We believe that the idea of “math people” is the most self-destructive idea in America today.The most? Really? I'm not going to respond to this, but if you want to defend this line I'll see you in the comments.
So why do we focus on math? For one thing, math skills are increasingly important for getting good jobs these days—so believing you can’t learn math is especially self-destructive.This line is repeated a few time in the article. The idea that there's a shortage of STEM workers shouldn't be taken for granted.
While American fourth and eighth graders score quite well in international math comparisons—beating countries like Germany, the UK and Sweden—our high-schoolers underperform those countries by a wide margin. This suggests that Americans’ native ability is just as good as anyone’s, but that we fail to capitalize on that ability through hard work.Yeah, it's either hard work or sub-par teaching or inequality or anything else. Sloppy reasoning.
Different kids with different levels of preparation come into a math class...The well-prepared kids, not realizing that the B students were simply unprepared, assume that they are “math people,” and work hard in the future, cementing their advantage. Thus, people’s belief that math ability can’t change becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.Great! So there's no genetic advantage. It's just...an incredibly robust advantage in skills, psyche and mindset.
What sort of comfort is this supposed to provide a kid? "The reason why you suck at math is because your parents didn't do math with you, and because you fell into a self-destructive cycle of behavior. And now you're very far behind."
It's just replacing one deterministic story with another, in my opinion.
A great deal of research has shown that technical skills in areas like software are increasingly making the difference between America’s upper middle class and its working class. While we don’t think education is a cure-all for inequality, we definitely believe that in an increasingly automated workplace, Americans who give up on math are selling themselves short.Hear that working class? Stop selling yourselves short! You're contributing to income inequality, guys, so cut it out.
We think what many of them are afraid of is “proving” themselves to be genetically inferior by failing to instantly comprehend the equations (when, of course, in reality, even a math professor would have to read closely). So they recoil from anything that looks like math, protesting: “I’m not a math person.”It's not obvious to me that when kids say that they're not math people that they exclusively mean that they are the sort of people that are bad at it.
Often when kids mention it to me it's in the form of an apology while they're asking me for help. As in, "Hey Mr. P, I'm really sorry but I'm totally not a math person and this isn't making sense to me." In that context it can't possibly mean "I can't get better at high school math." There it's just providing a description, something like "I'm not good at math and I've never really been good at math, and I'm pretty slow when it comes to understanding this stuff." Say what you will about kids having that attitude, but it's not the same as a deterministic view that they can't handle high school math.
And don't some kids just mean "I don't like math" when they say "I'm not a math person"? That's what I mean when I say "I'm not a vanilla person."
We see our country moving away from a culture of hard work toward a culture of belief in genetic determinism.Not any time soon, you aren't.
I'm pretty confident that the piece is pretty sloppy. I'm less sure about all of this, though...
The core argument of the article is that your level of success in high school math is determined by the amount of work that you put in. This is largely true -- no disagreements from me about the value of hard work. But since high school students are children, what it comes down to is blaming children from not working hard enough. And that seems unfair to me. Your typical 5th Grader can't be expected to break through the sorts of disadvantages that put them behind in math through hard work. That's an unfair burden to place on a child.
I see articles like this all the time. They trumpet hard work as the cure to so many of society's evils, and the key to personal redemption. Once you commit yourself to a mindset of hard work, you've unlocked the secret to success. We lament the death of hard work and rediscover it in science, ignoring the reality that it's part of our society's cultural backbone. And -- here's the clincher -- by putting hard work on a pedestal and acting as if we've just discovered it, we let the culture of hard work off the hook for being part of the very social problems that we're lamenting.
If the culture of hard work has been around for centuries, then how come there's all this inequality? How come students don't realize that hard work will help them get better at math?
I buy what Dweck says, to an extent. (There's other research that complicates her rather clean story, but never mind that for now.) I mean, who's going to disagree with the idea that hard work helps you get better at something? (I've never met anyone who doesn't believe that.) But it's important to recognize that the notion that hard work will solve many of our social issues is an old one in this country. It's part of our culture, and it might even be part of our problems.
Take us home, Shamus Khan!
Which means that these are tremendously unequitable institutions. But instead of explaining their position relative to their social advantage, their membership within an upper class, these elites explain it by their hard work and individual skills.Check out his book Privilege, for real.