File this under “not rocket science” but it’s nice to see some data back up what I’d call a reasonable hunch.
Some new research out of the University of Chicago, summarized here, suggests that teachers and parents who are averse to math (for example, since math seems to be the whipping boy of the subject disciplines for most students) pass on that negativity to their students.
Previous studies have looked at how parents’ stereotypes (“boys are better at math, and girls are better at reading”) and expectations (for example, holding sons’ academic performance to a higher standard than daughters’) affect their children’s orientation toward learning. Gunderson takes a different tack, suggesting that parents may influence their offspring’s attitudes in two more subtle ways: through their own anxiety, and through their own belief that abilities are fixed and can’t be improved (expressed in commonly-heard comments like “I’ve never been good at science,” and “I can’t do math to save my life”).
Research shows that school-aged children are especially apt to emulate the attitudes and behaviors of the same-sex parent—a source of concern if we want to improve girls’ still-lagging performance in traditionally male-dominated fields like science and mathematics. If mom hates math, a young girl may reason, it’s O.K. for me to dislike it too.
This same effect applied to teachers and at least some data suggests that elementary teachers are some of the most mathephobic (totally just made that word up).
Teachers and parents have profound effects on the children under their care. To really tackle some of the deficiencies we see in educational systems, we need first to tackle our own.