Ken Fan is running a math club for girls in Cambridge, MA, called “Girls’ Angle”. When I heard about it, my first reaction was surprise. When I was a girl, I would never have been interested in a girls-only math club.
Am I prejudiced? When I was growing up in Russia, there were not very many girls who were really good at mathematics. I would have expected that a girls’ math club would be less challenging than just a math club.
What if someone organized a boys-only math club? I would have been furious. I would have felt it was discriminatory. Should I then feel an equivalent fury about the girls’ club? But I do not feel furious, and I wonder why. Is it because deep down I think no boy would bother being interested in joining a girls’ math club? Is it because I still think a girls’ club would be weaker than a general club? I do not know.
At the same time I agree with Ken, for there are a variety of reasons why girls might prefer a girls-only club. For example, shy girls might feel more comfortable with girls or some girls might feel better able to concentrate without the distractions of boys. In some cases, the parents might have made the decision.
Obviously, since the club has students, there is a demand for it. If there is a demand, there should be a supply. I will support anything that works and helps improve American math education. I even volunteered to give a guest lecture at Girls’ Angle.
Was my lecture at the girls’ club different from my other lectures? Yes, in a way. I asked the girls to help me to finish a sequence. I started writing 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, on the board and no one was shouting the next number. In great surprise I turned back to face the class and saw a forest of raised hands. They patiently waited for my permission to speak. Yes, it felt different.
I decided to check the pricing. It appears that the girls club is twice as cheap as other math clubs, like The Math Circle or S.M.Art School. I can’t help but wonder if the girls are signing up at the Girls’ Angle not because they want to study in the girls-only group, but because it is cheaper.
I am glad that Ken Fan is good at finding sponsors and that there are so many people sympathizing with his cause. However, this situation does seem unfair to boys. Should I be furious that boys are not allowed in this very affordable math club? I do not feel furious, but I decided not to give any more lectures at Girls’ Angle for free. At least not until I give a free lecture to a mixed-gender math club. I want to be fair.Share: