Lincoln school head Suzanne Fogarty is a strong advocate for interdisciplinary learning, global education, and community partnerships, spearheading our relationships with Brown, RISD, Save the Bay, and World Leadership School. Before joining Lincoln, she served as head of Berkeley Carroll’s Upper School. Suzanne also taught in the Lower School at St. Ann’s School and the Brearley School.
Thoughts from the head of school...
March 2017 | Archive
As the head of Lincoln, people sometimes ask me: “Why all girls?” The distilled answer is: the purpose of Lincoln’s mission is to empower girls and young women, and when it comes to education, research shows it doesn’t pay to be gender blind.
A recent study published by Lin Bian, Sarah-Jane Leslie, and Andrei Cimpian in the journalScience (and picked up by many major news outlets, like The Atlantic and ABC News), shows scientific evidence of the emergence of gender stereotypes in children as young as six years old. The researchers found that among five year olds, students equate intelligence with their own genders. But just one year later, by the time they are ready for first grade, girls in coed environments are less likely than boys to think that female students are “really, really smart.”
The research pinpoints the clear emergence of the “male=brilliance” stereotype. Bian, Leslie, and Cimpian suggest that this development has long-lasting consequences, not just steering young girls away from classroom activities as early as Grade 1, but influencing their chosen professions. Girls who have internalized the stereotype of “male=brilliance” will likely avoid classes and careers traditionally identified as opportunities for smart people, a.k.a those historically associated as male.
Other recent studies and articles like “The remarkably different answers men and women give when asked who’s the smartest in the class” and “The lack of women in tech is getting worse” indicate that the development of the male=brilliance” stereotype causes a gender inequity ripple effect decades into the future.
Today, that gender disparity is particularly evident in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts/Architecture, and Mathematics) fields, where women are disproportionately underrepresented. For example, a recent Washington Post article entitled “How we could close tech’s gender gap in a decade” stated that in 1984, 37 percent of all computer science graduates were women. Today, that number is 18 percent. Quoted in the piece, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo said, “We can’t afford to have half of America’s brain power not engaging.”
Which is why Lincoln School is so invested in STEAM education. In our Lower School, our youngest students are learning how to code as a core part of curriculum, as well as designing and building in our Maker Space. In Middle School, students get hands on with kinetic sculpture, engineering, and design thinking. Our STEAM Hub for Girls, a new $5M facility that will break ground in June, is a commitment to correcting the underrepresentation of women in STEAM and better prepares our students for an interdisciplinary world and workplace.
The solution is not as simple as computer science education for all; the focus has to be on educating girls. “We know anecdotally [the gender makeup of coed computer science classes is] normally 70 percent boys and 30 percent girls,” said Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, in the Washington Post piece. In a recent phone conversation (Saujani was a keynote speaker at Lincoln in 2014 when we launched our Girls Who Code clubs, and we keep in touch) she added: “I truly believe that in order to shift the male/female balance in tech, you have to be girl specific. When you’re looking forward, don’t take your eyes off of gender.”
At Lincoln, our female focus brings great benefits to our students. Across all disciplines, from Lower to Middle to Upper School, they are surrounded by strong and smart female figures both in the classroom and within the community, one of the most effective ways to combat gender stereotypes. The Science article states: “We have to be more deliberate about presenting examples of brilliant women to girls and boys as young as five to help them avoid developing [the “male=brilliance”] association.”
There is such power in an all-girls education—power to remove the barriers that gender stereotypes can build, and establish in their place a system of learning that encourages individuality and expression. And the good news is, we know it’s working. Lincoln students and alumnae are inspiring examples of girls and women with strong and brilliant voices. A comprehensive UCLA study found that graduates of an all-girls’ education:
- Have higher academic self-confidence
- Express more interest in engineering careers
- Have higher confidence in their math and computer skills
- Earn higher SAT scores
- Are more likely to be politically engaged
Turning the tide on gender inequality isn’t an easy task, but it is critical. I am so thankful to be at the helm of an institution doing the important work of breaking down stereotypes and building up the female voices of the future. Lincoln School is an incredible community, not in spite of our all-girls status, but because of it.
Head of School