Ellen DuBois responds to
Summers Is A-Coming In, Loudly Sing “Cuckoo!”
the other experts say
Everything that Emily Levine writes is just cuckoo enough to be true.  I’m surprised she left out the old joke used to explain women’s sudden loss of skill at math.  It’s hard to do it without gestures, but here goes.  Why are women bad at math?  Because they are told that "this big" [set two index fingers at about four inches apart] is really "that big" [widen gap between fingers to eight inches].  Joking aside, what I find even more troublesome than President Summers’ retro theory that essential biological differences "explain" the differential performances of males and females in science and math [when, as an economist, he should realize that theories of social expectation and social prejudice are much more "economical" explanations, which require a far less grandiose theory to explain empirical differences in contemporary performance]  is those who defend Sommers on the grounds that the role of the university is to open up dialogue not constrain it.  But we don’t debate everything endlessly.  We don't debate whether the earth is flat anymore and it would not be a good career move for an aspiring university president to ruminate on that possibility in public.  Well, I guess the analogy isn’t quite perfect.  Settling this question about the biological versus social character of differential performance in modern education seems to be a more stubborn superstition than the cosmological theories than Galileo faced, and will take a longer time to retire.

Ellen DuBois is a professor of History at UCLA and a great admirer of all attempts at comedic philosophy and philosophical comedy.  Most recently she is the coauthor, along with Lynn Dumenil, of a wonderful new overview of American history from the perspective of women:  Through Women’s Eyes: An American History with Documents (Bedford St. Martins).   One reader (the author’s therapist) described it as beautiful and highly user friendly.  Makes a wonderful present for friends and family.

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