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January 04, 2023

Thomas the Tank Engine and the University System [TJM]

At a mathematics education conference previously reported by Campus Reform in which numerous scholars pushed for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI), one speaker stood out by arguing that boys in particular are at a disadvantage in numerous ways in American K-12 education.

What is it about our education system that has so much disdain for young men? As the father of two boys early in their education, this does concern me personally. They love to run around and scream and play, and as frustrating as it can be at times for me, it's how they grow. It's a natural state, so even if I'm trying to work from home and I have them both around running around and screaming, I know that demanding that they just sit around quietly is not going to lost too terribly long. They're going to get up, throw things, and just generally be loud.

Another thing I've come to appreciate is their desire to be around mechanical things. I had similar obsessions as a boy, but I left the desire to take things apart and put them back together again behind years ago. However, there was a point earlier this year when we brought out some of the elder boy's old toys, a trainset of Thomas the Tank Engine with motorized engines on plastic tracks, something we'd stored away in the attic for at least a couple of years, and both boys were enraptured by it. In fact, it's a common thing to hear from the younger boy these days, "Play trains!" in between bouts of the two beating each other with cardboard boxes, of course.

That interest could become something greater in later years if encouraged at home and at school: an interest in general hard sciences or engineering. What would the modern day STEM crowd say to something like that?

Probably something like this:

[T]he speaker's presentation "did not exemplify appropriate scholarly inquiry and was counterproductive with respect to PME-NA's goal of inclusion from the updated PME-NA equity statement, which includes 'welcoming and making spaces for members of our community that have previously been othered.'"

The idea of "othering" interests me because it's become an unalloyed bad thing in discussion these days. I see it as generally a neutral thing with people deciding to create their own in-groups and self-identifying with them while creating distinctions between their own groups with similar interests and features against the rest of the world. A band of friends with their own unique experiences is a good thing to have. It brings people together and unites them. It doesn't necessarily mean that the "other" is evil, just different and not of the in group.

Like much in modern culture and language, though, the "other" has become a bastardized version of itself where anything that "otherizes" people is evil...unless that other is white men, of course. What did this person say that pissed off the governing board so much?

Quoting the book, the speaker said that "boys are falling behind in school because the educational system is structured in ways that puts them at a disadvantage."

In regards to gender, the speaker posed the question, "Given current evidence, should we not also reassure boys that they too belong [in STEM-related fields]?"

Should white boys be actively discouraged from entering STEM fields because of their skin color and sex? Would we say that to a little black girl who loved to play with train sets? Of course not, but the idea of saying that boys belong in STEM pisses off some people, and those people have power.

When only the color of your skin matters, does a civilization thrive? When it's a constant battle for intersectionality points, can a civilization grow? I'm not saying my two boys will design the space elevator (*note to self - pressure boys to build space elevator*), but maybe their intelligence, interests, and talents could lead them to gain the skills to build some quality bridges. Or they can just keep hitting each other with cardboard boxes until they die of old age, I guess.

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posted by Open Blogger at 01:30 PM

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