March 2017

Women You’ve Never Heard of Who Are Changing Your Life

In honor of recently celebrated International Woman’s Day I want to share some little-known stories about some of the women who have changed the course of history and directly impact your life and your job today.

Have you ever heard of Mavis Lever or Margaret Rock?  Almost 10,000 code-breakers (75% of them women) worked for the British in WW2. Mavis and Margaret cracked the Abwehr – the German Military Intelligence Enigma machine (not exactly how it’s portrayed in the Imitation Game lol). Their work allowed the British to feed misinformation to Hitler about where Britain would attack on D-Day. Success on D-Day stopped the German advance and the allies eventually beat them back to Berlin. For some interesting insight into the types of women who turned the tables on the Germans, Bletchley Circle is a good watch.

While it is fabulous that the 2017 cinema sensation Hidden Figures showcases the women (who also happened to be Black) for their contribution to the Space Program their story points to a much bigger truth. Originally the term “computer” was literally one who calculates or “computes” figures. The term referred to people. It was a job title designating someone who performed mathematical equations and calculations by hand. In September 1935, Virginia Tucker joined the Computer Pool at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in California. Over the next 30 years Tucker helped recruit over 400 computers.

Human computers played an integral role in both aeronautical and aerospace research helping the lab keep pace with the high output demanded by World War II and the early space race. Langley’s computers stood out for another reason: they were all women.

From 1935-1970 all the mathematicians at NASA were women. The original computers were all women.

Margaret Kennedy deserves an honorable mention here. Margaret Hamilton Have you heard of her? She invent the modern concept of software and landed men on the moon. ” In 1965, Hamilton became responsible for the on-board flight software on the Apollo computers”, 10 years before Microsoft. Software wasn’t a word before Margaret Kennedy. Don’t wait for Hollywood to make a movie about her, look her up on the web.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence the Bletchley women and the Computer Pool were females because women’s brains work differently (and in many ways better) than men’s brains. We are pattern-seeking, meaning-making machines. The biggest nod of all today is going to Dr. Marian Diamond who among other things scientifically proved male and female brains are different. She dissected Albert Einstein’s brain and rewrote our understanding of the brain over and over again. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you again, I know you have never heard of her.

She not only redefined capabilities of the brain we now take for granted – Dr. Marian Diamond decisively challenged the old view and changed forever our paradigm for understanding the brain … and all our lives as well. 

Einstein and DiamondAlthough it took 30 years for her industry to accept her research and understanding of plasticity of the brain as the norm it took less than 10 years for her to teach 2 million students online. When she was 80 years old she posted Integrative Biology 131 on YouTube and it has almost two million hits. It’s the second most watched course on the internet.

This tells me any pioneer teacher with a sound idea can have a profound impact in a relatively short time. There is not enough room in a blog to list Dr. Diamond’s accomplishments but her meteoric impact is resonating with me as it directly impacts all of us.

Stay with me now, it looks like I’ve veered off topic here but this next part has everything to do with you, your students and the future of education .

I’m an ESL teacher and I love my job but I couldn’t help noticing a lot of what I was taught to teach was inaccurate and/or not useful. Without boring you senseless here is a quick grammar demonstration.

I broke my leg yesterday and I spoke to my friend on the phone yesterday are two examples of what are taught as examples of the irregular past tense – completed actions in the past. Yet my phone call has finished but my leg is still broken.

English tenses have nothing to do with time.

I’m cold. Is an example of the simple present tense. I’m freezing is an example of the present continuous tense. These are taught as two different tenses categorized by time but the difference in these statement is not time at all but intensity or drama.

English tenses have nothing to do with time.

We teach what we were taught to teach whether or not it is true or useful, mostly because we’ll get fired if we don’t but also because we don’t really know what is true.

The phenomenon of how English grammar really works has been Rita Bakerdecoded by Rita Baker in what she calls The Global Approach. She has taught her simple, no-exceptions, learn it all in less than 30 hours system that uses 3 triangles and maps all possible English grammar configurations on a single sheet of paper for over 30 years and she is the only ESL teacher I know who drives a Jaguar. Students don’t have to sit through years of well-intentioned, misguided English classes to learn English grammar any more. By the end of 2017 they can watch Rita Baker on YouTube. Is this going to impact your employability?

As for my field, Speaking English has nothing to do with spelling, reading or writing in English. Sadly, these are all English as a Second or Learned Language students are taught because it’s what educators are taught to teach. Speaking English is so simple any child can figure out how to do it on their own. Only English students can’t speak English isn’t that a kick in the head? Thanks to Margaret Kennedy (software), Dr. Marian Diamond (YouTube course aficionado) and me, learning to Speak English isn’t going to be a problem for much longer. I’ll have my course up on YouTube for free before the end of the year. Meanwhile, here is a link to the free PDF download of English is Stupid, Students are Not the course textbook as printed for Sheridan College’s Speaking Canadian English. 

It’s a new day. Education is no longer being delivered by the old guard (read: publishing industry, male or old white male ) but by technology.

Thank you Bletchley women for your contribution to saving the free world including free speech, Margaret Kennedy for hatching software, Marian Diamond for your discoveries and delivering them to the world in an expedient way and thank you, thank you, thank you to all the great unsung women throughout history who have broken barriers in every field and carved trails that make all of our lives better.

Until next time,

Judy Thompson