Re: Reading and Writing

Date: Tue Feb 15 2000 - 15:15:33 EST

Barbara and Janice raise several important points that I would like to
address. First, there is no doubt that there have been remedial programs
in reading that have focused on boys for decades. My only point is that
these programs tend to focus solely on the acquisition of technical skills
and tend to ignore the effect of societal attitudes on reading motivation
and performance. The fact that a reading and writing gap is relatively
unique to the United States and other English speaking countries tends to
confirm that the problem is related to how these subjects are taught.

One part of the problem may be that for some reason communication skills
are not considered important for students interested in engineering and
science. (As an aside, is this one reason for female students lack of
interest?) In fact, the exact opposite is true. When hiring, corporate
recruiters consider communication skills to be at least as important as
technical skill. This could be a reason that the latest IEEE salary survey
showed that new female electrical engineering graduates had a higher
starting salary than their male counterparts.

The effort to achieve equity in math and science can be used as a model of
what is possible in reading and writing. In fact, I will go so far as to
say that without addressing the gender differences in reading and writing,
it will be impossible to achieve true equity in math and science. Based on
my personal experience, I would say that one-quarter to one-third of male
first-year engineering students are in the wrong discipline. A lot of them
in fact would make good elementary teachers, or librarians, or nurses.
However, they are convinced by teachers, parents, and society that
engineering is "what men do." If these students had a broader background
in advanced language or social studies courses in high school, perhaps they
would have realized this earlier. This would provide more opportunities
for female students to study math and science at both the high school and
college level, which could only increase the number of female scientists
and engineers.

Stephanie Barlow

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