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Lisa Wade Headshot

Screw Poor People, Girls Win!

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I find the deafening silence about class in this country infuriating.

On Wednesday, The New York Times celebrated the fact that girls came home from the prestigious Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology with 1st place ribbons and hefty scholarships. Girls were 11 of the 20 finalists, outnumbering boys for the first time in the competition's history. Winning projects included ones that stopped the reproduction of drug-resistant bacteria and offered insight into bone growth. These weren't your typical science fair projects, they were real research.

Of course, it's wonderful that girls are offering boys a run for their money (here, literally) in science.* But there's another story here that The New York Times buried in the fourth to last paragraph. It reads:

Three-quarters of the finalists have a parent who is a scientist. The parents of Alicia Darnell, who won second place, are medical researchers at Rockefeller University and her maternal grandparents were scientists, too. Isha Himani Jain, who took home the top individual prize, published her first research paper with her father, a professor at Lehigh University, when she was 10 or 11; her mother is a doctor.

The line separating the winners from the losers isn't gender, it's the resources that scientists can offer their children, monetary and otherwise. How disgusting that we celebrate overcoming male privilege with such a grotesque blindness to class privilege.

A child who grows up with a parent who is a scientist has an immeasurable advantage over one who does not. They inherit not just money (and the good schools, healthy and safe home, and free time that it provides) but knowledge and resources. Some people have a daddy who knows how to do research, has the resources to do it (laboratory, materials, and grants), and can add them as an author to an article (at age 10 or 11), and some people do not. Guess who's going be empowered to consider science as an occupation? Guess who's going to be competitive at the science competition? Guess who's getting into a top college? Guess who's getting into graduate school? And guess who is going to help who secure a position when they're done?

Ironically, the students who take home the thousands of dollars in scholarships are probably the students that need the encouragement, and the money, the least. Perhaps those lucky girls and boys (whose parents can no doubt afford to send them to college) should turn around and give their scholarships to straight-A students in poor school districts that don't have the resources to compete in science competitions and, thus, never had a chance of winning in the first place.

* To be clear, and before we decide we've reached gender parity, girls are doing very well compared to boys in high school math and science, but boys start to dominate science and math in college, are more likely to go to graduate school, go further, get paid better in their math and science careers, and climb higher in the academic hierarchy. So, no, we certainly have not arrived at gender parity.