Why do Americans continue to hit low in math?

Digging into why math is one of America's least favorite subjects.

There are a few people I envy in life: students graduating with no debt, and even worse, people who are great with mathematics. We've got to #MakeMathGreatAgain.

This has been an ongoing issue I can relate to, and based on a recent report, I am not alone. In fact, 50 percent of college students are with you. Only half of enrolled students leave their college algebra course with a passing grade on their first try.

There are two reasons why this may be the case. 

One, as Neil Degrasse Tyson suggests, the human mind perhaps is not meant to easily adapt to logic. Second, the investment in terms of time and support in this subject is lacking. 

I never understood why this particular subject is something many Americans are not enthusiastic about. We are lacking drastically in this subject when comparing our scores to Germany, Japan and Singapore, just to name a few. 

Seeing how much more successful other countries are compared to the U.S., it leads me to believe perhaps we are not investing in this important subject, or not as much as we should.

The only conclusion I can think of is that other countries simply view mathematics in a different way we do. 

In a research conducted by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the U.S. does not rank within the top 25 in the world when it comes down to this topic.

Abba Gumel, Ph.D, who teaches math here at ASU, thinks the dedication to learn about the subject of mathematics is necessary for economic and overall success in a country.

"Math is the language of the universe, and it’s what makes things happen," Gumel said. "You cannot have excellence in scientific industries without math, for the simple fact that all the major advances today in space and tech has this subject as the center core."

Gumel also mentioned that being in different countries, he has sensed the different perception people have of math in comparison to the U.S.

"In my time in Canada and Korea, I never sensed the negative vibe students had toward the subject of math," he said. "I did not get the impression that math was the hardest subject in those countries, but arriving here, the perception of math being the most challenging course is very noticeable."

I happen to be one of those students with a negative view of math. 

I was finally able to complete my only required math course on my second try. I even threw a mini party when I received my passing grade at the end of the semester, and I received a cake from my academic adviser with a frosting note on it which said "Congrats, no more math." 

I was happy to get rid of the subject, but at the I was same time upset that I, along with 50 percent of other college students, have a tendency to lack enthusiasm for math.

If this is the subject that is seen as the driving force of success in society, and also the main reason why we are making strides in technology, then this should be the subject that Americans should embrace.

If math is the root of economic and technological success, we ought to make sure the future generations see mathematics as the pathway to a successful society.

We have no problem leading the world in producing the most successful athletes and pop culture stars, but it's time we become the driving force of STEM on a global level.


Reach the reporter at gmijares@asu.edu or follow @chasingsources on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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