I've been trying to figure out why my daughter - who spent the last five years in a science and math magnet - now isn't interested in either subject.
In first grade, she had an amazing teacher. He loved science and technology. His students did too - his enthusiasm caught the entire class and held it all year. But by third grade the focus in her magnet turned exclusively to math. They kept pushing her and pushing her towards more sophisticated math concepts before she learned the previous ones. She took a lot of pride in being two years ahead in math. But she didn't understand a lot of it.
Her frustration was palpable. Slowly but surely the little girl who was so proud she was good at math didn't want to do it anymore. In fifth grade, she still wanted to be in the accelerated classes. She went to all the tutoring. But they would teach her a concept and 15 minutes later be teaching her another one. They sent her home with homework when they hadn't even discussed the math concept it was based on yet.
Her math teacher had a rule that if you spent more than 15 minutes struggling with your math homework you should not do it. Guess who didn't do it.
Third quarter of fifth grade my daughter failed math. She told me that she was failing with the seriousness another child would use to tell a parent they stole something or hit someone. She cried and tried harder.
This year she is repeating the same class with an enormous sigh of relief. She is a sixth grader in 7th grade math instead of 8th. She doesn't get the stuff that she was supposed to have learned two years ago and it's the second week of school. No wonder she hates it.
Science was not a good experience either. Unlike most, her elementary school actually had a science curriculum. They had science lab. They had a science fair.
But they had no communication between the science teacher and parents on any level except the first back to school night. She stopped bringing science fair projects home and they got done at the last minute. She didn't care. And neither did her teachers. She lost interest in science. She never put together that science is a large part of the way we live and how we live our lives. The connection was lost.
Oh we still get her watching Animal Planet every once in awhile. But that's it.
The other problem is it's still not cool to be smart for girls in school. This is 2010. When is it going to stop? The other kids make fun of the smart girls. As they get older, they dumb it down to appeal to boys and their friends.
It's funny how the 11 year-old girls split down the middle. There are the jocks - they play basketball, soccer, swim competitively. They love that jock status. They are not afraid of being smart, but they don't advertise it either.
Then there are the girls who follow the boys around and vice versa. They don't discuss school with boys. They try not be smart. They talk about how stupid school is. They are too caught up in lip gloss and clothes and teen TV.
Who are the girls who still love science? Their parents are scientists or science teachers or something involved with those fields. Science is discussed at the dinner table. It's alive in their households all the time. By 11, a love of science doesn't just organically form anymore - there has to be a lot of reinforcement and excitement. Most working women raising kids in a single parent household are focused on homework help and putting dinner on the table. That's our victory of the day.
That's how science loses its girls.