Math For Girls

There is a movie I haven’t been able to see yet, but am very much looking forward to: Hidden Figures. To say it’s about time would be a gross understatement. For me, this movie’s revelation was not learning of African-American women working as human computers for NASA; it was learning there were women involved at all.

When I was in grade school in a rural Midwestern town in the late 1960s, I struggled with math. At the time, I was told by teacher after teacher that this was because I was a girl, and girls just weren’t very good at math. The impact of being told repeatedly that you are not understanding something because of what and who you are is profound.

Now I learn that while I was being told this, there was a whole cadre of women doing the complicated calculations needed to put men in space and safely return them. Without the benefit of calculators. Had I known of these women, and been given help and encouragement instead of a pat-on-the-head dismissal, then by high school, I might not have developed anxiety when it came to math and especially tests. And I would not have felt doomed to hate math simply because I was female.

As an adult, I discovered my lack of math skills was not due to some innate difficulty in understanding it, but rather due to the cookie-cutter methods used in the sixties to teach it. I had trouble because I learn in a different way then how they were teaching it.
Because of this I watch my own children’s schooling closely. I wanted to make sure my daughter didn’t run into the same thing. Happily, not only did attitudes regarding women doing math change, but educators realized different kids learned in different ways.

It is still disappointing that I am only just now learning these amazing women existed. The important part is we are now learning about them. And yes, it’s about time!

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