Throwback Thursday: Wonder why girls don’t like math? Look at yourself! 1


Going through our archives, we came across this great post by Dr. AnnMaria De Mars from October 21, 2013 “Wonder why girls don’t like math? Look at yourself!” that we wanted to share in case you missed it the first time around.

Having taught math myself for the past 30 years, and with a brother who is a middle school math teacher, I am obviously not tarring all math teachers with the same brush, but I am really starting to get pissed off here. I have beautiful daughters, and it is not just me who says so. Here is the oldest one.

Maria and Eva cuddled up

Here are the other three.

daughtersSee the middle one there? When she walked in for the first day of an advanced math class, the TEACHER (who was a woman), asked her,

“Are you sure you’re in the right class?”

Ronda came home and told me about it. She said,

Well, I guess I don’t really look like I belong in there. I’m the only non-Asian girl in the class, and I’m tall and blonde. I really stand out.

Ronda is extremely good at math. When she was young, we assumed she would get her Ph.D. in some kind of science, but she decided to go the UFC / movies route instead.

The other three could have been extremely good at math, but it was not a particular interest of theirs. The littlest one, on the left, has done quite well in math, until very recently.

What has happened with all of my daughters, though, is that the schools and I have generally butted heads with what we expected of them. When my oldest daughter met with the high school guidance counselor, and was asked what schools she was interested in, Maria said,

“I’d like to go to either Harvard or NYU.”

The counselor laughed and said,

Of course, everyone would like to go to Harvard or NYU but let’s take a look at the local community college.

I called the counselor up the next day and asked if she was f****** kidding me. I told her that her daughter could go to the community college, but if my daughter wanted to go to NYU or Harvard that is god damn well where she was going to go. Maria did graduate from NYU, in 3 1/2 years, thank you very much, when she was 20 years old.

Of my three older children, one has a bachelors from NYU, one has a masters from USC and one is finishing filming Expendables 3 this week and then flying off to film Fast and Furious 7. They are a fairly accomplished group.

And yet … more often than not, I was pushing them academically more than their teachers were – and you can’t find a much more yuppie school district than Santa Monica-Malibu, and most of the time they all went to private schools.  As a general rule, if they fell behind (which in my mind is anything less than an A because, seriously, what do they have to do but study? It’s not like they’re working in a coal mine after school or cleaning their rooms or anything.) – I was much more upset about it than their teachers were.  They did not EXPECT my children to make straight A’s, take AP Calculus, get into top schools.

When Maria walked into Geometry in the ninth grade, one of the girls she had run cross-country with the year before, who was a junior in the same class, exclaimed in shock,

“You’re smart?!”

Yes, one of my daughters was a cheerleader. Two were very much into sports in high school. Two were very much into going to the mall and buying every item of designer clothing sold in America.

If you are a math teacher, honestly, ask yourself do you have the same expectations for every student in your class? Really?

I asked myself that same question several years ago. I teach graduate-level statistics and I used to encourage the students “who I thought would be interested” to present their research at conferences, to publish it. I quit doing that. Now, I make those announcements in class, repeatedly, and encourage everyone.

Year after year, students have surprised me by the level of motivation and the quality of their work.

Honestly, if you teach AP Calculus and you have a pretty blonde girl that comes to your class some days in a cheerleader outfit (because that’s what they wear on game days), and is making a B or C, do you assume that is the best she wants to or can do? Honestly? Just between you and me?

One of The Spoiled One’s favorite movies is Legally Blonde. You know why? Because everyone assumes the protagonist is dumb because she’s interested in fashion, pretty and naive. In the end, she is dissuaded from dropping out by a professor who tells her that she can  do it, and the movie ends with her graduation from Harvard Law School.

If you’re a math teacher, I’d like you to watch that movie, because my kids DO live in southern California and they DO shop in Beverly Hills and contrary to what you think about how they look, they DO belong in your class.


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One thought on “Throwback Thursday: Wonder why girls don’t like math? Look at yourself!

  • April Syed

    In 8th grade I switched school districts and I was placed in remedial math. I asked for the final exam the first day. I bugged the teacher so much she shunted me to a regular class. Two weeks later the teacher was asked to send the top 3 students to excelerated math, algebra. The algebra teacher not only didn’t like having me in his class he said to me, well if you don’t understand what is on the board maybe you don’t belong. No offer of help to catch up after 4 weeks of school has passed, just dismissal. I was tall, blonde and pretty. My mom was a single parent with a math phobia and my astranged dad couldn’t care less. I ended up back in regular math bored as hell.
    As a pre-school teacher I taught 3 year olds rudimentary algebra (1+X=3) and basic geometry, why a square is special, rhombus vs. diamond, what makes an oglagon special.
    Math is another language, but society says it is hard, so only the smart can understand it. If you don’t look the part than you can’t do it.