Female Students, Female Teachers, and Math Anxiety – Oh My!

This is a cross-post from Equality 101.

This study has shown up in many places this week, and it bothered me quite a bit.  When I first saw it on City Room (the first link provided here), I was angry.  The study touts that female students learn math anxiety from their female teachers, but no male teachers were studied.  The research here included only female teachers, and examined how female students reacted to the teachers’ math anxiety versus how male students reacted to the teachers’ math anxiety.  What the study really found was that female students were more receptive to female teachers’ math anxiety than male students were.  What the study said was that it is clearly the female teachers’ fault that their female students hate math.

From the Yahoo article:

Little girls may learn to fear math from the women who are their earliest teachers. Despite gains in recent years, women still trail men in some areas of math achievement, and the question of why has provoked controversy. Now, a study of first- and second-graders suggests what may be part of the answer: Female elementary school teachers who are concerned about their own math skills could be passing that along to the little girls they teach.

From the L.A. Times article:

Girls have long embraced the stereotype that they’re not supposed to be good at math. It seems they may be getting the idea from a surprising source — their female elementary school teachers.

The sentiment is clear: those poor little girls, being subjected to math anxiety from those awful women teachers who hate math.  (Please note my sarcasm)  But could the girls’ math anxiety be passed on from their male teachers as well?  We won’t know from this article, because no male teachers were part of the study.

Please don’t get me wrong: I believe we, as a teaching community, need to find out why fewer women end up in math and science related fields.  I also believe that this study does show us some interesting data about female teachers and their female students.  But I also believe we cannot blame female teachers for this whole problem, and in order to figure out what really changes girls’ attitudes toward math and science, we need to conduct a study that is fair to the teachers and the students, and that requires a study that includes teachers and students of all genders.

And, in the interest of opposing viewpoints, check out this article, which says that there are actually very few gender differences in math ability worldwide.

How do you feel about this study and these articles?  Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

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4 thoughts on “Female Students, Female Teachers, and Math Anxiety – Oh My!

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  2. makomk on

    “The study touts that female students learn math anxiety from their female teachers, but no male teachers were studied.”

    You’re assuming that they could find enough male teachers to study. As one of the articles notes, over 90 percent of elementary school teachers are female in the US. While the researchers would probably have liked to include male teachers, that would be quite a bit harder…

  3. Pingback: Female Teachers and Female Students’ Math Anxiety, Part 2 | Small Strokes

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  5. Very interesting. Blaming the female teachers is a weird strategy… I wonder what percentage of those female teachers learned their own alleged ‘math anxiety’ from being taught by men who underrated their abilities? That would be an interesting study!

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  7. I find it a little harder to take this study seriously since it was so insanely targeted. 17 teachers is not a random sample (I bet they were location bias too) and they needed a “control” of some other subjects where they didn’t expect a gender biased anxiety trend (like English or History).

    They were “looking for trouble” and I don’t think what they found is at all statistically significant. *sigh*

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