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Could someone who understands academic stuff explain this to me please?

(99 Posts)
noblegiraffe Fri 23-Sep-16 16:40:56

The article is 'Are STEM syllabi gendered? A feminist critical discourse analysis'.

It says things like 'However, upon deeper review, language used in the syllabi reflects institutionalized STEM teaching practices and views about knowledge that are inherently discriminatory to women and minorities by promoting a view of knowledge as static and unchanging, a view of teaching that promotes the idea of a passive student, and by promoting a chilly climate that marginalizes women'

It talks about a masculine learning climate, where knowledge is imparted by an expert to a student, facts are to be learned and individual work is expected.

Am I missing something or is this just saying similar to 'maths isn't for girls because they prefer group work and essays'? Which hardly seems feminist to me.

Greaterthanthesumoftheparts Fri 23-Sep-16 16:48:11

I'm a woman and I love STEM precisely for the reasons you've quoted! I hate English and history and 'flowery' subjects. I'm doing an OU degree in Health Sciences at the moment and I love that it's fact based and I can learn facts, and I can complete my work without having to work with others. Maybe I'm a man but don't know it...

SomeDyke Fri 23-Sep-16 17:39:55

I skimmed the article and found the line:

"Poststructuralism “rejects objectivity and the notions of an absolute truth and single reality,” and “knowledge is complicated, contradictory, and contingent to a certain social context and historical context”"

Well, unless they were talking about many-worlds and quantum theory, 2+2=4 and many other parts of maths and science ARE absolute truths, a single reality, and independent of social context.

Same paragraph:
"Analysis of texts looks for practical ideologies to uncover what is framed as logical ways of thinking that, in reality, perpetuate inequality."
Sorry, if you think that female logic is different to the (nasty) masculine logic you get in maths and science, then you really have a problem!

I don't know why they think this is "inherently discriminatory to women" unless they really believe that our little pink brains can't do maths and hard sums and logic (I must have a blue boy brain then!). As opposed, say, to women being discriminated against because they are constantly told that such logical thinking and individual work is for the boys, and then are better at emotions and group work, and touchy-feely stuff with extra pink sequins..................

Actually seems to say that males are inherently hierarchical, and females aren't. Rather than being socialised to be that way. Which is bollocks.

Poststructuralism........says it all really! Physicists been taking the piss out of this kind of thing for years, as this classic spoof article (that actually got published) demonstrates:

noblegiraffe Fri 23-Sep-16 18:03:16

I thought of Sokal too smile Maybe this is a hoax too.

Or maybe there are feminists out there moaning that woman are excluded from STEM subjects because they are full of facts.

I'm a maths teacher so professionally interested in what puts girls off STEM, but I'm not sure I should take the facts out of maths to attract them to study the subject!

ErrolTheDragon Fri 23-Sep-16 18:10:58

Your link didnt work for me, giraffe, so I'm just going off your quotes but...Sounds like an analysis based on sexist stereotypes tbh.

ErrolTheDragon Fri 23-Sep-16 19:07:19

Reading again from whats in the OP and SomeDykes quotes, it looks like it was written by someone with a BA in BS. Who doesn't understand science and tech at all. The idea that science promotes a view of knowledge which is 'static and unchanging' for instance....and gives a shit about poststructuralist rejection of objective truth...hmm
STEM is based on objective truth but our knowledge and understanding of it is constantly evolving. So frankly I'd treat anything this person has to say with a large pinch of NaCl.

As a scientist with a DD with double maths, physics and computing AS under her belt, revelling in maths en route to an engineering degree.... It rather baffles me. I think its not just that girls are put off STEM as that they aren't sufficiently attracted into those areas.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ErrolTheDragon Fri 23-Sep-16 19:50:54

So was I about right with 'Sounds like an analysis based on sexist stereotypes' then? grin

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ErrolTheDragon Fri 23-Sep-16 19:55:01

'I think that'd be a fascinating thing to do in a STEM classroom/lecture hall. Noticing things like where students position themselves, body language when students speak, language used, etc. '

It might be even more interesting to do in three classrooms - one all male, one all female and one mixed, given the statistics which show that girls in single-sex schools have higher uptake and continuation of STEM subjects.

ErrolTheDragon Fri 23-Sep-16 19:59:03

Not exactly sure I do SWYM, buffy. Unless you mean that a girl who's blissfully unaware of some stereotype is best left not knowing that exists, because hearing about it could induce the stereotype threat?

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Lorelei76 Fri 23-Sep-16 21:54:01

I'm totally lost, just in case anyone wants to explain it in words of one syllable, but I totally realise that's unlikely!

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MatildaOfTuscany Sat 24-Sep-16 09:32:31

Thank you Buffy - great articulation of both what's right about discourse analysis, and limiting about what this particular author is trying to do (I tried to read the article and found it pretty impenetrable). My PhD supervisor (theoretical physicist with an international reputation) used to joke that most scientific method was applied after the fact, and that secretly he thought Feyerabend was right - there is no such thing as the scientific method.

Another thing I thought was missing was a cross-comparison with what syllabi looked like in arts/humanities/social sciences. I suspect that a lot will come down to where the university is trying to position itself. I can imagine a lot of Ivy League/Russell Group/ Oxbridge syllabi in, say, history, where much would be made of scholarly objectivity and how hard the subject was - as a way of claiming status among your fellow academics. Then there would be other syllabi I expect which would be all about collaboratively constructing knowledge together. And I think it would be interesting and informative to ask "why is this department presenting itself this way?"

ErrolTheDragon Sat 24-Sep-16 10:07:18

Thanks Buffy. Yes, that sounds like a fundamentally flawed analysis. Women being put off by something being 'difficult' FFS is frankly insulting. Unless they've had their confidence undermined...

Apart from the main issue you've expounded about being based on a stereotype, I'd also question the basis, of 'language structuring how we understand everything' when it comes to STEM disciplines. (Unless 'language' means something other than the obvious, which is entirely possible. Some academics use language in a way which obfuscates meaninggrin). We understand much in these areas through other means. The most obvious is mathematics. Other means are observations and graphical representations. Much of my thinking and communication with colleagues is not mediated by words. Much of what I was taught wasn't via words - a huge component was doing.

There might be some (population) differences in learning styles between men and women, but I'm not sure that they'd turn out to be in line with stereotypical expectations. I read something a while ago (cant find it now) about why women weren't attracted by computer science any more, even though in the early days they were more equally represented. IIRC a lot of it was the 'people like us' phenomenon, but there was something that stuck in my mind about boys preferring to do things with fancy graphical interfaces while girls tended to prefer getting down to the nitty gritty of the code. Which of those sounds 'harder' ?

Lorelei76 Sat 24-Sep-16 11:03:25

Buffy thanks, I appreciate you taking time to clear that up for me.

You know what's really ironic? Now you've explained it to me, I feel as if the paper is saying that women are intimidated by situations where there are clear answers, whereas what I find "intimidating" - possibly the wrong word - are theoretical papers where there may be nuances attached to certain words and I don't know which nuances the author goes along with.

ErrolTheDragon Sat 24-Sep-16 11:13:37

Lorelei - yes, absolutely!

ErrolTheDragon Sat 24-Sep-16 11:27:53

A 'two cultures' sort of thing, maybe.

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Kennington Sat 24-Sep-16 12:33:44

I don't understand what post structuralism is but STEM subjects are much more attractive because of the reduced level of bullshit. This article is why some scientists have been taking the Micky out of many humanities courses for years.
Some mainland European countries are more encouraging of females studying STEM subjects, I have the impression anyway.

ErrolTheDragon Sat 24-Sep-16 12:40:04

Anyway ... I rather think that paper is a blind alley in providing any practical solutions for attracting girls into STEM. Noble might find something like provides more productive trains of thought.

noblegiraffe Sat 24-Sep-16 13:09:44

Thanks for this discussion, it's really interesting, although as a STEM graduate I find a lot of it hard to get my head around!

One thing I find difficult about the stereotype issue is where socialisation fits in. Boys are better than girls at maths is an obvious stereotype which isn't borne out by the data which shows near-identical GCSE results. However, girls do perform much better than boys at English. Arguments as to why this is include girls being socialised to talk more, discuss feelings, sit down and read quietly; boys are socialised to be active, bottle up emotions, reading isn't cool. Girls are socialised to put others first, take a caring role, boys are socialised to be practical, come up with solutions etc. So when you have a bright girl and a bright boy and the girl is steered towards medicine or the humanities and the boy is steered towards engineering, rather than that being a perpetuation of stereotypes, isn't that the natural conclusion of the socialisation process? They are genuinely better suited to those roles because of the hidden curriculum that has trained them for them?

noblegiraffe Sat 24-Sep-16 13:16:56

Thanks for that link, Errol, I think it's a good idea to try.

I took a group of Y7/8 girls to a university 'Women in Engineering' event last year, which was supposed to show them that girls can do engineering too. There were lots of female STEM graduates who talked about what they were up to, which was really interesting. But the whole thing felt a bit, I don't know, like an add-on. Like Buffy was saying upthread about News, Politics, Sport, Women being categories in the newspaper.

Demanding 50-50 representation would make teachers consider students that they wouldn't normally put forward, which is good (girls do not, as a rule, volunteer), and it also normalises their participation in engineering in a way that 'special' events for women wouldn't. However, I do know the risk of such a strategy is that boys tend to dominate educational environments even when equally represented - I see it in the classroom all the time. Thus at such a mixed event, girls could find themselves pushed to the back and be put off.

It's a hard one to fix!

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