Everyone is a “Math Person”

by Colette Moran

An article has been making the rounds that explains that there is one main difference between those who excel at math (and other subjects) and those that don’t. 

We hear it all the time. And we’ve had enough. Because we believe that the idea of “math people” is the most self-destructive idea in America today. The truth is, you probably are a math person, and by thinking otherwise, you are possibly hamstringing your own career. Worse, you may be helping to perpetuate a pernicious myth that is harming underprivileged children—the myth of inborn genetic math ability.

Is math ability genetic? Sure, to some degree. Terence Tao, UCLA’s famous virtuoso mathematician, publishes dozens of papers in top journals every year, and is sought out by researchers around the world to help with the hardest parts of their theories. Essentially none of us could ever be as good at math as Terence Tao, no matter how hard we tried or how well we were taught. But here’s the thing: We don’t have to! For high school math, inborn talent is just much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence.

The authors go on to point out that studies have shown that students who perform well believe that their success comes from their own actions, while those who don’t perform as well operate under the notion that they just don’t have what it takes — that they are born dumb. It is hard to believe that this is hot news. Don’t we all remember the movie To Sir, with Love  from 1967? Or how about Stand and Deliver from 1988? Lean on Me from 1989? Dangerous Minds from 1995? Etc., etc., etc. So many movies have been made, either fictitious or based on just a handful of the myriad real-life success stories, in which teachers or administrators refuse to allow their students to accept that they are not capable of greatness. Why is this still a problem in our schools?

My daughter’s math teacher seems to have read this same article, and he pounced on an opportunity. He had every student in the class write down the answers to questions about their current percentage in the class, their study habits, and why they think they have their current grade in the class. Each child had to bring home the assignment, have their parents read and sign the paper, and return it the next day. I imagine he will be making more than a few follow-up phone calls. 

Read more here.


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