Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Social Engineering

University administrators, ever sensitive to the need for gender parity and other considerations of identity politics, are alarmed that women aren't studying engineering.

So now they're trying some very strange expedients to make it female friendly:

In a bid to halt the growing gender gap, Ontario's 15 engineering schools held an emergency summit last winter and have launched a number of rare steps this fall:

They have changed entrance requirements this year to make them more female-friendly, by scrapping the dreaded Geometry and Discrete Math course as a compulsory requirement for engineering, and instead making it one of several options students may take, including biology, a subject girls often prefer, as well as earth science and data management.

They have banded together to host simultaneous hands-on workshops next Saturday at campuses across the province to pitch engineering to girls and their parents as a "people profession" that helps others as much as the health professions so popular with teenaged girls.


"We know girls are drawn to professions they see as `caring' for others, so girls who are strong in math often veer towards health sciences," said Ecsedi, whose daughter is a mechanical engineer working on ways to relieve spinal cord pain

"They need to understand that engineering is also a `caring profession' that works on ways to detect breast cancer earlier, or clean up contaminated soil or reduce malnutrition in the world through measures like fortifying salt."

Apparently the study of advanced calculus and geometry is beyond the grasp of delicate female constitutions, and they might collapse under the stress and strain.

Similar arguments were used more than a century ago to keep women out of certain fields of higher education. Educators should be ashamed to use them, and young women should take offence at them.

Moreover, it does them a disservice to let them enter a demanding academic program unprepared. If anything, loosening the advanced calculus requirements will make the study of engineering more daunting and lead to fewer women taking it.

Yet the campaign to encourage more young women to study engineering by emphasizing its so-called caring and nurturing aspects does have some basis in fact.

Harvard President Lawrence Summers was roundly condemned for making similar observations in blunter language:

"So my best guess, to provoke you, of what's behind all of this is that the largest phenomenon, by far, is the general clash between people's legitimate family desires and employers' current desire for high power and high intensity, that in the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination. I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong."

If men have a greater natural aptitude for mathematics and science, they're going to be more attracted and successful as a group in engineering. Painting engineering labs pink and scenting them with potpourri isn't going to change that.

Source: Toronto Star

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