Mama Madison: Why shouldn't girls love to build?

Instilling knowledge of math and science in our daughters

We are a "words," not a "numbers," family, I've often said. My kids' favorite subjects in school have always been language arts, history and foreign language -- the stuff humanities vs. engineering degrees are made of.

Sure, they liked Legos when they were little, but I don't think my children ever used them to build a house, fashion a robot or erect a skyscraper. No, they wanted Legos for every birthday and holiday in order to collect the "little guys" (especially the Star Wars "little guys") that came with every set. The rest of the thousands of building bricks we amassed still sit in a bin in the back of the basement.

This lack of interest in formulas and functions never bothered me much with my male offspring. I think I always took a certain secret pride in the fact that I was raising boys who liked theater, mythology and films from the golden age of Hollywood. Maybe, I hoped, they were helping to break the "boys like math, girls like reading and the arts" elementary school stereotype.

Unfortunately though, I might very well be as bad as former Harvard president Lawrence Summers -- or Mattel's 1992 marketing fiasco "Teen Talk" Barbie -- when it comes to raising my daughter.

She suffers, you see, from math anxiety and I'm partly to blame. I've allowed her over the years, without correction, to claim that she's bad at math. In attempts to make her feel better, I've even shared my own horror stories of being demoted from the top fractions group in sixth grade. And nearly failing pre-calc my freshman year of college.

My daughter actually does just fine in math, but I've never once discussed with her the kinds of careers that strong computational skills allow for. She wants to be a writer or an artist -- all good, of course. But at the same time, it's a little embarrassing that she still thinks engineers only drive trains. And that going into banking means giving out lollipops to kids in the backseat of cars when their parents come through the drive-though.

But last week's Isthmus article on the lack of women in academia working on information technology really made me think. My daughter has left her Barbies, Teen Talk and otherwise, behind long ago. And now she spends just about all of her free time playing on my laptop. Isn't it high time then, she learns how to program one?

So, I guess I'll look into the scratch programming class likely to be offered by the Madison Children's Museum this coming spring. Hopefully, if all goes well, by the time she graduates from high school she will know that Python isn't just a type of snake. And that Java is more than an Indonesian island...or a flavor of Frappuccino.

And while my daughter may be a little bit too old for them now, Goldieblox, a female-targeted construction toy along the likes of Legos, Tinker Toys, and Lincoln Logs, seems like pure genius. I felt inspired and hopeful last week watching the company's latest You Tube video, which showcases the ingenuity of pint-sized tutu-clad actresses wielding hammers to the tune of Queen's power ballad "We are the Champions."

Because while I certainly don't berate a girl of any age for wanting to grow up to be royalty, there is no question that all potential "princesses", including my daughter, should know how to forge her own crown.

Our society needs to get creative about figuring out how to attract more girls to math, science and technology related fields. Necessity, after all, is the mother of invention. And who knows. Perhaps someday I'll be the mother of an inventor.

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