No App Camp for Girls in 2019

Originally published at: https://tidbits.com/2019/05/23/no-app-camp-for-girls-in-2019/

Once a promising avenue for teaching kids to code, App Camp for Girls has announced that it will not hold any camps in summer 2019.

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Is there an App Camp for Boys they can sign up for? I see no reason App Camp needs to be gender based.

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I second this. One of the things I most resented in my horrible Junior High School years in the New York City public school system is that every girl had to take a year of sewing, cooking, and an absolutely ridiculous class called “Apartment” in which you were “taught” to clean. Wood Shop was also required for boys and just one semester for girls, but the sexes were segregated in this class and girls made stupid carvings from patterns, not anything that could be useful. Boys took wood and electrical shop, and couldn’t take cooking, sewing or Apartment even if they wanted to. Electrical shop was strictly verboten for girls. Steam is shooting out of my ears, just as it did for my entire JHS/HS years, thinking about this.

Girls and boys should be taught equally in the same classes, and given the same opportunities.

The about page on the App Camp for Girls website explains why that camp was started, and why it is for girls only.

In most of the real world, males and females work and fraternize together. It’s never been proven that girls and boys learn differently.

IMHO, and I did spend three years in an all girls school, separating sexes reinforces stereotypes. As someone who went to school in the US in the 1950s-60s, I am a firm believer that separate is NOT equal. Here’s just one example from a reputable source:

http://www.aei.org/publication/chart-of-the-day-the-declining-female-share-of-computer-science-degrees-from-28-to-18/

Our daughter chose a single sex school, which was a surprise to us. She’s at the equivalent of eighth grade in the States at the moment. A straight A student, leader, gifted program, all that. She told us last month that she was so glad she had made this choice, that she hadn’t had to deal with the dynamics beyond any learning or abilities or interests, the dynamics of behaviour and attention seeking in particular. She would have had to measure how she communicated differently, she would have seen how her friends did too. She was glad that for those hours in the day and while a student, all that went away.

AEI is not completely terrible but does harbor more than its share of ideologues. This brief article manages to pack in some ridiculous thoughts:

If gender under-presentation is a concern when women are in the minority (like Computer Science), why isn’t it a concern when men are in the minority (Veterinary Medicine)?

Because we are not transforming our society to one where everyone carries a hamster in their pocket or their car is piloted by doves. How far down the list of the richest people do you have to go to find a veterinarian?

Do a more narrow search for “Girls Code Camp” and you’ll get more than 9,000 results. Then try “Boys Code Camp” and you’ll find fewer than ten results!

That’s the benefit of being the default; a code camp doesn’t have to advertise “for boys” for boys or their parents to think they are welcome or a good experience. Not that those camps would be trying to make girls feel unwelcome. I don’t know how long code camps for girls have been around or how many people have attended them but my impression is they haven’t been around long enough for this guy to call them a failed experiment based on the number of computer science graduates.

Here’s a brief article about Harvey Mudd College and how it increased the number of women majoring in Computer Science from 10% to almost 50% in ten years.

[President] Klawe — a computer scientist herself — had always been told that girls weren’t good at these things. “This whole idea that women lean to liking doing one thing and men to doing another, it turns out I think if you do the curriculum and pedagogy well that’s just false,” she says.

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While we were happy to support App Camp for Girls in the past, we were also a little put out that there was nothing similar for boys, purely from the selfish standpoint that when Tristan was the appropriate age, there weren’t any appropriate camps for him in Ithaca. (Not that there were any for girls either—Ithaca is just too small for some things.)

That said, in Tristan’s Technology Student Association club in middle and high school, the teachers who ran it said that they had to work extra hard to recruit and keep girls because there were a lot of (unnecessary) assumptions in technology-related groups that made them less attractive to girls.

So yeah, it’s never good when opportunities are limited by sex, but there are legitimate reasons to try harder to include girls than often happened in the past.

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AC4G is not about learning styles, and their About page (that I had linked to previously) does not even mention that aspect.

What they do mention, is this:

App Camp For Girls seeks to address the gender imbalance in technology professions by inspiring middle-school age girls, transgender, and gender nonconforming youth with a broad introduction to the process of app development, from brainstorming and designing ideas to building and pitching their apps.

In “most of the real world” of tech — especially here in the S.F. Bay Area — a lot of companies nurture a toxic culture that is plain hostile to women. Susan Fowler’s blog post, “Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber,” provides a prominent example of what this means, but Uber is just the tip of the iceberg as you can easily see if you do a search for “brogrammer culture.”

Organizations such as AC4G address at least part of that problem by providing an opportunity for girls to explore their interest in STEM topics in general, and app development in particular, in a friendly, inclusive, and supportive environment.

That the simple mention of such an organization instantly draws criticism along the lines of “discriminating against boys” is quite telling.

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What always astonishes me about stories such as Susan Fowler’s is how the bad behavior that’s documented is always (to my mind) ridiculous. It’s stuff that wouldn’t have flown in grade school (at least mine) for the simple reason that parents and teachers would never have put up with it. Uber was particularly horrible, thanks to examples from the very top, but there are way too many other terrible stories in the industry.

App Camp board member here.

Part of the reason that App Camp is/was for girls, transgender, and non-binary youth, and not boys, is because of the concept of equity. You’ll often see equity mentioned as part of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). Yes, including boys would technically be more diverse, and would also include them, but I think that equity is more important here:

Equity is an approach that ensures everyone access to the same opportunities. Equity recognizes that advantages and barriers exist, and that, as a result, we all don’t all start from the same place. Equity is a process that begins by acknowledging that unequal starting place and continues to correct and address the imbalance.

The idea of “advantages and barriers” can often feel intangible, so here are a few real examples. A study of a hiring process found that candidates with “white-sounding names” (Greg and Emily) were 50% more likely to receive a call back than candidates with “African-American-sounding names” (Lakisha and Jamal). Another study asked faculty scientists to evaluate candidates’ competencies, whether they would mentor the candidate, and what they’d suggest as a starting salary. The study found that female candidates with resumes/criteria identical to male candidates were deemed less competent, less worthy of being hired, offered less career mentoring, and offered a lower starting salary.

(From the excellent https://generalassemb.ly/blog/diversity-inclusion-equity-differences-in-meaning/)

So, that’s pretty remarkable and problematic. App Camp was choosing to focus on this as a way to make a positive change.

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