Overcoming Math Anxiety

Front Cover
W. W. Norton & Company, 1993 - Education - 260 pages
2 Reviews
"If you ever said 'I'm no good at numbers,' this book can change your life," said Gloria Steinem of the first edition of Overcoming Math Anxiety in 1978. And lives were changed. Sheila Tobias said it first: mathematics avoidance is not a failure of intellect, but a failure of nerve. To thousands who once thought they were too "dumb in math" to do anything about it, Tobias's political and psychological analysis brought hope. Her pioneering efforts to take the sting out of math made math anxiety a household word.
What makes Overcoming Math Anxiety different from books like Innumeracy or Math Made Easy is the author's role and purpose. Neither a mathematician nor a math teacher, Tobias positions herself on the side of her readers. She knows what they are thinking, because she thinks that way herself. "I was always trying to turn math expressions into words ..." she says. "The first time I saw negative numbers, I felt confused ..." While her analysis of the causes of their math anxiety (the moment when their third-grade teacher made them stay at the blackboard hunting vainly for their mistake) is an important focus, most of all Tobias wants her readers to face up to the cost of math avoidance in their lives. "Why is a smart girl like you counting on your fingers?" "If you could do math, what else could you do?"
The new edition retains the author's pungent analysis of what makes math "hard" for otherwise successful people and how women, more than men, become victims of a gendered view of math. The chapters on "Mathematics and Sex" and "Right- and Wrongheadedness" have been substantially updated to incorporate new research which demonstrates how little we really know about "sex differences" in brain organization and function. The hands-on experience in "Word-Problem Solving," "Everyday Math," and "Sunday Math" have been enlarged to include problems, puzzles, and strategies tried out in hundreds of math anxiety workshops Tobias and her colleagues have sponsored and observed in the past fifteen years. The programs described in detail in the last chapter are all new and include programs for women only, and those with substantial appeal for adults of both sexes returning to school for the training they need to get ahead.
What remains unchanged is the author's politics. Indeed, she sees "math anxiety" as a political issue. So long as people believe themselves to be disabled in mathematics and do not rise up and confront the social and pedagogical origins of their disabilities, they will be denied "math mental health." Tobias defines math mental health not as some bottom line of mathematical competence but as "the willingness to learn the math you need when you need it." From this perspective, in an ever more technical society, overcoming math anxiety can make the difference between high and low self-esteem, failure and success.

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I'm 28 years old and relearning math. I had googled the sentence 'I don't trust math' which found this book.
Reading a few pages, I was amazed at how well the book understood me. It dug to the core
of my math insecurity, beyond what I was initially aware of.
I didn't read the whole book but the parts that I read were amazing!

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User Review  - thesmellofbooks - LibraryThing

What a wonderful, loveable book! Read full review


Preface to the New Edition
Preface to the First Edition
The Primacy of Mathematics or If I
Mapping the Terrain
Perceptions and Reality
The Heart of the Matter
Everyday Math
What Is Calculus Anyway?
Overcoming Math Anxiety
Afterword by Sanford Segal

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Counting Girls Out
Valerie Walkerdine
No preview available - 2004
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About the author (1993)

Sheila Tobias teaches politics and women's studies at the University of Arizona.

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