Jan. 18, 2005

Behind the Scenes

Lee Greenwood dropped by today, after doing a quick spot of television for Fox ’n Friends. The surprising bit of news is that Lee, who struck gold and then some with his 1983 hit, “God Bless the USA,” now is thinking about changing careers — perhaps even getting into the business of interviewing people for a living. I offered to teach him how to do interviews if he promises to teach me how to become a world-famous music star. (I’ll let you know how that one works out.)

Denise Austin also dropped by. A visit with Denise is like taking intravenous espresso: She is pure energy. She has a new exercise video, Denise Austin’s Fit Kids, which also happens to be her 50th video. You can get more info from her website. We also had fun with the topic of the day: What accounts for the fact that men generally do better than women at math and science — genetics or old-fashioned, knuckle-dragging, male-chauvinist-pig bigotry? Nature or nurture?

I argued that nature plays a major role — men and women are different, after all — and that sexism plays a very minor role in the scheme of things.
I raised the issue because Larry Summers, now the president of worth Harvard College, offended a bunch of people over the weekend by suggesting that it might be studying whether bigotry was responsible for professional patterns, or whether Mother Nature might have a hand in things. Ironically, a biology professor (and Harvard grad) stormed out in a huff, claiming she was offended. Summers, who previously got in trouble by getting rid of the Gentleman’s A at Harvard (91 percent of all students graduated with honors during his first year as president of the institution) and for cleansing the African-American Studies program of frauds and imposters, defended himself by noting that he merely had recommended studying an issue before leaping to conclusions — you know, the kind of inquiry that colleges and universities used to conduct.

We got many interesting and thoughtful letters on the topic. Here’s JoAnne Larsen, a professor at the Lakeland Campus of the University of South Florida, who sort of agrees with Summers:

“I am a woman in the 'scientific' world. Prior to becoming a professor of engineering, I worked as a production engineer in the 'real world.' Ever the teacher, though, I tutored students in higher-level math and science. Yes, females do think and function differently, but they are capable of learning math and science. Unfortunately, they are ingrained with the concepts that they cannot do it. Public school teachers are so bad in those areas that all students, male and female, have difficulties.

“Women are more nurturing and often make other choices in their lives that prevent them from climbing the ladder of success to the highest level. What is life, but making choices for both males and females?

“There is still some prejudice against women in high levels of scientific (engineering) endeavors, but I find in academia that it is the result of ethnic cultural backgrounds. There are more problems with foreign-born males than American males, and there are a plethora of foreign professors in engineering. I had much less trouble with males in the industrial world.

“So, Dr. Summers was right in a sense, but he should attribute it to nurture, not nature.”

Kim Kearney also weighs in:

"I am a woman who loves math and science and do not do well with English. I have my Bachelors Degree in Engineering, and was an engineer officer in the U.S. Army. I teach my children math, and they are all in accelerated math programs. My ex-husband could not teach them; he has no patience for that. You had a caller who said that the girls who liked math and science seemed different from the mainstream, and I agree with him. I don't believe that I think like a typical female. I am more logical than touchy-feely. I also didn't like dolls as a girl. I was a tomboy and always very athletic."

This from Kendall Bennett:

"Many times my wife has told me that women would rather work for men than women, because they (men) have a better way of delegating work to both sexes and don’t get over-involved in the personal things."


I also talked today about which political party best captures the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s no contest: Republicans under George W. Bush. One caller asked what conservatives ought to do in lieu of affirmative action, to which I replied: Fix the schools. Teach the basics well, and make sure kids learn simple personal skills — good manners, work habits, how to dress for interviews, etc. The last part is a real problem in many inner city schools, and is the area of concentration for one of my favorite organizations, Overcoming Obstacles. In other words, replace affirmative action — guaranteed work with no demand for competence — with something far more rewarding: The ability to get work, and explore your own potential for greatness.

Nancy Beth Vaughn generally liked the discussion, but added a word of caution:

"I'm listening to you talk about teaching poor kids common sense things. That's great! However, it sounded like you were saying that only poor kids need to be taught not to hit. I don't think you really believe that, but it is what it sounded like. Bad temper and/or lack of control isn't necessarily income-related."

Holiday Dmitri provided writing and research for this blog.

Share your thoughts with Tony. E-mail him at tonysnow@foxnews.com.