Subtracting Common Math Myths from the Social Equation

For some of us, math is scarier than a root canal — but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few math myths that are easy to overcome.

Like the poor, math myths will always be with us — in some cases because we don’t want to face the reality of what mathematics is, or what it takes to handle it. Some say that math is the foundation of the universe, and that may be true.

But for most of us it’s a tool — and like all tools, anyone can learn to use it at least in a basic way. So let’s set aside some of those myths about mathematics so we can get to work, shall we?

Myth 1: Boys are Just Plain Better at Math than Girls.

Well, this is a math myth that it’s easy to disprove. First of all, despite all the delightful physical differences, women and men are basically equal when it comes to math smarts.

We know this because there have been countless studies on the matter, and they’ve all come to the same conclusions. If there are fewer female than male mathematicians, it’s for the same reason there are fewer female judges, cops, or CEOs… social inertia. Given a few decades, the numbers should even out.

Myth 2: Math Ability is a Mostly Inherited Talent.

It’s hard to tell where this math myth comes from, but it does provide a handy excuse if you’re not willing to put in the effort to study math. Sure, for some people, math does come easy. But playing poker or weaving may come easy to you. That doesn’t mean you have to give up on math if you lack the talent for it.

All it takes to learn basic math is a willingness to work at it — and, of course, a little self confidence. A good teacher doesn’t hurt, but ultimately, if you’re willing to try and have the money to hire a tutor as necessary, you can get a decent grip on the subject.

Myth 3: Counting on Your Fingers is a Bad Thing.

Again, why? All it proves is that you understand basic arithmetic and that you’re adding things up instead of perusing a mental table of values or clicking keys on a calculator. And remember, some very accurate counting techniques, like chisembop, use fingers to great advantage. Obviously, this is a math myth.

Myth 4: If You’re Not Quick at Math, You’re No Good at It.

Who says? Some of us can happily arrive at the right answer most of the time, if given the time. Of course, most testing situations are set up in such a way that you don’t have that time — college board tests are a good example.

The truth is, unless you’re a savant (and those are vanishingly rare), most math problems you can solve easily are ones you’ve done before or have rote answers. A new problem might take a little time to set up and work through.

So don’t let these math myths get you down — not everyone’s a lightning calculator but most can work through and solve the problem with time and perseverance.