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Are Americans afraid of math?

  1. May 20, 2010 #1
    Many of my friends and peers avoid thinking about math in their lives. It's as if they feel a strange mixture of fear and pain when they think about anything associated with arithmetic. Yet they don't even realize how pervasive math is to their daily lives; they don't realize that math is the universal language. The time of day, your bank account balance, your GPA, your salary, your weight, and your friend number on facebook are just some examples of the numbers that are very important to our daily lives. Much of our daily activity is related to changing or maintaining these numbers (maximize the divergence of money into your bank account, maximize your GPA, maintain a body weight between a and b). No matter who you are or what you are, math is important for your survival.

    So where does this fear come from? Since math is crucial to our survival, I highly doubt that we would evolve an innate fear of math. Have we been classically conditioned to feel fear and pain whenever we think about math, or as a by-product of our past experience with math? Have we conditioned students to think that math is only relevant to the students majoring in mathematics? Would it be beneficial to our society to address this fear of math? Ought we use this technology, these amazing products of math and physics to improve the manner in which students learn math and physics?

    Although maybe I should get some feedback first: does anyone else agree that Americans are afraid of math?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 20, 2010 #2
    Americans are afraid Chinese are better at math :P

    2020 is the year China will suppress USA academically, and that's quite a feat for a country that didn't really had a lot of high schools until recently.

    And no, I am not Chinese ;)

    BTW Math is becoming trendy the last few years, I'd expect interest to rise not only in the US but worldwide. I don't think it is crucial to our survival however, but it is one of the handiest tools humanity has come up with. It might even be a little overrated IMO everyone should know basic math, but anything more is entirely optional, unless required by a profession.
  4. May 20, 2010 #3


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    It's not just America it's everywhere and it's been true since the 60s
  5. May 20, 2010 #4


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    You state this as though it is a predetermined fact! If you really intend that, you should perhaps show what the basis for the assertion is.
  6. May 20, 2010 #5
    An analytic news story I read a couple of weeks ago. Not my opinion, but China is really pushing hard, not only economically, but intellectually as well, also military which is a little worrying.

    Poor choice of words, should have used "IS SET TO" - English is my third foreign language, and the one I know the least :)
  7. May 20, 2010 #6
    Half of the Chinese population are rural farmers that will never see the inside of any educational institution higher than a grade school (and hopefully during an earth quake the schools wont all fall down on their heads). Only the select few, who are party members, are even allowed to go to college. If you call that academically surpassing the US then sure.
  8. May 20, 2010 #7
    They probably fear math because of how much of an awful job schools do teaching it.
  9. May 21, 2010 #8
    Let's hope that the US never switches to the metric system, because I'll be very upset if I can't weigh 170. That number is very important to our lives.
  10. May 21, 2010 #9
    But still, the other half is pretty much, isn't it.

    Plus currently 2% of the world are able to feed it, that also means 2% of China will be able to feed it, freeing the other 48% for other purposes.

    What I mean by academically surpassing is the volume of intellectual property, like patents and such. That is different than what you assume I said - the whole population of China majoring in science ;) The masses will always be i neglect, but the Chinese are so many, ever if only 2% of them grow academically they will still vastly exceed the 2% of the US or any other country for that matter, besides India ;)
  11. May 21, 2010 #10
    They don't like math because the teachers are not qualified
  12. May 21, 2010 #11

    Chi Meson

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    Well, you could have fooled me! I just finished correcting some tests. I have a few students, laboring under one single language, who can't seem to stitch together one logical sentence.

    I don't think that "Americans" are afraid of math. I believe that there is a culture of "it's not my job" that pervades us. There are plenty of Americans who are proud mathematicians. Then there are some who don't need to actively use math at all. They have a calculator, and they don't even use the square root function, can't be bothered, not my job.

    The problem is, we do so well without the need. Even a carpenter can get by without hitting a trig function on the TI83 because anything he needs to do will have the cut lines already traced out in a book somewhere (mind you,that's not the carpenter I want to hire--I picked this analogy because I've done a good bit of construction and met quite a few carpenters, including those who refuse to do anything other than +-x/).
  13. May 21, 2010 #12


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    And it's probably been true since ever. People are afraid to think and use their brains. It's OK if they're average though, I guess, but it's sad when they're above average.
  14. May 21, 2010 #13
    It should be understood that mathematics beyond simple arithmetic is not a natural talent among the majority of homosapiens. Some have trouble with words, letters, and communication and are placed on the spectrum of dyslexia. If mathematics, rather than construction of words letters and sentences were to occupy the same status, then most of the population anywhere in the world would be as dysfunctially dyslexic as I am at spelling.

    Like it or not, that ain't the way it is, and education beyond multiplication and division, for most of part, is worthless. There is no reason to blame educators because they can't train most of the monkies to do things that do not come naturally in things that will have no value to the vast majority, ever.

    And this incapability is not a result of the fear of thinking, radou. It is a comparitive difficulty of thinking in ways that you prefer to think of a superior way of thinking.
    Last edited: May 21, 2010
  15. May 21, 2010 #14


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    Being a nuclear engineer and working with or encountering engineers and scientists of various disciplines, I know a lot of Americans, and folks from other places, who delve into math - especially those who develop analytical methods or perform analysis.

    And there seems to be a fair amount of traffic at PF in the Math and related forums.
  16. May 21, 2010 #15


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    1. Can you give us a link to this news story? I'd like to read it too.

    2. How is "academic suppression" defined and measured?
  17. May 21, 2010 #16


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    Most new members are intent on having their homework answered when they create their account. And of course this is why the math and physics homework help has the most traffic on this forum.
  18. May 21, 2010 #17
    I'm an engineer and I try to avoid maths as much as possible. Which sadly isn't frequent enough for my liking. Maths is dull and uninteresting, it's merely a tool that I have to use.

  19. May 21, 2010 #18
    I feel the same way about it. I learn it because I feel that I need to.
    And uninteresting is a good way to put it. There's many other things you can learn about that are interesting. There's many interesting history and science facts that you can talk about with people. But what is there to talk about with math? There's no interesting math trivia.
    I don't think people are afraid of math. I'll be honest, if I see an explanation of something and it starts talking about the math of it, I get a little put off by it. Sometimes they show symbols or variables I might not know the value of. Then to understand it, I need to go elsewhere to find out the numbers, get out a calculator and start doing some math.
  20. May 21, 2010 #19


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    Dull? Uninteresting!?

    I guess we're just two very different people...
  21. May 21, 2010 #20
    How is a bunch of squggles on a page remotely exciting?

    The fact that they allow me to design engines to propell things around the planet as fast as possible, is the interesting bit.

    I'm not denying that it's possibly the most useful tool ever. It's just so fantastically boring. It's like being passionate about a hammer, but never hitting a nail with it.
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