Undergrad physics inaccessible to women November 23, 2011Posted by mareserinitatis in education, feminism, physics, teaching.
Tags: education, gender equity, physics, problem solving, sexism
I was very intrigued when this month’s Physics Today showed up in the mail. While scanning the table of contents, I noticed an article called, “Problems with problem sets.” The summary went on to say that the problem with undergrad physics courses is that they often use problems which require specific background knowledge. Men are more likely to be acquainted with this knowledge than women.
The gist of the is that many of the problems in physics texts assume knowledge of various areas like construction, meaning that more men than women will be acquainted with the problem set up. Many times, these problems will make reference to various tools or constructions without giving an explanation or picture to describe what’s going on. They assume the students will understand what is being asked without further explanation.
I guess I hadn’t run into this a whole lot as an undergrad, but I think I may be a special case. As a kid, I worked with woodworking tools because my dad was a carpenter. In fact, I regularly had to help out in the shop, so I got a lot of hands-on experience in building and working with tools.
On the other hand, I think that when I went back to school, I wasn’t afraid to ask questions. I’ve observed that there are a large number of students who don’t like to ask questions, especially among the youngest students.
It’s a very interesting premise. Obviously it didn’t deter me, but I can see how this would be very intimidating for young women. It would definitely make many of them feel like they didn’t have a good enough background to do the work. I’m glad that someone is paying attention to issues like these, and I hope professors will pay a lot more attention to the problem sets they give in the future.