Harvard's Summers should have calculated more carefully
In his Jan. 26 Opinion piece, "Summers and the arrogant bandwagon," Jonathan Zimmerman called for openness while we explore Dr. Summers's proposal that females might be biologically inferior to males in the math-science realm. This topic has already been studied extensively for over 25 years.
Math educators have already addressed the findings that have come from these studies, as well as concerns related to American students' dismal scores on international math tests and proposed sweeping new changes to the nation's math curriculum. Of course, if we followed Dr. Summers's thinking, I suppose we should begin studies to determine why American students are biologically inferior to European and Asian students.
Such studies and debates don't just pose the wrong questions; they waste time, money, and energy that would be better spent addressing and finding solutions to the problems we face.
We need to support girls' math education in this country, not just for their sakes but because the mathematical avenues we explore and put our national energy toward need to incorporate the tremendous gifts that the creative, holistic thinking processes of half our nation bring to them.
Mount Shasta, Calif.
The writer has been a math educator for 28 years and is a former IBM math consultant.
Mr. Zimmerman writes: "Professors have every right to call Israel racist, in other words, but absolutely no right to judge students based on whether they agree." If those professors are teaching a class in history or the modern Middle East, I agree with Mr. Zimmerman that they should challenge their students' beliefs and not be afraid to express strong opinions.
If it were a physics class, on the other hand, I believe that this sort of expression should not be allowed. It serves no educational purpose and will alienate students and reduce their faith in the fairness of their teacher and their grades.
The right to free speech does not mean we do not have to accept the consequences of what we say. The president of Harvard said he was trying to promote a discussion, and I believe this may be a good thing in the long run. If he had wanted the discussion to be less acrimonious, he could have phrased his remarks in the form of "another possible factor influencing women's success."
I believe Dr. Summers's remarks were intellectually irresponsible because he oversimplified the situation. He implied that gender differences that might be demonstrable scientifically would translate directly into differences in the social context where many more factors are at work.
Should he resign because of this? No, but he is going to have to take the heat.
Regarding the Jan. 28 article "Harvard flap prompts query: How free is campus speech?": I think it is a mistake to make this a conservative vs. liberal issue. Trying to pigeonhole it like that masks the underlying problem.
The real issue facing universities, and which is also having a direct impact on the status of original thought in the US, is the ability or inability of universities to consider original or differing thought at all - regardless of political agenda.
Janice P. Miller
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