Our United Voice

Girls CAN Be Good At Math - Don't Buy Into the Falsehood

Monday, June 2, 2014

By Janet L. Boyd
My granddaughter, Stella Rose, is a better conversationalist than just about any adult I know. Our discussions range from pop music to yoga to whether boogers would taste salty or sweet. At age 7, she considers herself an expert on many things: the value of pink cowgirl boots, the poems of Roald Dahl, Double Gloucester cheese, building fairy houses at Hogan’s Fountain, music by Loretta Lynn and Nancy Sinatra, purses, the movie Annie, and how to steer Canterbury the horse around a barn cat instead of running right over it.  She can talk a blue streak about any of these topics.

Here’s another thing Stella Rose is an expert at – math! During a recent overnight visit with me, she spent the last few minutes before falling asleep figuring the 12 times table in her head. She can add a column of figures faster than I can. She excels at division in first grade. All on her own, she figured out that the sum of the first two digits of her dad’s phone number equals digits three and four, and the sum of digits five and six equals digit seven.

But, sadly, by the time Stella Rose goes to middle school, she may stop believing in herself as an expert in math.

She and her girlfriends may buy into the falsehood that girls can’t be good in math, a phenomenon common to the U.S. and other countries with high degrees of gender inequality. Genetically, girls are extremely capable mathematicians and, yet, women represent only about 24 percent of the math and science workforce.

Why? Perception! The U. S. Department of Education says girls “who have a strong self-concept regarding their abilities in math or science are more likely to choose and perform well in elective math and science courses and to select math and science-related college majors and careers … Improving girls' beliefs about their abilities could alter their choices and performance … particularly as they move … into middle and high school.”

must mentor and support girls to embrace math and science, if for nothing else than economics. Women earn 33 percent more when they work in these fields. You can bet that I will continue to praise Stella Rose for her fabulous skills in math – because cowgirl boots are pricey and that fancy cheese doesn’t come cheap!

I’ve got my girl covered, but if you would like to help another child embrace math, science, or any other academic subject, Metro United Way has identified more than 
20 volunteer opportunities this summer that will help kids overcome the "summer slide," also known as “summer learning loss.” Most students lose two months’ worth of math skills each summer, and low-income kids lose more than two months in reading. Just one caring adult can make all the difference in a child’s future! 

Janet L. Boyd serves as Senior Grants Manager for Metro United Way. She has performed similar roles for Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana and the Kentucky Science Center. She is a former college English teacher, technical writer, and newspaper columnist.

Her volunteer work has included service to the University of Kentucky Women Writers Conference, National Organization for Women, Bonnycastle Homestead Association,  WFPK radio, Louisville Girls Leadership, and Bunbury Theatre.

Janet enjoys attending Nia classes, gardening when it’s not too hot, reading on her front porch, crocheting hats and sweaters for the babies in her life, and, of course, talking with Stella Rose.  You can reach Janet at janet.boyd@metrounitedway.org 

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