It seems like every time we turn around, there's another poll showing how poorly adults in America and around the world score on simple math and science tests. While it's true that not everybody enjoys those subjects, some people take an odd amount of delight in not being very good at them, proudly proclaiming it when the subject comes up.
Whether those comments are a coping mechanism to hide embarrassment at subpar STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) skills or if it is genuine pride, it needs to stop. Not only is it extremely unbecoming, but can have widespread implications.
Here are four reasons to stop saying you're bad at math and science:
1. Your attitude toward math and science will affect your kids far more than genetics.
There are genetic components to intelligence, but the ability to learn math and science at the level most people need doesn't fall under that category. "I don't have the math gene" and similar statements are total cop-outs.
Yes, talent (or lack thereof) in science and math can seem consistent in families, but that doesn't necessarily make it genetic. Instead, it boils down to the attitude of the parent and the home environment they've created.
People who are passionate about math and science typically have children who excel in those areas too, but they are also more likely to have created a home environment where they were exposed to those concepts routinely and encouraged their children more in those areas than parents who didn't enjoy those subjects.
Any parent knows that kids can be pretty darn perceptive. Because of this, adults should try and refrain from saying that they always hated math in school or that science was never their subject. All this does is scare them into thinking that these classes were so hard, their parents were still traumatized by it all those years later.
2. Everyone can improve their math skills.
One study examined the power of positive thinking on success in math. One group of students believed that talent in math was unchangeable, while another group learned that they could improve their understanding through hard work and practice.
There are genetic components to intelligence, but the ability to learn math and science at the level most people need doesn't fall under that category.
The group that believed math talent couldn't be changed performed consistently with their baseline tests: students who performed well continued to do well while students who got an average score continued to do average. But the group that believed math talent could be improved through hard work showed exactly that: over the span of two years, these students gradually improved their scores.
Of course, it's important to manage expectations too. Not everyone can practice their way to becoming an elite mathematicians, but it is possible to master algebra and understand scientific nomenclature by putting in the effort.
3. It's not something that goes away after school.
The purpose of taking science and math classes shouldn't be to just pass a test at the end of the year. Science and math are everywhere, and having a good understanding of how they work makes it easier to deal with the world around us.
Scientific knowledge is important for everyday things like understanding the difference between GMO and organic foods, the benefits of vaccines, why homeopathy is nonsense snake oil, and the nature of research and development. Math is important to learning how to properly manage your money, taking into account interest rates and time.
Almost every job requires the use of math or science in one way or another, and some of the fastest growing career fields, like computer network technicians, healthcare workers, and financial analysts will need a strong background in STEM.
Most importantly, training in math and science help shape a critical mind, capable of advanced problem solving.
4. No matter what anyone says, ignorance is not bliss.
Ignorance isn't bliss. In fact, it can be incredibly dangerous.
There's no shame in not knowing something, as long as there is a willingness to learn. But we do need to stop those who are unwilling to learn and will use their ignorance to compromise the well-being of others. We need to stop electing them, stop sharing their nonsense, and stop giving them a platform.
We now have countless politicians who are making policies about science, health, and the environment even though they don't have any training in the area. They aren't even listening to those who do. We cannot properly address the challenges of climate change when so many politicians still doubt it exists, despite the overwhelming amount of scientific evidence that shows it does.
We need to reward and revere those who have dedicated themselves to knowledge, because there are big problems that exist in this world, and those are the people who are going to be able to solve them.
To make the point known in big way, perhaps we can also take up John Waters on his incredible advice: "We need to make books cool again. If you go home with somebody and they don't have books, don't fuck them."
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