Study: U.S. culture discourages math achievement

The New York Times reports that the United States is failing to develop the math skills of both girls and boys, especially among those who could excel at the highest levels, according to a new study–and girls who do succeed in the field are almost all immigrants or the daughters of immigrants from countries where mathematics is more highly valued. The study suggests that while many girls have exceptional talent in math–the talent to become top math researchers, scientists, and engineers–they are rarely identified in the United States. A major reason, according to the study, is that American culture does not highly value talent in math, and so discourages girls–and boys, for that matter–from excelling in the field. The study will be published Oct. 10 in Notices of the American Mathematical Society. "We’re living in a culture that is telling girls you can’t do math–that’s telling everybody that only Asians and nerds do math," said the study’s lead author, Janet E. Mertz, an oncology professor at the University of Wisconsin, whose son is a winner of what is viewed as the world’s most-demanding math competitions. "Kids in high school, where social interactions are really important, think, ‘If I’m not an Asian or a nerd, I’d better not be on the math team.’ Kids are self-selecting. For social reasons, they’re not even trying."

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