The New York Times today has an article entitled “Math Skills Suffer in U.S., Study Finds“, based on a study to be published in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society. The study found that mathematically gifted children in the U.S. were not represented as often in mathematics competitions, camps, and similar activities as in other countries, especially when restricting attention to female, native-born, or non-Asian children. Mathematically talented girls, in particular, appear to be discouraged by social and other pressures from pursuing careers in mathematics. These results are unfortunately somewhat unsurprising, but the extent to which they are present as documented in the study is rather stark. The New York Times article also interviewed several mathematically high-achieving young women (e.g. Olympiad medalists) in the U.S., who described some of these pressures in more personal terms.

It seems to me that there are some parallels between the U.S. experience and that in Australia nowadays; see for instance the remarks in the New York Times article on how sports achievement among youth is given far higher visibility than science or mathematical achievement.

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joanna, on 10 October, 2008 at 10:17 pm said:It would be interesting to see what the Australian female IMO representatives think about all this, and to what extent they agree with the opinions expressed in the article.

I was going to say I was never discouraged from studying mathematics, but I’m no longer in mathematics, after doing an undergraduate maths degree…

metroplexmathcircle, on 12 October, 2008 at 1:48 pm said:The good news is that some of us are fighting this sad state of affairs. In America it is encouraging to see Math Circles springing up around the country and gaining in popularity (http://www.mathcircles.org). In Dallas, we are especially fortunate that Dr. Titu Andreescu, one of the study’s authors has founded the Metroplex Math Circle (http://www.metroplexmathcircle.org) which has attracted and encouraged many young men and women.

Jonathan Crabtree, on 15 October, 2008 at 6:00 pm said:As someone who failed math and have no formal math ematics training I have great empathy for children who are forced to repeat their times tables for several years when they should be engaged in whole brain imagination based learning.

I’m an insurance saleman and never advanced past basic arithmetic really.

So to help children get number confident I’ve created a number system where all that’s required is a knowledge of addition, subtration and up to your 5 times 5 tables to perform any arithmetic.

While I don’t really belong on a ‘serious’ mathematics blog such as yours Terence, I hope that one day hundreds of millions of children will have years cut off their maths education – like you – yet without having to be a prodigy!

Best wishes,

Jonathan Crabtree

http://australiannumerals.org/