STEM: Writing about the space race, math and science

Hidden Human computersAs happy as I am about the reception that Hidden Human Computers is getting, some of the comments on social media about our book and the movie Hidden Figures have brought me up short.  It isn’t that they are critical but some of them certainly clarify why books written on STEM topics are so essential and why is it so important that these topics be covered in mainstream media.

“Could Hidden Figures make math cool?”

Math doesn’t need to become cool, sugar.  Math is already cool.

When Duchess and I set out to write this book, we wanted to tell the story of her grandmother who was among the first black computers NASA hired at Langley.  Duchess grew up hearing about her grandmother.  Wasn’t that just the kind of job that a grandmother might have if she was mathematically inclined?

For my part, I grew up with a tech-savvy dad who also happened to be a teacher.  When he was a kid he told everyone who would listen that he wanted to be George Washington Carver.  No, he didn’t pick a prominent white scientist as a model.  He picked the most awesome scientist who could name.  The fact that Dad was a white kid in small town West Texas telling his teachers that he wanted to be a black scientist didn’t seem to faze anyone. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, Dad took a correspondence course and built a television.  I was his willing and able assistant, laying out all the resistors and diodes and other bits and pieces.

As adults, Duchess and I realized that not all girls had been encouraged to pursue math and science.  When we wrote this book, we worked hard to make it clear that girls have done math and science for years and years.  They did it.  Our readers can do it too.

And when cool people like Duchess grandmother do math?  It’s cool of course.  Nothing has to change but people’s attitudes.