A recent AP science story by Randolph E. Schmid suggests that Girls may learn Math Anxiety from Female Teachers. A cited study showed that at the beginning of a school year math ability was not related to teacher math anxiety, but by the year’s end the more anxious the kids’ teachers were about their own math skills, the more often their female students (and not the boys) endorsed the statement that “boys are good at math and girls are good at reading.”
Given that 90 percent of elementary school teachers are women, and separate research suggests that elementary education majors in college have the highest levels of math anxiety of any major in college.
The researchers conclude, “If the next generation of teachers — especially elementary school teachers—is going to teach their students effectively, more care needs to be taken to develop both strong math skills and positive math attitudes in these educators.”
In the meantime, however, if we happen to be parenting an elementary age girl it would seem to make sense to take a glance at our own levels of math anxiety. While I have boys, certainly the stereotype has not been smashed in our house where I’ve been the point person on math and science homework and my wife on languages, literature and history.
Perhaps we owe it to our girls to conquer our own math phobias (not to mention math prejudices); if you like Oscar Wilde’s notion that if you haven’t seen the beauty in something you really haven’t seen a thing, you might not want to toss math into the nerdy and irrelevant bin.
We also might like to expose our girls to positive female math role models (if that not be ourselves), both valuing math as a subject and holding the high expectation that our girls are just as good at math as our boys. If for whatever reason the bias against girls being good at math lives on in your own mind, take a mindful moment to confront the facts—this is learned behavior, not an innate biological difference.
So, let’s dedicate today to doing what we need to do to empower our girls to own their natural and equal rights to math prowess—let’s count on each other to solve this longstanding and unequal equation… in the service of all our collective children, particularly our girls.