Saturday, February 22, 2014

Papert on Girls and Computers

In Edward Fiske's interview of Seymour Papert in the New York Times, almost thirty years ago:

Q: Boys tend to be more interested in computers than girls. Is that something that troubles you? 

A: It does trouble me, and it's a reflection of the general phenomenon. It's not the computer as such that's more attractive to the boys than to girls. It's the fact that the computer comes out of a male technological, technocratic, white-dominated culture. The computer as we know it was made by engineers who like to think in a very systematic, organized, top-down, highly planned way. 

Not everybody likes to think like that, but science and mathematics instruction in our schools is powerfully biased against people with a more artist-like style of thinking. They react against a culture that has no room for intuition, no empathy, no communication about what you're doing. They react against a culture where the emphasis is on linear thinking, on individual work and on making a product that works rather than a product that you can talk about with other people. 

The computer, though, allows you to approach technical subjects, and mathematical ones too, more like the artist who creates by a negotiation of the object you're trying to create. There's no incompatibility between that intuitive kind of thinking and being able to do mathematics in a very creative way. We're making pockets of computer culture where learning is very personalized, where you can build up from the bottom and still structure it from the top. You can make something and change it. You can let it grow the way a painting on the canvas grows in a kind of negotiation between you and the product. 

Has our perception of computers changed enough in these thirty years to make programming more welcoming for girls? 

I found this when I searched on "Seymour Papert girls". I was looking for a passage that I think is in his book Mindstorms, about how showing the kids projects that involved designing rooms got the girls much more involved. Something like that. I couldn't find the passage. Can anyone help me?


  1. Things have changed!

  2. All the girls I know use and like computers. Not necessarily for programming, though. Some computer-based groups are heavily dominated by women, for example, fanfic communities, or Ravelry knit and crochet community. Adult females is the fastest-growing gamer demographic.


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