Boston University journalism professor Caryl Rivers wrote an article this week (WomensENews, March 9) about two Harvard grads who want to see all speech and anti-harassment codes banished at the university. They claim that firing the Harvard president in 2006 for saying women are inferior at math was detrimental to the “robust culture” of free speech on campus.
The truth is, then president Larry Summers had long been at odds with the faculty over many issues. Other Harvard professors have made similar statements about men’s math superiority and suffered no harm, including Harvey Mansfield and Steven Pinker.
What are the facts? Girls are rapidly catching up to boys in all areas of math performance. “The Nation’s Report Card on Math and Science Abilities,” released in February of 2007, found that girls were on a par with boys on a range of math abilities, including algebra, geometry, measurement properties, data analysis and other areas.
“There’s no evidence that girls are innately inferior to boys at math,” reports Elizabeth Spelke, co-director of the Mind, Brain and Behavior Inter-Faculty Initiative at Harvard. There is, she notes, a biological foundation to mathematical reasoning that emerges in children before any formal instruction. “There’s not a hint of an advantage for boys over girls,” she says, in any of these systems. Girls ability to learn math equals that of boys.
And if gender is the issue, male supremacy should be universal. But in tests that compared grammar school kids in the United States, Taiwan and Japan, Asian girls scored almost twice as high as American boys.
So is it fair to let men perpetuate the myth that women are inferior at math? I worry that this stereotyping by scholars hurts women both in the workplace as well as in universities. At the very least, we high-achieving women need to keep publicly setting the record straight. If you agree, please share this post with as many people as you can.