[FOUNTAIN]Gender is irrelevant in math scoresWhen the University of Gottingen refused to give a faculty position to the famed German mathematician Emmy Noether (1882 to 1935), her mentor David Hilbert derisively said, “After all, the university senate is not a bathhouse.” Albert Einstein called Ms. Noether “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.” However, the professors at the University of Gottingen were against the idea of allowing a woman teacher.
Sophie Germain (1776-1831) had to deal with gender discrimination in mathematics before Ms. Noether. In French academia at the turn of the 19th century, an extreme male chauvinistic idea prevailed that mathematics was beyond women’s intellectual capabilities. The Ecole Polytechnique de Paris, the most prestigious engineering school in France, only accepted male candidates. Therefore, Ms. Germain used a pseudonym, “Mr. le Blanc,” to borrow lecture notes from the professors and send problem sets and assignments. Although her professor later discovered the pseudonym was hers, he was already impressed by her mathematical talents and continued to work with her. According to Simon Singh’s “Fermat’s Enigma,” Ms. Germain’s biggest accomplishment was that she made partial progress on a possible proof of Fermat’s last theorem.
Last month, Harvard University president Lawrence H. Summers made a controversial comment that “innate differences” between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers. Presidents of other prestigious universities openly denounced the comment, and the faculty at Harvard University is considering holding a vote of confidence regarding his leadership.
There are many people around us who say women and mathematics don’t go together. However, the examples of Ms. Noether and Ms. Germain prove that men and women are not born with different talents but are influenced by educational opportunities and social environments. Research on the brains of males and females show similiarities. While the average math grades of male students might be higher than those of female students, the group with the lowest grades included more boys than girls. After all, your performance depends on your motivation and effort.
by Lee Se-jung
The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.