Monday, July 22, 2024
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Mark Ellse: You cannot brainwash a girl to love science


I can speak about her openly now. Now that she’s married and no longer bears my name. I did my best but failed completely. Still, now the change of name conceals from most the consequences of my mistakes.

What can one expect? Not only am I a man, I am also a teacher, and we all know just what talentless drones they are. If only I had known better. If only I’d first read Linda Blair’s Telegraph article: Mind Healing: How to bring up daughters to realise they’re just as capable as boys. With that knowledge I could have made my daughter’s life so much richer, so much more fulfilled.

Apparently women have a problem that men don’t have. I’m not sure that it’s a defect but they seem to be different from boys. There seems to be a sort of switch in them. At the age of five they think they are just as bright as boys but by the age of six they don’t. I thought that sounded as though there’s something wrong with women, but a feminist I spoke to put me right. I know that Linda Blair called her article ‘Mind Healing’ but it isn’t really something wrong with women that needs mending; apparently it’s society that is wrong in making women unwell.

I reckon it must be the teachers’ fault because it usually is and in this case it must be because it happens at age five when all the children are at school. Linda Blair tells us all what we should do, what I should have done. I should have encouraged staff at my children’s primary school to invite as many professional women as men to come in and talk about their work. It’s obvious really. Well it would be if I weren’t one of those daft teachers myself.

I got most of it wrong. I’m a physicist. She was my first child. I thought I was doing the right thing by getting her a Brio train set. And by enabling all those games with Duplo blocks. When she went to school she was surprised that they could be used for building. She much preferred using the different colours at home for counting in units, tens and hundreds. I forgot about putting the blocks together to make towers.

That would have been a waste of time as well. What I needed to do was tell her stories that depict women as well as men in successful roles. It turns out it’s as simple as that and I hadn’t realised it. Well I wouldn’t, would I, being a teacher?

I thought I had done rather well when she finally started on a physics degree. The first year went so well but then disaster struck. I had her lined up just like the Women in Science people would want, going to the top in a technical career and then what does the silly girl do? All those science A levels, maths and further maths, and she changed to English. Can you believe it? She did that because she said she liked English!

If only Linda Blair had written her article years ago. Apparently the key is to girls believing they’re capable of succeeding in whatever field they love is to introduce them to that possibility, offering specific examples and doing so far earlier than we do now. It is so simple. I just didn’t know it.

It was downhill thereafter. After the English degree she became a teacher, in a state school no less! She says it’s because she wants a job that will fit in with having a family. I suppose that at least there will be grandchildren, but I hang my head in shame.


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Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse
Mark Ellse is a physicist and author. He is a former headmaster, independent school inspector and A level chief examiner.

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