My response to Marilyn: Frankly, it doesn't matter whether you're going to "need" math later in life when you're five. We're nearly all of us born able to think mathematically. Math anxiety isn't generally caused by math but by bad mathematics teaching and ridiculous school mathematics, with its overemphasis on computation, speed, and memorization, and general failure to look at anything that could be of interest to many children and that is accessible to them without be masters of arithmetic.
I'm afraid your answer here is not well-informed. It's not that everyone MUST learn a lot of math, but that few students are given any chance to actually learn any real mathematics to speak of.
Marilyn: I'm an otherwise intelligent person who can handle most situations in life, but put a math problem in front of me and I go blank. Not only that, I immediately turn the page. Even though I'm past school age, I panic! Can you explain?
You're suffering ordinary anxiety attacks. When episodes are focused on particular causes, they're called phobias. Maybe you were scared by an equation when you were in fifth grade. Just kidding! But the idea is relevant. Phobias are acquired, and math anxiety is too common to avoid blaming our educational experiences.
I think math may be easier to learn than reading when we're small. It's straightforward logic and reasoning with numbers attached, whereas reading is a visual code system for an entire language. Yet because reading is much more important for everyone, we focus on it from the beginning and limit our kids' earliest math exposure to counting, with maybe a little addition and subtraction.
So we start late with math, and then we move too fast and, eventually, too far. In grade school, kids often learn operations instead of concepts. In high school, reading skills need mostly content amplification and comprehension work, but math gets harder and harder. With this pressure, it isn't surprising that young people develop math anxieties. By college, many of them choose curricula based on how much math is involved.
Some students are surely drowning in math that they'll never even come close to using, much less needing, in their chosen professions or in life. Math doesn't enlighten us the way literature, social studies, or art appreciation do. Instead, it's an extremely valuable tool that many of us simply don't need to use much. So I suggest that we start math education earlier in life and stop sooner except for the professional areas in which it is obviously required, such as engineering, computer science, and the physical sciences (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.). Students who detest math are never going to consider one of those careers anyway, and they could put that time to better use in other courses.
*********************************************** -- Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University 625 Wham Drive Mail Code 4610 Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O] (618) 457-8903 [H] Fax: (618) 453-4244 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org