Code Vigorous

Dustin J. Mitchell

Girls and Math

18 Feb 2008

Every girl gets the memo:

To: Girls
From: The Establishment
Re: Math

Math is hard, and you'll never need it anyway.
You'll just be cooking and making babies, after all.

cc: Boys

But most teen girls, being the modern anti-establishment type, reject this sentiment as “the man” trying to keep them down. They look to the female role models around them for guidance as to what “real life” is like. That comes down to teachers, moms, aunties, and big sisters.

Last week, while I was working on an algebra problem with a group of 7th-grade girls, the classroom teacher (a woman) said, “I’m not good at math.”

To: Girls
From: Grown-up Girl
Re: Math

I never learned math, and now I'm a teacher, so you can safely ignore it.

But what did this teacher really mean? She can solve the problem we were working on, no problem. What’s hard is teaching math. As with most subjects, a teacher needs to be agile enough to dance around the math, attacking it from all angles, spotting the misconceptions and shreds of understanding in a student’s responses, and asking the right questions.

That’s legitimately hard, and I think it’s unreasonable to ask someone to be this good at more than one subject. I’m a pretty OK math teacher, but if you plop me down in front of a language arts class, I’ll struggle. I’m OK with that, but the proper phrase is “I’m not good at teaching language arts,” not “I can’t read.”