Going boldly in OKC: science is for everyone - MetroFamily Magazine
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Going boldly in OKC: science is for everyone

by Callie Collins

Reading Time: 6 minutes 

Tomorrow’s scientists are already born. Is there one living at your house?

Education ties closely with the overall progress we recognize in society through art and science: they’re for everyone. The pursuit of happiness is tied to what you reach up for; access and privilege are different conversations adults spend so much energy discussing, trying to make sense of budgets and logistics. Kids, though, are just here to see and do.

MetroFamily is co-hosting Geekapalooza, a science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) event for families on June 24, along with Girl Scouts Western Oklahoma, at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics campus. Click here for tickets.

“Science? Isn’t that just for girls?” my soon-to-be fifth grader wrinkled his nose at the suggestion of taking some extra science courses this summer.

“Why would science be just for girls?” I asked, surprised at the perceived gender reversal. We watch “NOVA” as a family and Neil deGrasse Tyson is a larger-than-life figure who is the subject of Father’s Day t-shirts and conversations over our kitchen table. My 5 year old rushes to the library’s science section and we read book after fact-filled book about so many science and nature topics.

“Well, you know, grandma’s a doctor and my other grandma’s a nurse and Aunt Katie is an engineer. Girls at my school like science and all the programs are for them. Those GoldieBlox are all Victorian houses and pony carriages; they’ve got flowers and they’re pink and purple with LEGO girls instead of little men. Girly,” Sam concluded dismissively.

I quickly reminded him his grandfathers are, respectively, an engineer and a doctor, both science-based professions. His Uncle Mike, husband to the aforementioned aunt, is also a nurse.

“Still. Science isn’t for boys anymore,” he declared.

Sam’s conclusion really threw me. Have we overcorrected? Is what Sam said the way boys think of science now, as girly? As in, not for them?

I don’t know. I disagree with him but it’s complicated.

I’m conflicted. I think a lot of us are, parents of boys who also recognize that women have been professionally marginalized in practically every field. I want science to be for him and his brothers too, even as we proudly witness the seemingly-sudden-but-not-soon-enough emphasis on women on science. There is a misperception that even this event is actually for girls only; it isn’t.

I’m not the one who needs convincing, though.

I’m pretty sure Sam will rediscover the joy of science but I understand where he’s coming from; as a female marketer, I see science education’s perception problem. We’re just now recovering from centuries of “science is for men,” male-led and dominated professions, while bright women have been collectively pushed away, systematically ignored when they dared to persist, forced to officially give up credit for their own conclusions and discoveries. Sexism within science is undeniable.

We have lost many brilliant minds to the laundry room, the constancy of domestic cycles. Wear, rinse, wash, repeat. Take care of everyone and ignore what you want, what you need, because family is sacrifice and sacrifice redeems you and that is fulfilling. Except that it isn’t always, because there are no gold stars at the bottom of the laundry basket.

Motherhood is the great equalizer. Women are so often the caretakers; we’re lucky to catch a little sleep before the next day starts again, over and over, despite our professional formations even now. It’s only been in the past century we’ve been allowed in, literally, and there are still disadvantages; sexism continues at work, as so many women can attest.

I just finished reading the very technical and pointed “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly and the laundry room is exactly where it begins, with the book’s main character making extra money exercising her arms in the the clean clothes folding area instead of her mind in the NASA lab she would later occupy. I haven’t seen the movie yet but the book is surprisingly science-heavy, more focused on the work itself than the characters in elegant 60s dresses who grace its cover, intentionally focused away from the domestic.

These female mathematicians and engineers have my admiration and I am proud to pass the book along to Sam, as there’s no reason he can’t read it. Women breaking into the field will give him context, let him see that what they did is rare and celebrated because their leadership wasn’t expected or usual within society at that time for their gender, to say nothing of the racial disparities we’ll have to talk about too.

I refuse to give into the idea that we’ve overcorrected because the turn toward women in science is so recent and there are still barriers for women once they’re in the field. It’s my job, as Sam’s mother, to help him see science for what it is: open to everyone, through study and a willingness to ask questions that haven’t been answered yet.

My Dad is broaching retirement age and I think of his own humble beginnings as one of the first people in his family to graduate from college. He’s led a successful career as a petroleum engineer for some 40 years now. That was no small feat coming from a tiny Kansas town with a graduating class of about 70; fewer than half that number made up the 2017 graduating class this past May. Some of my Dad’s teachers were the same as those his father and uncles had, the small faculty of friends and neighbors within a community that still celebrates the end of harvest.

There is nothing wrong with small town pride but that community did not always feel friendly to those who sought to go beyond it. College simply wasn’t on the horizon for many of those classmates. The fact that he succeeded at all, with minimal family support at best, is proof to me that science is for those who work hard to participate in it.

“Ad Astera per Aspera,” “To the Stars through Difficulties” is the Kansas-state motto and it’s also quoted in the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” as the fictional Alabama school’s dictum for its students. Oklahoma’s education budget crisis and its refusal to provide a raise for teachers like my husband cut close to home as we consider sending our children to schools ranked 47th in the nation.

These states, with their rural areas far from the country’s coasts, have bright children within them who are eager to learn, individual schools that rise to the top of third-party rankings. There are science communities here if you know where to find them. Medicine, geology, chemistry, physics: good things are happening at Oklahoma’s universities and within related industries so closely tied to the state’s economy.

Sparking interest in those areas is what we’re trying to figure out at our house. Participation should not be reserved for those who can afford it. I am proud that admission to Geekapalooza is just $10 for up to six people. There will be hands-on activities, simulated archeological digs, robots to build and watch battle and other displays intended to capture young minds, regardless of gender or social strata.

Yes, science is for everyone, and I’ll do all I can to help my sons find their place in a branch of study that could lead to a fulfilling profession. If they’re not interested in science specifically, that’s fine; at least each will have been able to decide for themselves, which is my hope for boys and girls everywhere.

Future scientists are right here among us, sure as the stars, and it’s up to us to help pinpoint those talents, connect the dots and trace pictures in the sky alongside them.

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