Girls and Math: The Real Reason Boys Do Better

Cynthia Dermody
9
kid wearing football jersey

Photo by rumsey823

I always blamed the reason I can't add 2 plus 2 or balance my checkbook on the right brain/left brain thing, that because I am a girl, I'm stronger on the creative and intuitive side of the brain than the logical, rational one.

That's what we're always told, right? That boys are better in math and girls are better in language arts?

A new study suggests that female teachers who are anxious about math themselves might be to blame ... unintentionally, but still.

Before we get to all that scholarly stuff, let me tell you how depressing it is to help my 6 year old first grader with his math homework. He's already surpassing me in math ability, I am not even exaggerating. I hate to perpetuate stereotypes, but I am so, so, so bad at math it's amazing I can even function in this world.

My brain repels numbers. I have to read the instructions to his math homework several times,and sometimes I still can't figure out what to tell him to do. Sometimes I feel a panic attack coming on, hearkening high school algebra class, and I beg my husband to take over. Breathe now.

So back to this study. University of Chicago researchers observed and interviewed 17 first and second grade teachers for a year. Then they looked at their students' performance in math.

They were working off the premise that more than 90 percent of elementary school teachers in the country are women and that they are able to get their teaching certificates with very little mathematics preparation, according to an article in Newswise. Research has shown that elementary education majors have a very high rate of "math anxiety."

The researchers theorize that women teachers pass these bad math vibes off on their female students, who unconsciously come to believe they are just not good at arithmetic. Proving their point, boys' math performance was not affected by their teachers' math anxiety while the girls' success in math definitely suffered.

There's no hope for me. Thank goodness for calculators on cell phones. But I'm glad the study authors think something as simple and doable as college teaching programs strengthening their math prep could help future generations of girls.

Do your girls struggle with math and do you think their teachers may be to blame in any way? Are you strong in arithmetic? Quick, tell me what's 12 x 7 ...

 

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