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The Problem with FITness for Girls

Ever since I joined the Tech Savvy Girls project, I've been trying to figure out what bothers me about the fit between its mission and my own. Since November 2006, I've been uneasy. And it is because their mission and mine don't align perfectly. In fact, in many ways, the two are at odds.

The Tech Savvy Girls project as well as the larger pop.cosmopolitanism study are great Don't get me wrong. They both have great ideas to offer to academia, education, and the population as a whole.

But both are focusing on making girls in particular and school-aged children in general competent users of information and computation tools. They aim to help the next generation be creators - of art or information or artifacts - and critical users of the current and emerging information tools. As such, they treat the tools themselves as useful but advocate avoiding the study of the tools as significant in themselves. The word of the day is integration. And any attempts I've made to concentrate on information technology and computers (and even science and math) per se have been met with the counter that studying these things out of context is the wrong, old-fashioned mind-set. We're using the FITness standards as our guidelines, which inform schools about how the average citizen should be capable of using computers in their lives. But that set of standards doesn't have anything to say about the understanding children need in order to become the backbone of a scientifically advanced and technologically innovative society. We are still teaching kids to use the tools. We're not opening the box and explaining to them that they can be the ones making the tools.

I find myself concerned. Information technology and computer science are still viable topics in their own right. They are as important as art, as literature, as games, or as education as subjects of study. While, yes, they should be integrated into all studies at a basic level, when do we explain to kids that there are deeper aspects to understanding computers and information? That someone, somewhere should figure out a better way to encode data, to build a faster or smaller computer, or to build a functional 3-D display for all that gorgeous digital art we can only see in 2-D?

And when to do we explain to girls that they can be the ones who go deeper? The next big breakthrough in storage speed and capacity could be a woman as much as a man, if only we would stop dumbing down the curriculum and spewing platitudes about teaching technology, science, and math "in context"!

The current project I'm working on is trying to raise the bar on defining the basics, and making sure that the majority of children get a chance to meet that bar. But I'm trying to encourage women to be among those who are jumping well over the minimum. How do we do that?