Mothers may be passing math anxiety — and low achievement — to their daughters, according to research by University of Chicago researcher Elizabeth Gunderson.
Saying “I’ve never been good at science” or “I can’t do math to save my life” sends a negative message to children. School-aged children tend to emulate the same-sex parent.
Teachers can transmit math anxiety, the study finds. Elementary education majors — predominantly female — have the highest math anxiety of any major. A 2010 study evaluated first and second graders taught by 17 different teachers.
At the beginning of the school year, there was no connection between the students’ math ability and their teachers’ math anxiety. By the end of the year, however, a dismaying relationship had emerged: The more anxious teachers were about math, the more likely the girls in their classes were to endorse negative stereotypes about females’ math ability, and the more poorly these girls did on a test of math achievement.
Don’t tell your kids you were bad at math, advises Esther J. Cepeda, a Washington Post columnist and a former teacher. She dreams of outlawing parental and societal complaints about how “hard,” “useless” or “stupid” math is.
The Baby-Einstein people teach their toddlers to group, sort and count, writes Cepeda, who taught first grade and high school algebra. But many parents don’t play with numbers with their children. Kids start school without number sense. By high school, they’re asking: “Why do we have to learn this? When will it ever matter?”
Everyone should study algebra, argues Dropout Nation’s RiShawn Biddle.