When I explain to new acquaintances that my work revolves around science communication, their eyes glaze over.
Boredom sets in.
So how can I persuade students?
My Indian relatives advise me to speak from the heart and tell a story when I’m attempting to convince folks that science is scintillating. That math is sexy.
But I haven’t always felt that way.
After getting poor grades in math in junior high school I declared to my mother that girls don’t need math.
She let out a hoot. It was the dumbest thing she ever heard.
I blame it on Disney.
The film Babes in Toyland (1961) features the song, I Can’t do the Sum (music by Victor Herbert with lyrics by Mel Leven).
In the song, Annette Funicello, perhaps the most famous star to rise from Disney’s Mouseketeers franchise of the 1960s, moans over the bills:
Add, subtract and multiply ‘til you’re overcome.
This is much too hard for us, I can’t do the sum.
I saw the movie with my sisters at some Sunday matinee in my youth and have a vivid memory of Funicello’s brow furrowed at the prospect of multiplication.
We all wanted to be just like Annette: wholesome, buxom, sweet-tempered and coupled with dreamboats like Frankie Avalon.
And somehow I came away with the notion that girls don’t need math—Annette didn’t; why should I?
My mother set me straight. Without explanation, persuasion or argument, she simply said I needed to learn math. Period.
I wish someone had told Disney.
A clip of the song can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxuTquu3N8E%5D
Photo from http://www.wikifeet.com/Annette_Funicello