"Mr. Aion, my pap came over last night and saw my grades, which are good except for math and science. He told me that it was ok because girls aren't as good at math and science. He said it was a proven fact."
While I managed to resist the urge to challenge her grandfather to a fistfight, I did go off on a prolonged rant about setting expectations for young women. I cited Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan as examples of women who helped put humanity on the moon.
I pointed out that, with one exception, every science teacher in the building was female.
I encouraged her to, every time someone claims something as a "proven fact", ask that person for the source of their claim.
There are only about 3 things that I can think of that men can do better than women:
1) Write history books in their image
2) Subjugate half the population of the world
3) Pee standing up
Over the years, many parents have asked me what they can do to help their children do better in math class. My response has become: Stop saying you are bad at math.
You are not bad at math.
You may be out of practice at calculation, but you're not bad at math.
Every day we are presented with problems and situations that we have not encountered before. We use information that we know and our past experiences to overcome these obstacles.
When parents tell kids that they, too, were never good at math, they think they are creating empathy. "I don't want my child to feel alone in this respect" is an admirable goal. The problem is that it doesn't build empathy. It provides an avenue for them to quit.
It opens the door to the thought "Mom/dad wasn't good at math and they turned out ok. I don't need to be good at it either."
There is a world of difference between being bad at math and being bad at math class.
This situation, however, goes a bit beyond that. This feeds into the gender-based stereotypes that marginalize and minimize the accomplishments, achievements and abilities of women and girls. It hobbles the child before she can get out of the gate.
You cannot achieve something that you can't dream and comments like these kill dreams. Even if they come from a place of love in an attempt to make someone feel better for not being as good as they would hope, it's harmful.
It boils the deficiency down to one that cannot be overcome. "You're bad at this because of who you are" is damaging on multiple levels.
The person giving the message may be implying love and support, but they are conveying limitations.
My daughter came home with her first report card from kindergarten last week. Her school uses an assessment system that reports students as "approaching expectations," "meeting expectations," or "exceeding expectations" in the various skill areas.
My daughter was meeting expectations in all areas, save one. The final category was the one that I consider the most important. If she were going to score poorly in any aspect, that would be the one that would cause the most concern. If she were going to exceed in any aspect, that would be the one that would give me the most pride.
In the area of "Consistently works on a task/problem until a solution/resolution is found," my daughter earned "Exceeding Expectations."
I want so many things for my children. I want them to be happy, to be healthy and to know they are loved. I want them to support others and know they are supported themselves. I want them to be self-reliant and strong.
I want these same things for my students.
And I will not stand by idly when someone tells them that something is out of their reach because of race or gender.