To the Editor:
In his Commentary “Where the Girls Aren’t” (June 18, 2008), which critiques the American Association of University Women’s recent report on gender equity, Leonard Sax laments that “young women continue to choose professions that pay less well than those chosen by men with similar education,” a point he believes the AAUW overlooks. The AAUW recently held a conference on pay inequity in my state, however, urging young women to consider salaries when choosing careers, and then to prepare for jobs that pay well.
I assume Dr. Sax would approve, though that strategy ignores issues of combining work with family or following one’s true interests. Choosing a career based on salary would also eliminate teaching as an option, even if one pursued math and science for that purpose. How can that benefit women?
I spent 20 years in Los Angeles schools teaching Algebra 1, and I loved my job. Half my career was spent in coed public schools, and the other half in a century-old private girls’ school. I taught a rigorous, content-rich Algebra 1 course to large coed honors classes and to small all-girls classes. I used the same textbook and similar teaching methods and assessment tools in both settings. My motivated algebra students in both schools and of both genders were equally successful.
The girls’ school encouraged all its students to pursue higher math and science study. Peer pressure pushed students to challenge themselves academically, and to achieve success in a broad range of college majors and careers. In contrast, girls in the coed school worried about outshining boys, or being labeled “bookish” or “nerdy.” That affected their academic pursuits, and is one reason why I join Dr. Sax in strongly supporting single-sex classes.
High-powered careers can place difficult demands on women who choose to be mothers. As a math teacher, I was always “off work” when my kids were out of school; it was the ideal job to combine with raising a family. If more of our bright women don’t choose to teach, how will our children and grandchildren learn vital subjects such as math and science, and achieve their potential? How will we guarantee future women an equal educational opportunity?
Betty Raskoff Kazmin
A version of this article appeared in the July 16, 2008 edition of Education Week as Gender, Pay Equity, And Choosing to Teach