UBC Graduate Research

A Damsel in Distress: Is STEM Intended to Rescue Education? DeAbreu, Robert


In his work entitled “The Gender in U.S. School Reform,” William Pinar makes clear that teaching is a profession that is gendered female in the political imaginary of the U.S. In truth, more and more teachers are expected to take responsibility for the learning in their classroom in the same way that the wife in the nuclear family was blamed if her children failed in some way, regardless of the participation (or lack thereof) by the children’s father in their upbringing. The great lamentation of politicians and parents in the U.S. over the decline of the education system, and the “lack of relevance” of “brick and mortar” schools is surely related to this “problem” of the feminine. Enter stage right mathematics and science, subjects largely pursued by males and the requirement, it can be argued, of many professions engendered male (Langille, 1993; Pegley, 2007). Mathematics, science and technology are lauded as important pursuits by many, and this is reinforced, among other things, by government initiatives (e.g. STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and college and university entrance requirements worldwide – for better or for worse (Hacker, 2012). There is much work being done, as we will see, by educators and researchers, government initiatives and private corporations, to encourage girls to pursue careers in mathematics, science and technology – as if, somehow, their lack of engagement in these fields is the penultimate problem we face. With the gendered history of education, one can not help but wonder: Is STEM being strongly encouraged worldwide with the (un?)intended purpose of “rescuing” education, the damsel in distress? Two recent initiatives that are intent on increasing girls’ engagement with STEM related fields were fraught with harmful assumptions about gender, and point to the heroism perceived characteristic of these subjects with respect to education. I will examine these initiatives.

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