girls aren't the problem; the World is the problem!

My whole educational world is sharing this New York Times article, which argues that we need to modify education to make girls less responsible and more confident, to help them succeed. Here is an email I sent to my faculty (NYU Physics) about this article. I'm putting it here to make it an open letter to universities; what I say about NYU at the end is true of many universities, especially urban ones!

This piece (Why Girls Beat Boys at School and Lose to Them at the Office, New York Times, 2019 February 7) captures the point that girls are more responsible workers and better students and more stressed out. All these things are important and show that we should give tons of support to girls here at NYU.

But then the author’s interpretation is that the problem is with girls. That we should change how girls feel and act. That’s a classic statistical mistake of putting unjustifiable causal structure onto data. Isn’t an equally or even far more plausible explanation that the world is strongly biased against girls and women? See, eg, everything about hiring, promotion, and pay differentials? Then the psychological and behavioral reactions of girls reported in this article actually all make perfect sense as a reaction to this structure. And it’s sensible!

So I think the piece way over-steps in arguing that girls should change their reactions to things. I think it’s better and more likely correct to argue that girls are reacting rationally to a strongly biased world and we should support and promote them as much as we can. Similar things could be said (and I will say them!) about other disadvantaged groups, obviously.

But I agree strongly with my colleagues that this is relevant to our work! As I have said many times, NYU is biasing its undergraduate admissions against hard-working female potential science majors in favor of having a hard-to-justify gender ratio. That is making these structural problems even worse for girls!

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