It doesn’t have to be pink

I turned my collar up against the wind. A useless gesture, because the wind contemptuously insinuated itself under my skin regardless, but it made me look hard. And hardness was needed in this job. I walked around the playground, glaring at kids who even just looked like they might be thinking of doing something wrong. Crowds of them parted as I approached. One looked shifty.

Make my day, punk“You got a problem, son?” I gritted.

He shrank away.

But there was one who was following me around. A 16 year-old wannabee champion of the local turf, taunting me.

“Boy, you look tough… Sir.” “I like the swagger walk… Sir!”

After 5 minutes of this I wheeled around and faced him.

“OK”, I snarled. “I’m sick and tired of this. You wanna fight?”

He looked incredulous. “Yeah?!” he answered, a mixture of disbelief and defiance.

“OK”, I said. “I’ll hold your coat.”

We both laughed. The bell sounded. Time for Period 3.

I relate this (true) story only to make the point that I know how to handle tough kids in tough areas. I’ve worked in Newham and Dagenham in London (that incident took place in the latter), and if you’re familiar with those inner-city areas you’ll know what I’m talking about.

But even I would not dare to show them a video about Ada Lovelace which ended with the exhortation:

Say it loud, say it proud, I’m a geek and I’m a girl!

That’s how ‘geek gurl’ Carrie Anne Philbin finishes her otherwise brilliant video about Lovelace. Brilliant because it’s interesting, upbeat, inspiring (especially to girls) and short. I’ve included it below.

(I suppose I could make an alternative ending like “Say it loud, don’t be coy, I’m a geek and I’m a boy”, but that lacks a certain je ne sais quois.”)

I had the privilege of hearing Carrie Anne at the Westminster Education conference Reviewing the new Computing Curriculum (which I hope to write about separately). Along with her primary teacher counterpart, Ian Addison, she was brilliant: enthusiastic, committed, humorous and telling it how it is.

As you may have surmised by now, Carrie Anne is flying the flag for girls’ involvement in ICT and computing, and she seems to be doing a good job. What stood out for me was her declaration that “My website isn’t pink. It doesn’t have to be pink, and girls don’t need to work on a computer programme for applying nail varnish!”

That may not be an exact quote, but it’s pretty much the gist, and she is absolutely right. I never had any problem at all getting girls interested in ICT and computing, an achievement I put down to two things:

  • I always set interesting projects. They weren’t gender-specific: what a load of rubbish that approach is! Interesting projects are projects that are interesting: where does gender come into it? And even if it does, how does a male introduce female-oriented projects without sounding like a patronising idiot?
  • I was fortunate enough to be in the position of having or recruiting some really great teachers on my team, who happened to be female. In fact, if we’re going to get into gender stereotypes, they were mainly good because they were focused on the learning rather than displaying “boys and their toys” behaviour. (I was the only one doing that!)

I strongly recommend you check out Carrie Anne’s websites, especially if you want to get girls enthused without dumbing down your personal standards:

Geek Gurl Diaries and #Include.

And remember: say it loud, say it proud: I’m a geek and I’m a person. Hmm, no. That doesn’t work either.

Anyway, here’s that video. Enjoy. And remember, there are more on the Geek Gurl Diaries website.

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