Far too many students in the U.S. give up on math early because it does not come easy and they believe only students with innate ability can really be “good” at mathematics, a notion that is all too often reinforced by adults who believe the same thing. Yet, in most other countries, students accept that mathematics -- especially advanced math courses -- can be challenging, but know that with enough motivation and perseverance, they can learn difficult material.
The uniquely American attitude towards math -- the perception that only people who are naturally gifted at math are good at it -- leads to a dangerous corollary: that it is ok to be “bad at math.” This is a significant factor in the comparatively low math achievement of students in the U.S., which limits students’ education and career options and makes it harder for the U.S. to compete.
Things you never hear about reading and writing (but often hear about math):
-- “I’m just not that good at writing, so why bother?”
-- “When will I actually use reading and writing in the real world?”
-- “Only nerds like to read and write.”
-- “I’m just not smart enough for writing.”
-- “My parents can’t read, so why do I need to learn how to read?”
-- “It’s just a fact that guys are better at reading than girls are.”
-- “I’m not a writing person; it doesn’t come naturally to me, so
why should I try?
There is a serious gap between how Americans value math generally and how they value math for their own enrichment.
-- Most American middle school students (84 percent) would rather clean their rooms, eat their vegetables, take out the garbage and go to the dentist than do their math homework. Yet these same students say they want to do better in math (67 percent) and that doing well in math is important to them (94 percent).
As a writer, I often do hear people say that they could never write, or that they are simply not good at writing. But I've never heard any one brag about being illiterate or unable to write a sentence. The take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward math in this country really puzzles me; it's a big part of why I wanted to do this project. If you have any ideas about (x=why?) Americans are so quick to disregard math, I'd love to hear them.
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