There Is No Such Thing as a 'Math Person'

It's all about hard work, say Miles Kimball and Noah Smith
By Ruth Brown,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 27, 2013 4:16 PM CDT
There Is No Such Thing As a 'Math Person'

Think you simply weren't born a "math person"? Think again, say economics professor Miles Kimball and assistant finance professor Noah Smith. "The truth is, you probably are a math person," they write at Quartz, "and by thinking otherwise, you are possibly hamstringing your own career." Not only that, you're perpetuating the myth that being able to do math is some inborn genetic ability. Of course some people are naturally better at the subject, they say, but it doesn't matter as much as we've been led to believe. Sure, you may never be a brilliant mathematician, but "for high school math, inborn talent is just much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence."

The same pattern happens in high schools all over the US, they write: Some kids start school having math drilled into them by parents or tutors, some don't; the better-prepared kids do better on the first tests they take; the less-prepared kids don't realize their peers were better prepared, and think they just didn't do so well because they "just aren’t math people," so they don't try as hard in future; the well-prepared kids assume they are "math people" and continue to work hard. "Thus, people’s belief that math ability can’t change becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy." Instead, argue Kimball and Smith, Americans should be copying the Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans, who focus far more in hard work than innate talent. Click through for their full column. (Read more mathematics stories.)

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