Do Kids Have Too Much Choice?

Normally I'd hold in special suspicion those who suggest that there is too much choice in the world. That the alternative means I would be required to trust another person to make that decision about when there is "too much" entirely negates the argument. Abundant choice is the result of the lack of such a figure. The alternative is day-long queues for the One Kind of Toilet Paper.

But does this hold when it's children making the choice? A recent study suggests requiring girls to take math and science courses might produce more women computer scientists.

For the purists among you: yes, I agree that in theory it might be better to have all education pivately funded and thus avoid the stifling question of what the state is requiring our children to learn. But you tell me when a serious coalition in Congress (here or whatever you might have abroad) is about to vote to end public schooling and I'll jump on the phones to help drum up support. Any takers? No? Ok then...

I'm not sure strapping kids into science classes is a great way to proceed, but this does provide some evidence (to my mind) against the seemingly widespread belief that some children just don't have to take certain classes if it's not their "preference". (Personally, I was allowed out of math classes in my sophomore year of high school because I finished the lowest requirements and evinced an aptitude for other areas. I'm paying dearly for that now.) If this is even partially accurate, it's a damning picture of schools as well as the general state of pedagogy for public education. Dismissing a certain canon of subjects for softer material and trying to make school only about "critical thinking" skills obviously results in some poor consequences:

Instead, it seems that restricting the choices available to adolescents, and making it mandatory for all pupils to study maths and science subjects throughout their secondary education, correlates with a higher proportion of women going on to study computer science at university.

"The principle of being free to pursue your preferences is compatible and coexists quite comfortably with a belief in essential gender differences. This essentialist notion, which helps to create what it seeks to explain, affects girls’ views of what they're good at and can shape what they like," said Charles.

She goes on to say that the implications for policy are clear: rather that letting kids discard subjects too soon, governments should insist on more maths and science for everyone, for longer.

"As other research has repeatedly shown, choices made during adolescence are more likely to be made on the basis of gender stereotypes, so we should push off choice until later," she concludes.

For a simultaneously hilarious and tragic view of what the permissiveness in education has done to technical skills, try this.

Just as interesting as the results of the study, however, is the point about early-age decisions being made along gender-stereotype lines. Does this mean that all those people learning about how to teach kids to learn how to learn and who refuse to "box anyone in" are actually producing grown-ups with stronger, not weaker, stereotypes about gender roles? Would it be these people that we should put in charge of the variety of cereal?

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This page contains a single entry by published on January 30, 2006 5:54 PM.

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