gregbo (gregbo) wrote,

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Does math suck?

Not according to Danica McKellar, the author of Math Doesn't Suck, a book designed to help middle school girls get over their anxieties and difficulties with math. Not only does the book contain guides to math concepts typically taught during middle school, it includes testimonies, including her own, of how she went from struggling in school to graduating with a PhD in mathematics from UCLA and proving an important theorem in mathematical physics.

The book has drawn a lot of praise from educators for being a positive force in encouraging girls to pursue math-related careers, at a time in their lives when they may be otherwise discouraged from doing so. However, the book has also drawn a lot of criticism. Some people feel the book reinforces "girly" stereotypes. Gayle Laakmann, a Google employee, made a similar statement in her criticism of IBM's Technology Camp for Teen Girls.

Is the book doing harm in teaching math this way? I don't think so. I don't think the book suggests that girls ought to act stereotypically. Evidently, the book is doing some good, because girls who identify with the author have gotten over their math phobias and feel more comfortable with the subject. IMO, if people can be reached and engaged using thoughts and concepts they feel comfortable with, why not do so? Would it be better to give them boring math books full of uninspiring equations or theorems? I remember there was a movie in the 1970s called Claudine in which James Earl Jones "convinced" Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs that he could do math by "pointing out" that he was already doing math as he explained how he beat his friends at craps. To the extent that this reflects reality, I doubt such a kid could be reached through a dry mathematical presentation. (In my experience growing up in Queens, people were more likely to understand something they could personally relate to, such as how to compute batting average.)

However, I am curious about how DM was able to make the leap from struggling in math to doing groundbreaking work in it. Apparently, someone else was curious about it as well. She hasn't answered the question as of the time of this post. Perhaps she's too busy, or perhaps she thinks the subject is beyond the scope of the book.
Tags: education

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