Making math uncool is hurting America, report says

Fri Oct 10, 2008 1:57am EDT
 
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans may like to make fun of girls who are good at math, but this attitude is robbing the country of some of its best talent, researchers reported on Friday.

They found that while girls can be just as talented as boys at mathematics, some are driven from the field because they are teased, ostracized or simply neglected.

"The U.S. culture that is discouraging girls is also discouraging boys," Janet Mertz, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who led the study said in a statement.

"The situation is becoming urgent. The data show that a majority of the top young mathematicians in this country were not born here."

Writing in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, Mertz and colleagues described their analysis of data from international math competitions going back to 1974. They also looked at surveys of U.S. students.

"It is deemed uncool within the social context of USA middle and high schools to do mathematics for fun; doing so can lead to social ostracism. Consequently, gifted girls, even more so than boys, usually camouflage their mathematical talent to fit in well with their peers," they wrote.

FAIRLY EVEN DISTRIBUTION

They also challenged the widespread belief that females lack exceptional math aptitude.

"Innate math aptitude is probably fairly evenly distributed throughout the world, regardless of race or gender," said Titu Andreescu of the University of Texas at Dallas, who worked on the study.   Continued...

 
<p>A series of mathematical equations in a combination image. Americans may like to make fun of girls who are good at math, but this attitude is robbing the country of some of its best talent, researchers reported on Friday. REUTERS/Composite</p>