Fifth-grade teacher Barbara Walters may well be the Amelia Earhart of Hagerstown. She instructs an after-school class for girls called "Aviation Invasion," which aims to pique young women's interest in math and science by teaching them about flying. The girls meet one afternoon a week in an old airplane hangar to talk about flying skills and career opportunities. On weekends, Ms. Walters leads them on field trips to local airports where they meet with air traffic controllers and examine vintage aircraft.
Aviation Invasion is no mere flight of fancy. Parents report that their daughters' self-confidence soared when they joined the program, which is financed by a $5,000 grant from the American Association of University Women. Apparently once girls overcome the natural human fear of flying, not much else can scare them -- least of all tough math and science courses.
That's the point. A recent AAUW report, for example, documented the fact that women students still face substantial discrimination in schools, particularly in math and science classes, where they feel intimidated by teachers' unconscious deference to boys. Math and science teachers tended to assume boys were more "technically inclined" than girls; as a result, they called on boys more frequently in class and denigrated girls' work even when the girls gave correct answers. The study raised legitimate questions about whether boys' higher test scores result from greater natural aptitude or simply reflect teachers' lower expectations for girls.