Why Americans Lag behind other Countries in Math Proficiency

Many would agree that Mathematics is one of the most important subjects to master. Its applications are widespread and it is one of the fundamental subjects taught to all school children. However, Americans have been trying to keep up with other countries in this area for some time now. In fact in one study (PISA) America ranked 24 out of 29 industrialized nations. Why is this so?
One of the problems is an almost social stigma attached to proficiency in Maths. This is even worse if you profess to like Maths. Just consider the difference in your reaction between someone who tells you that they cannot read well, compared to someone who says they are not good at Maths. You will very likely look down on the former while empathizing with the latter. After all, only nerds and weirdoes excel at Maths. As a result, mathematics is already fighting an uphill battle.
This however is not the case in other countries like those in Eastern Europe. Many of these countries have a high regard for this subject and consider it similar to the need to master reading and writing. As a result they have placed Maths as a priority among subjects.
In addition, there is an underlying sexism with respect to maths. Many young girls are actually discouraged from pursuing this area with any seriousness. It is seen as a male subject. Consider that if a young lady wanted to seriously pursue a career in this field, she would have to start at an age when she would be most vulnerable to the social sanctions that can be so damning in our society.
Mathematics is also a very different subject than say law. In the latter there is a large volume of facts that must be learnt. The model of education is America is probably best suited for subjects like Law. That is to say we emphasize memorization of information and repetition of tasks. However, for mathematics, probably what is more ideal is to allow concepts to be first thoroughly understood and then applied to real life situations.
This is made worse by a general lack of mathematics teachers and some would argue a lack of good maths teachers. Perhaps some of the issues are how maths is taught and the general lack of creativity involved in these classes. These will naturally turn a lot of students off the subject.
There are also several myths surrounding maths that aids in the general apprehension that many bring to its study. People assume that maths skills are some how genetic, and you either have a knack for it or not. They also assume that maths is all about calculations, which many persons are actually bad at. Maths in fact has much more to do with applying principles to a problem so as to solve it.
In conclusion, I would suggest that these are some of the deep-rooted issues that hamper our children in the area of mathematics. It is only when these are addressed, that we are likely to see significant improvements.

References
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A41278-2004Dec6.html
http://www.mathacademy.com/pr/minitext/anxiety/

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