If you had told my 14 year old self I would grow up and have a career primairly based in math, I would probably have rolled my eyes at you. (Which I might still do now, I never really lost the eyeroll.) At the time, I for some reason believed that I was bad at math, or that it was too hard or something.
I actually used a chart in my math teacher’s classroom to figure out what career would allow me to take the least amount of college level math possible. (Lawyer.) So I decided on this career early on in HS. (Only to later discover that I HATED being forced to write.)
First- and second-graders whose teachers were anxious about mathematics were more likely to believe that boys are hard-wired for math and that girls are better at reading, a new study has found. What’s more, the girls who bought into that notion scored significantly lower on math tests than their peers who didn’t.
So really it is all my teacher’s faults that I didn’t like math, or something.
From Scientific American:
Although there was no difference among the girls’ and boys’ math improvement, the researchers found that the girls, but not the boys, whose achievement did lag were also the students who acquired math gender biases during the school year. In the gender belief test, these girls drew a boy doing well at math and a girl at reading. Moreover, these changes in gender beliefs were found to correlate with the teacher’s degree of math anxiety (but not her math ability).
Of course the way the study is framed “Female teachers anxious about math make female students anxious about math” puts a lot of blame on teachers and ladyfolks in general for having math anxiety. Some of the younger teachers may have been young enough for “Math is Hard” barbie, so should we really be surprised that they have anxiety about math?
Which brings me to my next point. Math is a skill. When I was young I remember having the impression that Math was something you got, or you didn’t, but that isn’t true. Math is a skill the same way playing an instrument, knitting, writing drawing etc are skills. You get better at it by practicing and by using it, by pushing yourself to try new things with it. People who are anxious about math will be bad at math because they are avoiding it, not because they have some “bad at math” gene.
People who think they are bad at math need to do more, not less math. Just like someone who is bad at guitar needs to practice more, not less. Which is why I think making early ed teachers take more math classes is a great idea. (I actually think EVERYONE should take more math classes.)
What I think is really key about this study, especially for feminists, is that it clearly shows that some gender role based behaviors are learned. The idea that girls are bad at math is picked up on by students and affects their performance fairly quickly.
If it only takes is 9 months for a girl to learn the idea that “girls are bad at math” and for that idea to affect her performance. How exactly are they supposed to avoid learning all the other little messages out there for them? “Girls like pink” is the first one that comes to mind.