairness it was in no way the fault of the CS teacher. I had him in AP Calculus the following year and he is a large part of my confidence in overcoming these stereotypes and becoming a math major in college. He was just doing what we did back then. I did it too when I started teaching cs, good at math = good at programming. We didn't know better.

The saddest part is that I am not the only girl I know with a story like this. I have sent girls off to college, recently even, to hear them have the same experiences in their computer science courses. To be the one girl sitting in an auditorium and have a professor turn around and say to the group "Don't worry, girls never get this" is inexcusable.

So, how can you really help? Lets start by not blaming the girls.

  How Girls Hold Themselves Back from Pursuing Computer Science [INFOGRAPHIC]
This infographic by Play-i. Play-i is creating a programmable robot that teaches computer science to kids ages 5+ in a fun, accessible way. To get updates, sign up here.


  1. Love this rant!

    And its about more than our girls. Minority students and the non-type A boys also would shy away from this. Its no surprise the "stereotypical" computer scientist is the one who would stand up and raise their hand for that invitation.

  2. So true - the idea that a child (that is their audience) is somehow culpable for having absorbed the cultural biases and stereotypes of the overall culture is frankly quite chilling.

  3. I also dislike the "they like to be alone"/"social learning activities" bits. It's already hard to be a female introvert without losing traditionally introverted spaces on the basis of sexist assumptions.

  4. so much is wrong here. Girls are friendly and outgoing...such a generalization. The whole point of all of this research is that teaching via stereotypes has built in inequities into what we do. Adding more stereotypes to the mix doesn't cancel them out.

  5. I think that infographic is conveying the exact opposite message that the author got. Notice that it doesn't say that girls have to be more proactive, that girls need to get over the preconceptions. Educators need to step up and start breaking down these stereotypes and preconceptions that limit student (both male and female) potential. This is coming from a Intro to CS teacher.


So, what do YOU think?