In 1988, I enrolled in a Trig class at my high school. I was a junior and getting myself prepared for my collegiate dreams that seemed to be just beyond the tip of my fingers without support from my family who didn’t believe in higher education and most especially for girls. My teacher was nearing retirement age and had some pretty backwards ideas about women’s equality as well. The first day of class, all the girls were huddled together in a desks all next to each other as the teacher gave the class our first lecture. The topic of the lecture entailed the requirements for college (this class being one of them) and the frustration that he (our teacher) felt at having so many girls enrolled in his classes… they were taking the place of a boy who needed that class to attend university and we (us girls) were taking their seats. My teacher went on to say that he would make sure that each and every one of us was run off from his class if he had anything to do with the situation. The girls all vowed to study together and muck through this sexist bullshit. We did 3-way calling study sessions for hours trying to help each other understand the material with little or no instructional support.
Yet in the end, run us off he did. I think at the end of the first semester, most of us (I’m sad to say, me included) dropped the class before the final exams could ruin our transcripts.
I was devastated.
But with no support from my family and a true lack of understanding non-real numbers, I was doomed without a good tutor and a whole lotta self-confidence; which at the time, I just didn’t have.
And now, in raising boys, I am not supposed to worry myself over how Title IX is enforced. In 1972, Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana introduced the radical notion that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity.” Obviously, in 1988 my high school district was still not enforcing Title IX. Though as angry and bitter as I was at my own struggles to enter college (I had to take that damn trig class in summer school before starting my freshman year), I am so thrilled to watch my boys grow up in a world were girls participation in sports, classroom and educational opportunities and social life is almost equal to their own. I have cared deeply about watching girls and boys access quality education.
That is not to say that there is not work to be done, but even at my state college alma mater, there is an amazing program: WISE to help foster and encourage women to stay in the sciences and support each other through the difficult and still mostly male-dominated fields. I was so privileged to work with undergrads in encouraging membership in that program, even though I was unable to make the grade for participation, myself.
My boys see it as a very normative experience to take science and math classes mostly filled with girls. The ePrince counts as some of his closest girl friends, young women who intend to forge on in their love of science beyond high school and throughout their academic and post-education lives. This generation of students never heard of a teacher who would tell a girl in their classes that she was occupying the seat of a boy who deserved it more than she. And that is the way it should be.
I am forever in awe of my high school friend who managed to stick it out and finish that trig class as one of the very few girls to ever do so with that teacher. And fortunately the teacher was retired shortly thereafter. My classmate is a brilliant woman and has always been an amazing student with strong family support. I hope she knows what an inspiration she was to me then, and how her steadfastness paved the way for her daughters and the girl friends of my boys today.