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Why is mathematics feared?

I visited family in Cuba over the summer. During that visit, I met professors from Mathematics at Universidad de La Habana who work with writers, actors and musicians to demystify mathematics. In one show that I attended, the former Dean of Mathematics demonstrated how to calculate the number of beats in reguetón songs that are popular but frequently criticized as “vulgar” in Cuba.   He demonstrated harmony by showing that reguetón beats followed patterns that could be counted, predicted, and modified with simple arithmetic calculations. The audience was captivated with this musical and fun class on mathematics. Then, he also commented that new acquaintances often grimace or say “pobre de ti” (poor you) when they learn he is a mathematician. I wondered why mathematics is so feared and misunderstood—even in a country like Cuba, where so much effort has been placed on science education. Then I wondered if things are any different here.

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3 comments to Why is mathematics feared?

  • Christopher Hanusa

    It is exactly the same here. Whenever I say that I am a math professor, the most common refrain is “Oh, I was never very good at math.”. It would help if our elementary school teachers and parents did not pass along their math phobia to their students/children.

  • Yes, I agree. But there are few teachers who can teach math well. I can only remember one, in 10th grade, and he made a difference– math was so much fun in his class. Then everyone else taught it as a dry subject, devoid of any fun and tedious. There must be something lacking in teacher training– and making it fun likely makes a big difference in how students learn.

  • Jenny Porter

    I wish, oh how I wish, that math phobia wasn’t such a problem here in the U.S. Especially among girls and women. Teaching stats it was often my female students who would lament “I’ve never been good at math” as their reason for not doing well. The male students who were struggling wouldn’t seek help at all and were the quietest students, perhaps because it’s more looked down upon to be bad at math as a man. One’s perception of themselves as being good or bad at a topic definitely impacts their ability to learn that topic and perform well in that topic (stereotype threat) yet knowing this, I still don’t know how to counteract this phenomenon.