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Is Computer Science Education Racist and Sexist? 612

Posted by timothy
from the what-the-does-the-magic-8-ball-say dept.
theodp writes "What's wrong with this picture?" asked at its launch earlier this year, lamenting the lack of Computer Science students in a race and gender reference-free infographic. But as the organization has grown via public/private partnerships and inked agreements to drive the CS curriculum for the Chicago and NYC school systems, the same stats webpage has adopted a new gender and racial equity focus, positioning Computer Science education as "a chance to level the playing field" for women, Hispanic and African American students. The new message is consistent with the recently-forged partnership with the NSF-funded Exploring Computer Science (ECS, "a K-12/university partnership committed to democratizing computer science") and Computer Science Principles (CSP, "a new course under development that seeks to broaden participation in computing and computer science"). According to The Research Behind ECS, an "insidious 'virtual segregation' that maintains inequality" is to blame for keeping the number of African Americans and Latino/as CS students disproportionately low. So, what might the future of's proposed equity-based U.S. K-12 CS education look like? "Including culturally relevant instructional materials represented a driving focus of our course development," explained ECS Team members who now advise "Cultural design tools encourage students to artistically express computing design concepts from Latino/a, African American, or Native American history as well as cultural activities in dance, skateboarding, graffiti art, and more. These types of lessons are important for students to build personal relationships with computer science concepts and applications – an important process for discovering the relevance of computer science for their own life." And — ironically for — it could mean less coding."
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Is Computer Science Education Racist and Sexist?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 22, 2013 @03:32PM (#45761419)

    Is computer science racist or sexist? Nope.

    Really of any industry, computer related fields are way more accepting of ANYTHING than any other i've seen. Race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, lifestyle, anything! People into computers don't really give a damm who or what you are. As long as you're not an idiot you'll do fine.

    Now... Are some races or sexes less likely to go into computer science? Hell yes.

    Why? Well now.. You could write a book about WHY...

    For women i imagine it has alot to do with the power of sex. And in computer fields that power is gone. They can't smile and look pretty and get ahead like so many many other industrys allow. Or even demand. In computer related fields nobody cares how hot you are.

    For races? Well.. I won't touch that subject. Everyone gets mad.

  • Spot the trends (Score:3, Informative)

    by cold fjord (826450) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @04:00PM (#45761629)

    Colleges Cut Men’s Programs to Satisfy Title IX []
    Sokal's Hoax []
    Yes, There’s a War on Boys in Schools []
    What About Our Boys? []

    The direction this is likely to go is easily predictable.

  • Re: No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 22, 2013 @04:14PM (#45761719)

    The barrier for entry in learning to code is virtually nil. You need a computer - it doesn't even have to be a good one - and access to the Internet.

    That's it. If you have that, you have all of the resources, tutorials, books, exercises, and help documentation needed to start learning CS.

    Oh yes - and the motivation to do self-start and learn something yourself.

  • by Gonoff (88518) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @04:46PM (#45761919)
    Hindu is not an ethnicity.
  • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 22, 2013 @05:10PM (#45762067)

    I don't know how much of girls liking dolls, and boys liking building blocks is due to genes or culture, but your blanket statement that demonlapin's statement is false, is itself false. We known it isn't entirely cultural because primate studies show that our closest non-human relatives also display this tendency. However it seems less that females like certain things, and males like certain things, but that males tend to like certain things to the exclusion of others, and females don't have as much exclusive preference.

    Primate Study []

    Additionally, in girls with with a disorder that increases androgen production to be more like boys, toy preference also shifts, despite social pressures.

    Androgen Study []

  • Re:No. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Max Threshold (540114) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @05:12PM (#45762083)
    In the 19th Century, pink was a boy color. It's all in the marketing.
  • Re:No. (Score:4, Informative)

    by epyT-R (613989) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @06:20PM (#45762571)

    A quick search got me: []

    same study (I think) with a pro-feminist women-are-smarter-than-men spin near the end []

    Not sure about its pedigree because it's pushing a political narrative, but here's more corroborating evidence suggesting biological basis for gender role/behavior []

    Each of these has varying amounts of placative language to satisfy the PC crowd, so, as always, skepticism is the rule of the day when investigating research that's been contaminated with political correctness. I think it is obvious that masculine/feminine traits, both physical and behavioral, boil down to levels of different hormones as one matures.. They manipulate aspects of temperament and behavior that drive people towards some directions and away from others. The reason this is so politically charged is that it conflicts with the liberal dogma that says gender typical behavior is based on social conditioning.

  • by pla (258480) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @06:57PM (#45762855) Journal
    So, you just input the opcodes directly, do you? You don't even need the mnemonics of assembly language because all you deal with is a culture-free head that scans along an infinite tape.

    As a matter of fact, I can... But not your point, I know.

    Your real point seems to fault CS for primarily using English, the second-most spoken language on the planet. Okay, fair point - Convince everyone to switch to Mandarin, and I'll play along for the sake of efficiency.

    Because like it or not, this does boil down to efficiency; If everyone on the planet would just pick a single language and stick with it, we'd all have it a whole lot easier. Hell, let's even pick a designed language like Esperanto, so no one has "home court advantage" - $Deity knows I'd give my left nut to actually have everyone use a language without a million and seven historical irregularities.

    But no, instead of learning from our mistakes in the real world, instead let's try to turn the most successful monoculture ever to arise in the history of humanity, into just one more polyglot disaster; where the ability to share earth-shatteringly good ideas becomes more a matter of imaginary lines on a map than of technical prowess.

    Please, just watch Louis.

    I've seen that one before. Pretty good, and really makes a person stop and think. Except... It kinda misses the point. Yes, my culture gives me something of an advantage in life - Because we won. And yes, we had our bad-old-days, when "winning" meant someone else lost. But we've moved past that, and have invited everyone to the party.

    The problem there comes from everyone else still trying to "win" by dragging western culture down to their level. Yes, you can have capitalism. Yes, you can have democracy. Yes, you can have the role of religion marginalized in your political system (though sadly, we all still have quite some way to go in that regard). Yes, you can have English. That combination won, long long ago. Stop fighting it, rather than joining the winning team.

    (which only exist because of pervasive systemic racism and segregation, by the way), your knee-jerk reaction is that it's just bullshit?

    Okay, so moving beyond "language", what prevents any English-speaking American black/hispanic/female learning to program the same damned way any white male programmer did? And no, I don't mean "college" (I have yet to meet a single good programmer who didn't already have the fundamentals down well before college). I mean pick up a book on programming, read it, read it again, fall in love with the subject, and spend the rest of their lives honing their skills?

    And for reference, before you say that I have an advantage because of the "culture" targeted by that book - For me, "that book" meant the GW Basic language reference manual (old-style three-ring binding and all). About as "culturally accessible" as your car's service manual. Nothing but the facts - This function takes these parameters and does whatever with them. And before you say "you had a computer and that book", I actually encountered that book and my first PC in my third grade classroom, spending as long after school every day as they would let me stay, to learn how to use it.
  • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by nbauman (624611) on Sunday December 22, 2013 @08:57PM (#45763527) Homepage Journal

    Here's a classic, often-cited study. To summarize it, some boys are born with an abdominal defect that leaves their bladder or genital organs exposed and malformed. Years ago, surgeons weren't able to reconstruct male organs, so they "converted" the infants at birth to females. They told the parents to keep this secret from the child, and bring them up as girls. So this was a scientific experiment of bring up boys as girls, to the greatest extent imaginable.

    As it turned out, most of the boys rebelled against being brought up as girls, and followed male rather than female behavior. Even as infants of a few months of age, they preferred male toys, such as weapons, and male playing, such as aggression and fighting. As they got older, the preference for male behavior, such as fighting and construction toys, was even more noticeable. Boys played with toy guns. They didn't play with tea sets. And they had strong preferences for male clothing.

    Any reasonable person would have to admit that this is strong evidence that sexual behavior is largely innate, not environmental.

    If you can surgically change a boy to a girl, bring him up as a girl, and have him insist on following male behavior instead, then you could expect the same results from a similar experiment with bringing up girls as boys. If girls have an inherent preference for (or against) certain careers, you'll find more (or fewer) women in those careers, even without discrimination against women, and even despite all the affirmative action and encouragement in the world.

    I don't object to women studying engineering; I encourage it. But I would expect that even with the best gender-free STEM education in the world, you're not going to have equal results of as many women in every discipline of engineering as men. It seems to max out at 10%.

    Science magazine has also published a lot of work on gender in science and science education. There are some efforts that succeeded and other efforts that failed. Women in biology and medicine, success. Women in engineering, relatively rare.

    The evidence goes against somebody suing an employer and saying, "There are more male than female engineers, therefore you're discriminating, and not giving us opportunities, and you should pay us hundreds of thousands of dollars." Which happened in many industries in the 1970s.


    Discordant Sexual Identity in Some Genetic Males with Cloacal Exstrophy Assigned to Female Sex at Birth

    William G. Reiner, M.D., and John P. Gearhart, M.D.
    N Engl J Med 2004; 350:333-341
    January 22, 2004
    DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa022236


    Cloacal exstrophy is a rare, complex defect of the entire pelvis and its contents that occurs during embryogenesis and is associated with severe phallic inadequacy or phallic absence in genetic males. For about 25 years, neonatal assignment to female sex has been advocated for affected males to overcome the issue of phallic inadequacy, but data on outcome remain sparse.


    We assessed all 16 genetic males in our cloacal-exstrophy clinic at the ages of 5 to 16 years. Fourteen underwent neonatal assignment to female sex socially, legally, and surgically; the parents of the remaining two refused to do so. Detailed questionnaires extensively evaluated the development of sexual role and identity, as defined by the subjects' persistent declarations of their sex.


    Eight of the 14 subjects assigned to female sex declared themselves male during the course of this study, whereas the 2 raised as males remained male. Subjects could be grouped according to their stated sexual identity. Five subjects were living as females; three were living with unclear sexual identity, although two of the three had declared themselves male; and eight were living as males, six of whom had reassigned themselves to m

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 23, 2013 @11:56AM (#45767097)

    The mathematical sciences prize individual achievement and so attract males.

    Pure mathematics happens to be one of the most gender-equal fields in the sciences; also, one where most research is done individually, and people are judged by the rigor and acuity of their papers rather than how they fit into a chummy group environment. The concept that males are better suited to "individual achievement" is simply part of the sexist mythology used to explain away large gender disparities. You have fallen for the sexist propaganda that the hard sciences are too austere and intellectual for women's silly little minds, which is demonstrably false. What is demonstrably true from multiple studies is that there is systematic bias against women, resulting in people being perceived as less competent, intelligent, and motivated simply for having a female name (based on studies ranking job applications assigned random male or female applicant names).

Someone is unenthusiastic about your work.