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Topic: [ncsm-members] RESPONSE TO Ask Marilyn [Parade Magazine]
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 13,025
Registered: 12/3/04
[ncsm-members] RESPONSE TO Ask Marilyn [Parade Magazine]
Posted: Sep 10, 2013 11:43 AM
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From Michael Goldenberg:

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.


On Mon, Sep 9, 2013 at 6:28 PM, Jerry Becker
<<mailto:jbecker@siu.edu>jbecker@siu.edu> wrote:

From Parade Magazine, Sunday, September 8, 2013, p. 5. See
Ask Marilyn

By Marilyn vos Savant

Anonymous in Sandwich, Illinois writes:

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?

Marilyn responds:

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: jbecker@siu.edu

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