Everybody is good at math
Feb 10, 2011

Everybody is good at math

It is a frequent perception that being good or bad at math is an innate aptitude people have or don't have. Many spend their entire lives convinced that they are simply bad at math. This perception is not only wrong but is detrimental.  

I am a 3rd year PhD student in mathematics and have helped countless students in tutorials, help centers and tutoring. I have met many people who think they are simply bad a math, but I have never met someone who can't understand any basic math concept found in calculus courses and do well on tests. Moreover, this is a perception shared without exception that I know of among my colleagues.

Of course, this doesn't mean math isn't hard. It can be, but if one works hard and has appropriate teaching for where they are at, anybody can learn and even excel at math. This isn't to say that there is no aptitude for math. People have different skills and some are more or less suited to mathematical thinking, my point is to establish that for those whose aptitudes lie, relatively, elsewhere the capacity for understanding mathematics exists nonetheless.

One of the downsides of the perception is that it is self reinforcing. People who think they are bad at math may dedicate less time and energy to learning it, may not try to employ math in their daily lives, may give up on it easily. Especially when this happens at a young age and someone gets behind for any of a myriad number of reasons, it can be very hard to fight this perception and catch up in high school. There is great value in mathematical thinking not just in courses but in every day life. I think an attitude towards math that it is more universally accessible would benefit society greatly. 

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