Self Esteem and other things

Mary Ann Sesma msesma at ZEUS.BELL.K12.CA.US
Fri Oct 31 09:44:05 EST 1997

Dear Alice and  Group:

1.  SMET is the acyronym usually used by NSF for  science, mathematics,
engineering , technology.

2. I was pleased that so many of you really dug into childcare.  This will
be a continuing issue a la Julia Frugoli.   Whether or not you liked my
concept of inhome care, it was the only option for my infants (now adult
daughters of 35,37, and 43) in the fifties.  No body wanted to care for
under three year age children at that time in my geographicr area--or
bettter said---if they wanted to care for them in group care-I did not them
caring for my kids.   A certain level of humor has to be interjected ---The
best baby sitter that we ever had was when the kids were older (after age
12) was a GIGANTIC Great Pyrenees Dog named Alice.   She was the  "guardian
of the hearth" behaving in her true role as a live stock guarding dog.
Although Alice was great, she could not get the kids to pick up their rooms
or turn the stereo down but she was great on sorting out the obnoxious boy
friends, and her BARK was enough to scare witches (This is Halloween). .

3. Comment On Alice' post regarding self esteem in adolescent and
pre-adolescent girls.    I am going to separate it by sections so that I
can respond--this is ONE thing I do know about.

3a. One of the issues that always comes up regarding self esteem is
culture, ethnicity, social class and level of education of the parents.
I worked  my entire life in Latino high schools in Los Angeles.  One of the
most sucessful programs was a program called MESA (Mathematics Engineering
Science Achievement) which is now state financed and is run by various
colleges and universities working with the high schools.    This deals with
BOTH genders.   In the Latino World, it is a struggle to get the girls to
college because tradition (depending upon the above factors) sometimes
works against you.  However,  we managed to keep our MESA chapter at  equal
levels of gender and had over a fifteen year period an exceptionally high
level of movement into science, engineering, ,math and technology careers.
It always seemed to work better when there was gender equality.  The kids
were started out at the ninth grade, had meetings one a week, grade checks,
field trips, activities such as model building and rewards on a semi-annual

One of the ways we got around the gender thing was to develop a group of
young  women teachers who were Latinas.  We called   Latinas Guiding
Latinas.  They acted as mentors, all of them were from UCLA Math Dept.,
We took the Moms out  to the University, and let them stay over night/.
Yes, it was successful, because it  a girl felt more comfortable with a
female mentor : her needs were met. The Moms were reassurred.--VIP I have a
hunch that the second generation may not be as requiring of female mentors.

We also instituted another program which took equal numbers of boys and
girls to universities and  colleges for one week  residency (24 hours/day)
(Chemistry, Physics, Social Studies, Language )what ever we could find.
One of the real intresting aspects was that we had the high school teachers
teaching right along the profs.    (Yes, I admit to screening to teachers)
but such was not the case with the profs.  by and large, a team was
created. between the profs and the teachers, but the teacher had it all
over the profs in terms of teaching except for one prof.  I can  possibly
attribute this to a stylistic difference:  facilitation as opposed to
lecture (and don/t interrupt).

One of the dicey issues for high school is the homosexual/lesbian child--I
don't have answers or even ideas but it is real and they need as much
opportunity and support as the gender identified child.   In our Latino
culture this is a tough one particularly amongst very traditional Latinos.

3b.  The School must set a tone for girls and boys.   I  hired women
science teachers who were outstanding and sorted out the math teachers and
found the best ones and gave the kids they were to nuture.  Teacher role
models make a huge diffference.
>   Now on a totally different tack......there is an interesting group
>here dedicated to building self-esteem in adolescent and pre-adolescent
>girls.  An idea i really liked.  Tonight I went to one of their
>organizational meetings and I have to admit that while I really liked the
>group, (composed of mostly graduate students),
>seemed to frustrate them and left me feeling like a big ol' cynical
>meanie.  (I am about ten years older than these women...).

3c. Don;t feel like you are a meanie

 just gently tell them what you are expected to accomplish.  THEY DO NOT
KNOW --even the graduate students.

>wanted to know whether it is really ethical to be instilling in girls the
>idea that "science is really cool!"  and "I want to be a scientist when I
>grow up!"
3d,   In my opionion this is highly unethical attititude--because it
fosters unrealistic expectations, but you walk a fine line between nuturing
the future female scientist  and destroying an ego.  My point is that you
are working with  a group of young women who can be given choices but the
choices will dependent upon their motivation and potential to dig in.    In
1943 (light years ago) I was the only female
in my HSchool Physics class.  (That was jolly). I stuck it out, and coped.
The coping skills may be the best thing that can be done.  In the arena of
coping skills are major needs for study skills.  OH, yes, they do exist at
Palos Verdes Pennisula and at Bell.   Get those grad students to work with
the young ladies on study skills (particularly team study groups) .

4a.   I like the idea of teaching them the wonder of science, but I
>also wonder if maybe especially in the older group of girls (13-17), some
>mention shouldn't be made of why there are SO many fewer women in science
>than there are men.

Well-that is a subject of about ten dissertations.    I THINK  personally
that it has to do with interaction of the school, the parents and the
community(culture, social class, etc.)   For example:  in  X neighborhood
(which is at the far tip of Los Angeles ,extremely expensive, inhabited by
scientists, very wealthy folks,  and aerospace types
et al) there is a sensational gender gap about 5:1 males to females in the
AP Physics Classes and the Math classes leading into Physics.  Most of the
females are content with meeting the college requirements    of two years
of science (Bio and one Physical Science-Usually Chemistry).  They do not
advance beyond that.     Having worked developing a gender equiity program
there, I can tell you what I observed.  Girls did not have computer time,
although there was a matrix of computer currriculum, girls did not have
role models. And one other interesting factor: a very large percentage of
the girls were Japanese whose families had been relocated from Japan for
commercial purposes.   This culture gap was astounding.  Therefore I was
amazed regarding the post doc from Japan.     If you can get her to talk,
find out for me.

Yet, at Marlborough and Mayfield (two outstanding private girls schools) in
the LA area, there is not a lack of young women who want to go into
science.  However the encouragement is there.   You can do some really
amazing things with young women and young men witness the movie made about
Garfield and  Calculus--it take an inspired teacher who is supported to
change things.   At at Bell, prior to 1991, we had more females than males
in advanced science courses above Chemistry and in advanced Math.  (IYeah,
I was the female principal, and I stacked the  deck--being a criada (house
maid) is not a satisfying occupation unless you choose it.

4b. >The group up IS dedicated to girls after all.  They must
>wo why they are being singled out for this group---and why the boys
>are being excluded.....
You need to find out how they were selected----VIP.  If you continue to
work with the group; and I hope you will, this is a need.    Also besure
that the Moms are being asked to attend, even for just one session so  Moms
know every things is going well.

4c: Also emphasis was being put on speaking to these
>girls so they would really understand and not making things too hard---but
>I wonder if maybe that attitude is not also a subtle message that says, "I
>have to talk to you like a baby because otherwise you won't understand."
You are so RIGHT.  This is STUPID.    Talk to them as adults, but you may
have to change some vocabulary to compensate.  ( Consider  when you walk
into a scientific lecture or presentation  which is entirely out of your
field  that the vocabulary is significantly different , sometimes confusing
and the concept may be lost (on me))

4d.  I am quoting from a letter that I just received from one of my
students that addresses this issue:   The young man is now fifty years old.
DO NOT READ THIS AS A BRAG-only as piece of information.

>You were far and away the best teacher I had in high school.  I think that
>was mainly because you treated us like adults, although God knows we
>didn't deserve it.  You never got angry at us when we were disruptive, just
>asked us politely to leave.  You showed a human side to your students that
>I think many
>other teachers were afraid to show.  And I received a comprehensive basic
>grounding in human physiology, reproductive biology and genetics that have
>stood me in good stead to this day.  When someone told me recently that
>Francis Crick's vanity plates read "ATGC", I didn't have to ask for an
>explanation ;-)


>Do boys get talked to that simplistically?  In that age group, I mean?

Yes, they do, IF their teachers are not aware of the issues of gender
equity.  If you read the American University Women;s published study on
this issue it surely cuts to the quick both in pedagogy and content.   The
entire gist is that boys are treated differently.  Teachers call on boys
more frequently, they are asked to demonstrate for class with greater
frequency--and on and on.     When I do teacher observation  of different
teachers in science and math, I am struck by the differences in style that
either project concepts of gender equity or negate them.     Sometimes the
female teacher may go overboard in terms of favoring females, and there
must  be a correction.    It will however be dependent upon the age of the
teacher, the culture of the teacher, and the same for the student.

>seem to recall being pretty quick at that age, and also kind of resenting
>being talked down to.
Well if you were not resentful-you should have been.

  >.what are people's thoughts on discussing these rather grown up issues
with girls who are soon going
>to be facing them in various ways?

 I have always discussed these issues with  my husband, my daughters and my
students constantly. They all understand and act accordingly.  The Role
Model and the Team Study are two powerful tools that assist in overcoming
these issues. These young ladies have got to learn to build their own
support nets just as we have done.

>who are mothers to girls---when do you start talking about things like
>gender bias and sexism?   ASAP- Always, when ever the subject comes up,
>when ever the daughter is needing assistance in sorting things out.  It
>never stops and you  intellectually and emotionally support your daughters
>at all times.     And speaking of that-3 daughters (Id above) all in
>positions of authority. Three lead strikes against their
>organizations.,and all are raising their sons in gender equity and they
>have husbands who are deeply conscious of gender inequity and support
>their wives.    The societal pressure are really strong, and often you
>have deal with those issues --like Barbies and Hot Wheels, and guns and
>toy stoves, and prom dresses and tuxedos, and "hormones:" and  condoms and
>birth control and classes to take in school.. It is called the major
>successions of "ands".     There is also the pull between Mother and
>Daughter.  My advice:  cut that umbilical cord and let your children be
>your friends (generally speaking) It has worked for me.
Mary Ann Sesma

Dear AliceL: If you want to work with this group, I can certainly offer
advice and counsel.  Just e mail privately.

Mary Ann Sesma                          e mail
1621 Sunnyhill Drive                    msesma at (preferred)
Monterey Park, CA 91754                 sesma at
phone; (213)261-5860

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