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Mathphobia 101

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Dr. Sophia Grant: I recently received my children's math placement for the fall. Unlike most parents, who would be ecstatic to see both their children recommended for an accelerated program, I am terrified. My name is Sophia and I have mathphobia.

Terrified woman

I have kept it secret for years and thought that it would never come back. But like an alcoholic, I will always have the disease. It started early on in my academic career, when I was prematurely advanced. I floundered. Even when placed in the regular classes, I struggled. I needed a math tutor for most of high school. Mr. Green, my tutor, was "my sponsor."

How can this be, then, that my kids are doing so well? My daughter is in the math club and my son asks me to give him "hard problems that he can do in his head." He tells me they're too easy, but I have to choose something I can do in my head. I just started writing them down and he does them mentally.

The anxiety is back, and I fear I will not be able to help them. Even worse, what if they struggle just as I did? I wonder if I can put them in a regular class ... What type of parent contemplates this? I have fallen off the wagon.

I only use math for two things: figuring out my percent savings, and doubling and dividing recipes. I have managed to keep my fear from my kids, lest I transfer my baggage. Would they even be susceptible? Maybe not.

When the Reptile Guy came to school, I contemplated keeping them home. Instead, I sent them off and told them how awful snakes and iguanas were and how they could get salmonella from those cold-blooded creatures. Upon their return, they both told me how they had held a frog and touched a snake. My son was even pictured in the yearbook with a python around his neck.

I am glad that they refused to be held back by my fear, but how often do I really have to deal with snakes? Math is a different story. The future holds algebra, geometry, trig, and dare I say it -- cal-cu-lus. OH, HELP ME. I will now say, without hesitation, "Go ask your father."

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3 comments so far | Post a comment now
BW June 22, 2009, 1:12 PM

I abhor math. It’s the reason I graduated high school with a 3.8 instead of 4.0. I think some people are just better at other things. Math can be difficult the same way setting up a stereo system, fixing a car and writing an essay don’t come easily to all of us.

allyall June 22, 2009, 3:26 PM

Wow. A doctor who doesn’t recognize all the situations she uses math in as part of her job? I don’t know what to say besides I’m glad you aren’t dosing medicine out to my kids! J/K

More in depth, I feel like this article highlights a real condition people struggle with but doesn’t discuss it much. Math literacy is as vital as reading literacy for success in our world. You are using math skills (reasoning and logic) whenever you solve any type of problem. A misunderstanding of what mathematics is at the core of most math haters problems. They picture algebra or calculus or even fractions and arithmetic. Mathematics does not equal the basic branches taught and overemphasized in the schools. Mathematics is the study of logic and problem solving. Schools take a numerical emphasis approach from a traditional standpoint. When schools use an alternative approach, the math hating parents protest b/c they can’t help their kids with their homework, even as they hate that homework from their own childhood. It’s a no win situation for teachers.

Can you really hide your phobia from your kids? It may affect them without you knowing it. Why not be honest and explain your irrational fears to them. Check out some fun books like Jon Sciezska’s “Math Curse” or Hans Enzensberger’s “The Number Devil” and find a way to have a positive spin on the anxieties that accompany your mathphobias.

Acknowledge that helping them with their homework is hard for you, even though you could do it, and that you would like to offer them an online tutoring service when they are stuck instead. For example, is an excellent resource that may be free thru your local library.

Dels June 23, 2009, 1:20 AM

I suffer from mathophobia!! Always have. I was placed in an advanced math class during a highly stressful transition period. It was my first year in junior high, new city, new state, absolutely NO confidence and when I turned to my mother(highschool drop out) for help, she couldnt grasp it herself. I was too shy to ask anyone else, or seek tutoring and my mother was too overwhelmed with her responsibilities as a single mom to be proactive.
I am so very proud that my children don’t seem to exhibit any misunderstandings in math. I am aware that many of the teaching methods have been changed completely and they grasp it most times and the few times they may get confused, I am not ashamed to say “ask your dad” He helps with math, I help with all things literary, social studies & language arts

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