In the largest study of its kind, girls measured up to boys in math in every grade, from second through 11th. The research was released Thursday in the journal Science.
Parents and teachers persist in thinking boys are simply better at math, said Janet Hyde, the University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher who led the study. And girls, who grew up believing it, wound up avoiding harder math classes.
“It keeps girls and women out of a lot of careers, particularly high-prestige, lucrative careers in science and technology,” Hyde said.
That’s changing, albeit slowly. Women are now earning 48 percent of undergraduate college degrees in math; they still lag far behind in physics and engineering.
But in primary and secondary school, girls have caught up, with researchers attributing that advance to increasing numbers of girls taking advanced math classes such as calculus.
I’ve known this all my life. Like I’ve said before, I suck at math. I did well enough to graduate from college.
Then there was college. At my university, the math department had a reputation when it came to algebra. People failed all the time. I did. Actually, I dropped before I failed. People transferred to other universities for a semester in order to take and pass algebra elsewhere, and then returned. I did. I went back to the local college in my hometown, where I took and failed algebra. I went back to my university and worked around it, taking and passing statistics and logic (also known as “math for poets” at my university). All the while, I was struggling with undiagnosed, untreated ADD, and as a result could only handle a partial class load after I hit the wall during my sophomore year.
At the time, there was a loophole when it came to statistics. If I took it and passed it, I would be exempt from taking algebra even though it was a prerequisite for statistics. So, I did. It wasn’t until a semester before I was scheduled to graduate (after taking six years to finish, by going part-time) that I found out different. My graduation advisor made a funny face when she looked over my records, and then informed that the loophole had closed, just before I took statistics. So, I wasn’t exempt. I would have to take algebra and pass it if I wanted to graduate.
I suppose I could have dropped off my books and walked awa. But then, she made another face. There was another loophole. The semester after I was scheduled to graduate, the algebra requirement was going to be dropped from my degree. I thought moment, and told her to move my graduation deadline back a semester. I would take one more elective and wait for the algebra requirement to be dropped. That’s what I did, and I graduated from college withouthaving to take algebra.
And I’ve always, always known girls who could run rings around me in math. (No major feat. By the time he gets to middle school, I’ve no doubt Parker will run rings around me in math. He’s a bright kid.) In fact, the people I knew in school who did best in math were mostly girls.
It’s not a matter of boys being better at math than girls, or vice versa. It’s a matter of some people being better at or more talented or gifted at math than other people. It doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t learn math. I can learn to paint, but no teacher can turn me into a Picasso or a Van Gough. Y’know?