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Some good news about girls and math

January 26, 2010 | 12:17 pm

Today’s story about the role of elementary school teachers in reinforcing gender stereotypes about math – boys are naturally good at it, and girls aren’t – may seem like bad news to those who would like to see more women pursuing careers as doctors, scientists and engineers.

But there is a silver lining to the report.

Girls To recap, the study by University of Chicago psychologists found that women teachers who were anxious about math transmitted that anxiety to some of the girls in their class, and that the girls who subsequently subscribed to the math-is-for-boys stereotype got lower scores on a math test than the girls who didn’t.

But not all of the girls were susceptible to the math anxiety of their teachers. The researchers said they don’t know why some girls succumbed and others didn’t, but they speculate that girls who have mothers, older sisters or other female role models who enjoy math might have some protection, among other possibilities.

If so, that suggests that girls who believe the stereotype can be rehabilitated by pairing them with teachers who are confident and enthusiastic about math, said Susan C. Levine, the study’s senior author.

As Levine put it: “We don’t think they’re doomed.”

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Yes, girls, you can do math as well as the boys! Photo credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times