You Are NOT Bad at Math

What's the secret to being good at math? If you think it's all about being blessed with good math genes, think again. Read on to find out what being good at math is really all about.

Jason Marshall, PhD
6-minute read
Episode #173

Have you ever heard yourself, your kids, or anybody else utter the words: "I'm bad at math" or "I'm just not a math person?"

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Of course you have. In fact, I'd guess that all of us have. And that's because this type of thinking has—very, very unfortunately—become the standard way of thinking about math.

I recently came across an article published in The Atlantic called The Myth of "I'm Bad at Math," and if you're a parent, an educator, or a student you should definitely read this article. What does it have to say about negative attitudes about math? And how can it help you tap your inner mathematical being? Those are exactly the questions we'll be talking about today..

You Are NOT Bad at Math

Despite what you might believe, you were not born bad at math. At least that's the premise of a great article from The Atlantic called The Myth of "I'm Bad at Math," and it's a premise with which I completely agree. The article's authors, Professors Miles Kimball of the University of Michegan and Noah Smith of Stony Brooke University, write:

"I'm just not a math person. We hear it all the time. And we’ve had enough. Because we believe that the idea of 'math people' is the most self-destructive idea in America today. The truth is, you probably are a math person, and by thinking otherwise, you are possibly hamstringing your own career. Worse, you may be helping to perpetuate a pernicious myth that is harming underprivileged children—the myth of inborn genetic math ability."

Although I'm not sure if this belief is the "most self-destructive idea in America today," I do agree that it's really, really bad. The authors go on to write:

"Is math ability genetic? Sure, to some degree...[but] for high-school math, inborn talent is much less important than hard work, preparation, and self-confidence."

I know this sounds a little mushy-gushy, but it really is true. If you want to know why I can confidently say that, check out the article—it goes on to describe a bunch of research showing how people come to (falsely) believe that they are mathematically deficient, and how the even more detrimental belief that this perceived deficiency cannot be changed which occurs as a result ends up creating a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy.


About the Author

Jason Marshall, PhD

Jason Marshall is the author of The Math Dude's Quick and Dirty Guide to Algebra. He provides clear explanations of math terms and principles, and his simple tricks for solving basic algebra problems will have even the most math-phobic person looking forward to working out whatever math problem comes their way.