Mrs. Dumas was my 6th-grade teacher. She was kind but not gushy, at once generous and restrained. She had a sort of regal quality in her posture yet I always knew she was for her students, wanted all of us to succeed. My 6th-grade teacher taught with the qualities shown in my research as most effective: gender-neutral style leadership that is accepted and best understood by the majority. It was also in my 6th grade year that my father died, and I am grateful it was in her classroom that I spent the better part of those days. Mrs. Dumas was my favorite teacher and a key motivation behind my decision to study education in college.
Today we celebrate teachers – and that we have the privilege to educate our children irrespective of family income, ethnicity, gender or aptitude. It is also an excellent time to evaluate the quality of what’s on offer in our country. Not to disparage or bash, rather, to challenge. Because if there is no challenge, the situation remains the same. And if a system remains the same, does not evolve and grow, it will decay, it is entropy.
Malala Yousafzai’s is a stunning illustration of the power education extends to all that engage it. There remain too many places where education is not extended to all children—girls, specifically. Yousafzai is an exceptional advocate for these girls, and her fight is righteous, just. In the US, all citizens are afforded education so it is easy to become placid, disengaged, to allow the more subtle nefarious features of the educational system to continue. Lazy is easy. And it is easy to be pacified in a country that doesn’t have to fight for anything, or thinks, Why bother?
But if our country can elect a man into its leadership who thinks nothing of tweeting gender prejudiced comments about women, or dismisses lewd banter with jocund indifference, equality is far from certain. When in the US test scores in STEM subjects have closed the gender gap but employ females in those roles 29% of the time. And when they do enter those jobs they leave at quadrupled speed and occupy only 11% of their executive committees.
Women comprise only:
- 2 percent of chemists
- 1 percent of physicists and astronomers
- 8 percent of environmental engineers
- 7 percent of chemical engineers
- 5 percent of civil, architectural, and sanitary engineers
- 1 percent of industrial engineers
- 7 percent of electrical or computer hardware engineers
- 9 percent of mechanical engineers
A major factor is the hostility women receive from the male counterparts. Another is, I believe, the most insidious factor: jokes and comments. We hear them. We laugh at them. We (seemingly) dismiss them. We internalize them. We MUST be more mindful of how we use our words.
So, perhaps we might consider a nudge to someone who tells a sexist joke, or take a moment before relegating a certain behavior to an entire gender. Our words matter—commission. Our silence matters—omission. I believe in a God that creates, who loves all and without qualification, conditions. I believe that Jesus came to right wrongs, to elevate those laid low, and to bring back to earth the elevated. And I believe that this Trinitarian God commissioned me to be a part of that, filled me with the power to do something about it, and is with me to be in my space and time – to perfect it. But it cannot be accomplished in isolation. It is a communal enterprise. Who else believes this with me?