Thursday, January 20, 2005

Summers Engulfed

"PINKER: Good grief, shouldn�t everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigor? That�s the difference between a university and a madrassa."

Stephen Pinker:, a personal hero of mine (see November archives), comments on the tsunami currently engulfing Larry Summers, President of Harvard, over the issue of gender inequalities in the maths and sciences. Jonah Goldberg also has a good essay. My own experience, teaching first and second graders for many years in Taiwan, is that gender differences are pretty stark. Boys act differently (to put it euphemistically) and in the area of language acquisition at this age, they are clearly less adept than the girls. Pinker makes a good case in his book, "The Blank Slate", that the differences between genders seem to be hardwired into our brains. Girls in the States are outperforming, and outgraduating, boys at the high school and college level. Given that the teaching profession is dominated by women, it could (and has) been suggested that boys are the victims of discrimination at schools. But as a male elementary school teacher, I can testify that if I am substituting and I walk into a class where ten of the twelve students are boys, there is sometimes that heart-sinking moment...
Speaking always with the caveat that we are talking about aggregations of people, not individuals, the fact is that genders have strengths and weaknesses, just as cultures do. I'm an exception myself, having been attracted like a moth to a flame to the liberal arts from a young age. If whites perform better than blacks on standardized tests, this is cited as de facto evidence that whites benefit from discrimination. So can the fact that Asians outperform whites be adduced to prove that Asians benefit from pro-Asian bias? How about the NBA, and the entertainment industry in general? Pro-black discrimination? I'm a white male doing this blogging thing. It doesn't cost a whole lot to buy the computer and get ADSL. Yet , I look around and a preponderance of other bloggers seem to be white and male. Is this evidence of a cultural pre-disposition, or is there a digital Bull Conners roaming about the cyber-world, with his cyber German Shepherds, making sure more minorities and women don't blog? We're not doing it for the money. The evidence seems to be that we like it, and perhaps even have an aptitude for it. But why couldn't the same be true of the higher levels of Math and Science? And what to make of anomalies like the fact that women do very well in Statistics, but poorly in Physics? Have high school Physics teachers been discriminating, while their colleagues in Statistics are imbued with the true spirit of human tolerance?