Why We Need Books About Girls in Science
When you hear a first grade class shriek with enthusiasm during a science experiment, it can be hard to believe that more than half of those kids are going to reach high school thinking that science is too hard for them. Or they'll think it's boring, or messy, or a waste of time. They might see so few people who look like them doing real science that they'll be unconsciously discouraged from doing it themselves.
photo by George Joch / courtesy Argonne National Laboratory
By the time those first graders are sophomores in high school, the boys are going to be consistently scoring higher on exams in math and science than girls. Those gaps widen when we dived the data along cultural and socioeconomic lines.
Over and over studies have shown that girls lose interest in science at a much faster rate than boys. And it has nothing to do with natural aptitude. Of course, some people are more attracted to the arts, music, literature, and non-science subjects, but when women represent only 19.3 percent of the undergraduate engineering degrees and 17.9 percent of degrees in computer science, we know there's something else going on.
Researchers have discovered a few different reasons for this discrepancy. First, have you ever compared magazine covers on magazines for boys and magazines for girls? What do you notice? The girls' magazine is more likely to feature articles about hair, clothing, makeup, and other appearance-based issues. The boys’ magazine is more likely to feature sports, science, engineering, and other action-based articles. Hmmm....
There has also been evidence of classroom bias. Teachers are more likely to encourage boys to take science and engineering classes, and they're more likely to call on male students in those classrooms. While as a society, we’ve been aware of this trend for a while, it’s still happening. When a classroom of elementary students is asked to draw a picture of a scientists, the majority of them draw white men in white lab coats. Gender bias starts early, and it’s something to work against for an entire lifetime.
What can we do to encourage girls in science, to make sure that academic choices are being made because of interest and curiosity instead of subtle discouragement and lack of role models? First, we can keep the conversation going, from teachers and administrators to the students themselves.
We can also provide those role models. That’s why we created our Girls in Science series. These are science books for girls (and boys!) that show real women working in different science fields. When girls see women working in the scientific fields that they’re interested in, they realize that being female isn’t a deterrent. In order to see a future for themselves in science, math, and technology fields, they need to see people who look like them working in those fields.
We’ve all heard the call for diversity in children’s books; we need diversity in children's nonfiction, too. We need books about girls in science. We need to infuse the nonfiction books our kids are reading with stories of women, people of color, and people of all ages, all of whom have made or are making significant contributions to science and technology fields.