Does the fear of math keep us from truly learning?

Are you good at math? This question makes the majority of people flinch just thinking about it as an expression of dread lingers in their eyes. The fear of having to do geometry or algebra or remember a ton of equations often places people between a rock and a hard place. The real question is—why do people feel intimidated by mathematics in the first place? Is this just a normal trait, or could the education system be to blame?

According to the Huffington Post, some people are just born good at math. Melissa Libertus, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, clarifies that while “number sense” is universal, the ability to do math is thought to be highly dependent on culture and language.

The article continues, explaining that number sense is a primitive and inborn faculty that allows one to judge quantities in real world situations. For example, a display of good number sense would be accurately estimating the number of people at a concert. The Huffington Post goes on to state that the relationship between one’s number sense and their ability to do math is only a trend, however.

In my opinion, the question of whether one is good or bad at math brings about a strong sense of uncertainty. There are so many factors that influence how interested an individual might be in a certain subject, such as their personal background, lifestyle, tradition, experience, etc., and the main factor that determines one’s interest in math, from my perspective, is the circumstances that one is brought up in.

For example, if one lives in a city where they are forced to calculate various prices of groceries or train rides, they will better adapt to a school environment by applying the same knowledge from real-life experiences. On the other hand, if one comes from a different setting where they hardly had to do any calculation, then they would have no choice but to work harder in school to learn math. This is where the Huffington Post might point more strongly toward nature than nurture, however.

The New York Times approaches it from a different angle, stating that young people today rely especially on technology to avoid developing the math skills necessary to help them grow. It goes on to state that a huge percentage of current high school graduates have no interest in pursuing degrees involving science, technology, engineering, or math, arguing that the biggest reason for this is that they have been largely turned off to these subjects as they have moved through various levels of education. This is very true, as many students already seem to be of the mindset that they will be done with math for the rest of their lives after high school, which is not necessarily the case.

Overall, the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields play a vital role in society. Countless jobs come from these subjects, and society still needs scientists, engineers, IT specialists, and mathematicians to prosper.

Developing a positive mentality for approaching anything is key if one wishes to succeed in that area. Math is not as tough as it is stereotyped to be—one plus one is two. If one adds gradually to this concept, approaching it as they would any other project, the road to achieving great things indeed becomes a clear path.

2 thoughts on “Does the fear of math keep us from truly learning?

  • Daniel Sebold

    When I was in the seventh grade back in 1968, I scored very low on the math section of the standard achievement test they gave to the whole school. I had to be put into a remedial math class filled with some of the strangest geeks you ever met. My mother was so ashamed of me. We were studying this really low level math–differential calculus I think it was–and we would do these really simple calculations on vector fields and parallax distances of planets in their orbits as they changed their speeds at apogee and perigee. I felt so stupid being such a low level student, and was so glad to finish that boring class and have eschewed math ever since then.


      Good story, I can relate to your pain to a certain extent. Although, the joys of life come from the troubles that one has experienced.


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