Why do so many girls hate math class?

Negative numbers represent students’ first experience with abstract math – and essential for high school level math.
Negative numbers represent students’ first experience with abstract math – and essential for high school level math.

Many of us women grew up hating math and believing we were no good at it.  Today girls echo these sentiments even though they are brought up to understand that girls have the same ability to understand math as the boys.  So, why is it that even today in America, girls still more consistently dislike math compared to boys?

According to Jo Boaler, Stanford University Professor and author of What’s Math Got To Do With It?, girls tend want a deeper understanding of what they’re studying – they want to know why a formula works, why we use a particular formula, and where it comes from.   Girls aren’t satisfied with mechanically plugging in the numbers and giving the teacher the right answer without knowing why they are doing it.  Many boys share this desire as well, but the girls tend to reject math as a subject when they aren’t happy with the traditional way math is taught.

How math is taught is important because it is needed for many 21st century STEM jobs.  If we are to have more women entering the science and technology occupations we need to retain women in the higher level math classes those fields require.  Women are just as capable at learning math as men – this is proven in the many countries where women achieve at the same levels as men.  We need to stop seeing math as an inborn ability rather than a skill that is learned through practice and persistence.

Math isn't an inborn ability but a learned skill
Math isn’t an inborn ability but a learned skill

“In mathematics education we suffer from the widespread, distinctly American idea that only some people can be ‘math people.’ This idea has been disproved by scientific research showing the incredible potential of the brain to grow and adapt. But the idea that math is hard, uninteresting, and accessible only to ‘nerds’ persists.  This idea is made even more damaging by harsh stereotypical thinking—mathematics is for select racial groups and men. This thinking, as well as the teaching practices that go with it, have provided the perfect conditions for the creation of a math underclass. Narrow mathematics teaching combined with low and stereotypical expectations for students are the two main reasons that the U.S. is in dire mathematical straights.”      –  Jo Boaler


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