Is This Math Book Bad for Girls? August 18, 2012

Is This Math Book Bad for Girls?

Danica McKellar (who portrayed Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years) has written her fourth book aiming to make math more accessible for young women. That’s made her both a bestselling author… and one of the more controversial figures in the math education world, given the Cosmo-like feel to her books.

Her latest one is called Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape:

This follows her previous books Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail, Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who’s Boss, and Hot X: Algebra Exposed!.

Which leads to the obvious question (which McKellar has been asked 3298423942 times over the past few years): Are these books helpful or harmful?

McKellar justifies the decision by saying she’s just trying to reach the girls where they’re already at. And if the current crop of books about math aren’t working for that demographic, why not try something else?

It’s easy to dismiss the books for just reinforcing existing stereotypes… but considering how so many other approaches haven’t worked, I’m less concerned about the sexism angle than I am about the math angle (no pun intended). If they get young women excited about algebra and geometry, then more power to them. Based on the sales and reviews, the books are clearly working.

Personally, I prefer Vi Hart to McKellar when it comes to making math accessible to younger people, but if anyone disagrees, does it really matter?

When I met Jennifer Ouellette, who wrote the very-non-Cosmo-like book The Calculus Diaries, I asked her what she thought of McKellar’s books. To my surprise, she really liked them, too:

I love [Danica McKellar’s] books. I know she’s been critiqued for “pinkifying” math, and I get that, but I think that there are girls who are pink. I have a niece who’s pink. I also have a niece who’s goth. So I think Danica is targeting an audience, a demographic, of girls who like those things. They’re girly girls. And she can speak to them and make math relevant to them in a way that most of us cannot.

I can make it relevant to Buffy fans and to people who dig zombies. So the goth group is my group… I think [Danica’s] doing something very, very important. I think you need to look at who the target audiences are for [my own] book because no one book is going to serve every need.

No doubt some of you are going to criticize McKellar’s books in the comments section. If you do, though, I’d love to hear your alternative suggestions for how to get young women (or anyone, really) interested in the subject.

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  • Great idea, and with the picture on the cover might even encourage boys also 🙂

  • Still reeks of sexist stereotyping to me. Why can’t girls like math for…math? Seriously. If you want to make it more interesting, mix in something that appeals to the target generation instead.

  • Raavynn

    I think society needs to stop telling girls that they can’t be good at math.

  • People need to think beyond the self. I was a huge math geek as a kid, even skipped a grade for it, went to math enrichment camps during the summer, etc. Her approach would’ve annoyed the piss out of a non-frilly girl like me, but I was already sold on math and therefore not her audience. McKellar is not targeting girls. She’s targeting girls who bought into the gender binary and its implied opposing interests and behaviors between the sexes. But maybe her approach is too reductive for its own good – for the late elementary/middle school audience, who really cares about curves or breaking a nail? Does well-intentioned counterbalancing inadvertently put these ideas in their heads?

  • Michael

    Because math is dull?

    I love building complex algorithms that make stuff work, from face recognition and gesture controlled systems to automatic quality control. Math itself can go to Milton Keynes unless it’s working for *me*.

  • Rodney

    Going along with the premise here, why are girls less interested in math than boys?

  • Simply: girls lose interest during the onset of puberty, with social cues a major factor since aptitude and ability scores equal that of boys until then.

  • jdm8

    As silly as it looks, it might really be a help for some girls. I hope they tested it with enough girls that target age though, I can see it possibly having blowback too. If anyone can get it right, I think Danica has a much better shot than most, but i think testing is still important.

  • Here we go with people shaming girls who do like pink, dolls, makeup etc.  That is FINE if that is what they so choose to do with their interests.   Why not reach out to this demographic?  Back in my day *waves cane* there when I was failing math, there wasn’t just one “type” of person failing.   So if you can nip the disinterest in the subject in the bud by reaching out… do it.  

    Of course, you would have only gotten me with a math book if you could somehow relate it to punk music.

    Now Hemant is cringing at my math hate.  I was in accelerated math until the 9th grade. I hit Geometry (and puberty) and did a nose dive.  I still have not figured out if it was because of the fact that I’m honestly not very good at certain aspects (could barely hold on in college algebra/pre-calculus but got an A+ in statistics) or if it was because I was nurtured to think I was only good at writing and being creative.

  • I’m a 34 year old mechanic thats going back to college again. My algebra teacher really failed to communicate anything to me (and several others) so I’ve been looking at the local library to find books to help me out. After checking out her Hot X book and getting as far as I could before floundering, I went to the local book store and bought all three. These books are excellent for teaching math to kids, and adults too. Methodology is very well explained. My only gripe with the series is the question/answer section. If you get something wrong, you don’t get to see where you went astray and at what step. 

    I’ll certainly be giving these to my daughter so she can have an advantage going into math. I wish these had been around in my high school years.

  • rich h

    As a physics teacher, I see a lot of poor math skills, and I need to find a way to help at least some people with their overall math progress. If nothing else, it will make the physics easier. 

    So I got a few copies of “Hot X Algebra” for my classroom library.

    Now just to figure out a way to work it into the class….

  • Jenny

    When I was thirteen I was one of ‘those’ girls. I hated math, loathed it, still do. If I’d had this I’d probably have had more interest in math. I bought the Cosmo girl magazines and Seventeen. I was the demographic.  Although a secret part of me was very geeky, I was also still very girly.

    Now I’m an adult and I’m into more complex geeky stuff like building an Enterprise model out of Lego and watching nature documentaries and tech podcasts. I’m…still a little girly I admit. I have a pink case for my PS Vita.

    I actually approve of books that target the demographic. I just didn’t have anything like that as a kid.

    And guys, its possibly to be a little TOO politically correct.

  • Guest

    I guess could a book go overboard and cause more harm than
    good? Sure. But I don’t think her particular approach has crossed that line,
    and if they are helping (heck, if they help boys), then that’s something. And I
    think we need to remember, it isn’t society telling girls they can’t be good at
    math. On the whole, it’s a left over stereotype with momentum, but one that
    still needs countered.

  • Bailey

    Research has shown again and again that “pinkifying” math like this actually drives girls away in the long run. Just like the European commission’s ridiculous science girls video, this kind of messaging about how we need to get girls interested in STEM (show them that boys will still look at them! They’ll still have worth in men’s eyes! Therefore it’s okay!) has multiple drawbacks. 

    This makes girls look like the only way they are able to get into math is if it’s dumbed down and made to look like Cosmo, to ensuring that girls remember that the only way they are “allowed” to like math is if it’s in the service of curves and getting male attention, to reinforcing stereotype threat and contributing to really narrow ideas of what it’s okay for girls to like. This looks just like those science kits for kids, where the ones targeted to boys do actual science, and the ones targeted to girls are for making bubble bath. It’s toxic messaging. Obviously young women need to be encouraged to get into STEM fields, but we can’t do that by upholding the same type of messaging that keeps them out of it in the first place. 

  • Guest

    It isn’t society telling girls they can’t be good at math? Then who is it?

  • Guest

    I don’t really see anyone shaming girls who like pink/dolls/makeup… The problem is that those things are the only things girls are told they’re permitted to enjoy. Reinforcing that message through books like this is only going to backfire. I’m all for femme femininity, but this book isn’t preaching that – it’s preaching weight loss and being attractive for male attention, with some math thrown in. That’s not really the same thing. 

  • Sorry, but this reeks of “girlifying” math.  If math had been presented to me in this way I would have walked away disgusted.  Not every girl likes to read idiot magazines like “Cosmo” and packaging math (or anything else) that way only serves to “dumb down” women.  

  • “And guys, its possibly to be a little TOO politically correct.”

    Probably not. This statement circles back to your opening confession and defensiveness that heaven forbid someone point out that not everyone who looks like you also acts like you.

  • A3Kr0n

     Danica McKellar is bad, oh so, so baaad! Bad girl!I have a “pink” niece (sort of), I think she will get Danica’s new book for Christmas.Vi Hart’s channel rocks, and I wanted to get back to it, but forgot the name. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Mommiest

    Maybe we should stop thinking in terms of girl-oriented learning vs. boy-oriented. It’s clear to me that different people have different learning styles, and when we identify those styles with a gender, we miss kids of the opposite sex with a similar style. 

    I don’t think the lesson here is that girls learn differently, since some of us do quite well in math classes without the pink approach; the lesson is that some kids needs need a different approach, including some of the boys.

  • Claire Fleisig

    Whatever works!!!!

  • This book is trying to be visually appealing and do the girl mag thing. Why not stick to being visually appealing? Here’s a web coding book that pulls this off beautifully:

    If a technical book looks nice and seeks to be gender inclusive, you’ll find plenty of fans across the sexes.

  • Rich Lane

    I’m thinking this isn’t something that should be used with ALL girls because more serious girls may be turned off by it. However, I think there may be a very specific subset of young girls who may find this approach much more more appealing than the traditional text.

    It’s not a one size fits all (like everything in education), but this may be a size that’s perfects for a select bunch.

  • vexorian

    If you do, though, I’d love to hear your alternative suggestions for how
    to get young women (or anyone, really) interested in the subject.

    Exactly, focus on the “or anyone, really” part. You are in a country in which it has become hard to justify to the media that teaching algebra is useful in life. I really doubt the problem is that girls themselves are disinterested in math, but that the whole society is.

  • bjsebeck

    Nobody has suggested that they /can’t/ like math for math or that they /need/ to have math presented in this way.  But, the reality of the situation is that there are many girls who will /only/ be interested in math if it’s presented this way.  It’s not sexist at all to say “There are some girls who will be uninterested in any other presentation and I’m going to reach out to them”.

  • bjsebeck

    Nobody’s suggesting that every girl does those things and nobody is suggesting that this is the primary way to teach math to girls.  All that this book is doing is reaching out to those girls who /do/ read those magazines.  If doing it gets them interested in math so that the primary texts are more effective, how is that at all a bad thing?

  • unclemike

    I actually teach algebra to the exact demographic McKellar’s targeting: middle school girls (well…and boys, too, but still).  Most of the girls who have read one (or more) of her books have liked them and found they really helped.  The books spoke to them. Some girls didn’t like them, and have found other things they can relate to that help them. I, personally, like her books.

    It seems some people are, literally, judging the book by the cover shown. I can assure you the insides are way more substantive, but are just written in simpler language using more relevant examples than usual textbooks.

  • Guest

    Nobody. Again, it’s momentum from previous generations.
    Today, there is tremendous efforts to portray girls as the smart, scientific,
    mathematic pros on par with boys. And that’s fine. In our schools, there are
    initiatives aimed exclusively at girls. Again, fine. It’s combating the left
    over stereotype. But it’s still worth considering.

  • Tainda

    Everyone is different.  These aren’t becoming textbooks, just a way to help girls who are girly.  I am definitely NOT a girly girl but I know many who are and would have liked this book.

    If this book were about how to be more feminine and look pretty for your man, then I would have a problem and that would be dumbing down.  This is about helping girls understand math.  I have no problem with that.

    Girly does not equal dumb.

  • You know, I love hearing the comments, back and forth, about this. Is this book bad for math? 
    A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA with a degree in Mathematics, Danica has been honored in Britain’s esteemed Journal of Physics and the New York Times for her work, most notably for her role as co-author of a groundbreaking mathematical physics theorem which bears her name, the Chayes-McKellar-Winn Theorem. 

    I’m thinking the lady is QUALIFIED. More importantly, she’s doing something that is sharing HER PASSION of mathematics with folks who may not have such a grasp on the subject as she does. That makes her QUANTIFIED.

    Before passing judgment, perhaps we should be asking ourselves: What have WE done to promote higher mathematics and other fields of science, and make them accessible to the masses? I’m proud to have someone like Danica around and getting the job done. Is it for everyone? Nope, but nothing ever is. Thanks, Danica.

  • There’s nothing wrong with liking a certain kind of magazine or liking the color pink.

    The “politically correct” complaint comes when people identify these things as “girly.” That’s why it’s so out of place to write STEM-promoting ads or books that try to break away from stereotypes…by reinforcing stereotypes.

  • Justin Miyundees

    I’ve taught high school math since 1993 and I now teach that algebra boils down to ONE RULE: whatever you do to one side of an equation, you do to the other.  

    That’s the golden rule of algebra and everything goes back to it.  After that I teach that it’s a game where you solve the mystery.  It’s a bag of tricks that you compile and it’s simply a challenge where being smart is a GOOD THING!  

    I was astonished when I first encountered the “I’m no good at math” label which is far more prevalent among girls.  I think it’s a hook upon which some youngsters, struggle to define their personalities, would hang their shingle – it gave them an easily recognizable and acceptable identifying trait at just the time in their lives when they are desperate to establish SOMETHING special about themselves.  I think this is why some turn to drugs – they can be “in” on something that allows them to stand apart yet still fit into a clique.  It’s a great shame that it’s accepted – quite nearly encouraged like the “dingy blonde”.  

    That’s one of the reasons I stress the ONE RULE notion.  No one can assert that’s too hard to wrap your head around.  From there, it’s hard to do anything wrong in algebra.  It’s true, of course, that obeying the rule will not necessarily take you closer to the answer – that does take some know how- but as long as you keep an equation balanced, you simply cannot make a “mistake”.  Now, there are very few people who will insist “I’m just too dumb to understand” that.

  • 3lemenope

    While I agree with the main thrust of your comment…

    Before passing judgment, perhaps we should be asking ourselves: What have WE done to promote higher mathematics and other fields of science, and make them accessible to the masses?

    …this sort of argument bothers me. I don’t think it is a necessary prerequisite to do something analogous to what someone else has done in order to be qualified to criticize them or their actions. You don’t have to have been a soldier to criticize war crimes. You don’t have to have been a legislator to call out a congressperson as corrupt or useless. I really don’t think it’s appropriate to limit those who can ask the question ‘is this book good for math education?’ to those who have designed groundbreaking algorithms and analytical methods, or even to those who have found a novel way to popularize them. The field of legitimate criticism is necessarily wider than the field of those who would be criticized.

  • monyNH

    The books don’t just “look nice” (that would be superficial indeed!). They explain math concepts using language closer to how tweens and teens actually talk, using more compelling scenarios (none of that “if a train left El Paso at 3:00” crap) and LOTS of graphics. There are also inspirational quotes scattered throughout from other teenage girls–which, believe it or not, many young girls actually pay attention to–about how math is cool, and how hard work and confidence can improve one’s math skills.

    I loved algebra in school, but struggled with geometry–I think this book would’ve really helped geometry make sense to me in a way that Mrs. Budd just could not.

  • jose

    We should have books trying to attract black boys to math by connecting it to kentucky fried chicken and mugging white people at night.

  • monyNH

     “Girly does not equal dumb.”

    THANK YOU! At what point was it decided that there is only one acceptable way to be a woman–or girl? I reject the term “girly girl” as much I reject “tomboy”–my daughters will not be put in a box.

  • jose

     Oh no! I just realized my comment shames people who likes chicken!


  • vexorian

     algorithms = math.

  • Centrally Located Independent

    are the books worth buying and having in your room?

  • I’d like to take Justin Miyundees’ ONE RULE from a previous comment and apply it to this question.  If McKellar’s book is bad for girls, then certain commercials are bad for boys.  Like those shampoo / bodywash commercials that have to “man-ify” the product to get men interested and unashamed to use them, as if men would only be interested in hygiene to attract girls.I tend to agree with what others have posted that it’s just an unfortunate reality of social stereotypes.  I don’t think the book is bad for girls – there are so many different types of girls with varying interests.  However it reinforces this stereotype that girly girls can’t like math.By the way, Hemant, I suspect that “math angle” pun actually was intended. xD

  • Centrally Located Independent

    you’re appealing to a perfect world concept. It’s not. I was appalled as my outdoorsy, dinosaur-loving daughter turned into one of those “girly” girls whose main focus was makeup, boys, clothes, hair, etc. I don’t know that I would have been able to even get her to read McKellar’s books… but the fact is girls like my daughter exist and if it takes this kind of book to get their attention and move them in a different direction, then I think it’s pretty snobby to diss the concept.

  • Centrally Located Independent

    love this. There is a quote from a mathematician that goes something like “the essence of math is not to make simple things complex, but to make complex things simple.” That’s how I start my math classes each year.

  • Michael

    Which is irrelevant to my point.

    Liking math for math is like enjoying cooking for the art instead of for the yummies. Sure, there are people who do, but there are lots more reasons to enjoy cooking than the act of cooking, for instance yummies, and lots more reasons to enjoy math than math itself, for instance changing the world.

  • References? Because as a science educator, I read a lot of research on the subject, and on the whole it is not of very good quality, and conclusions are all over the board. But one thing that tends to be common in many studies is that education succeeds if you can make it relevant to the demographic under study.

  • unclemike

     I think so. I’m lucky, in that we have a silent reading period every day, so my students have time to look over and explore my class library.

  • Centrally Located Independent

    people like you irritate me, really. Because “you” think it’s superficial, it’s bad? Who cares how you would feel if it was presented to you this way? In that case it’s obviously not targeted to you. And just because a woman like makeup and hair and clothes and men doesn’t mean that they are “dumb.”

  • monyNH

     I’m inclined to believe that those who hold this monolithic concept of what a girl OUGHT to be have never had a daughter–they do have the most amazing propensity to surprise us by being exactly who THEY want to be. 

    My older daughter is a tech geek who hates dresses, couldn’t care less about boys, and has a poster of Einstein on her wall–but who also loves Project Runway, My Little Pony and I think would dig these books.  🙂

  • Centrally Located Independent

    my daughter had the third highest score in math in her district in 7th grade. 9th grade she was checking out and getting Ds in math. 

  • There’s nothing implicitly wrong with “reinforcing stereotypes”. Stereotypes are not negative things when they are accurate, and McKellar has nailed a very common personality pattern found among middle school girls. Recognizing and addressing it is wise (just as the European commercial did- a good thing IMO). I teach science to middle schoolers, and failing to recognize that many girls are attracted to just this sort of thing is to fail them. A lot of girls this age are interested in fashion, style, and idols. In the classroom, I try to use that- for instance, while some are trying to make the strongest bridge out of popsicle  sticks, one group of girls might be trying to make a duct tape purse that can hold the most weight. It’s the same science, but in a relevant language… one that keeps them engaged.

    This is a book, not a curriculum. It serves a specific demographic- a large one- without impacting those in different demographics at all. If I had a student of the sort this book targets, who was having trouble with math, I’d give her this book in an instant- just as I’d give a different type of book to a girl with a different outlook on life.

  • advancedatheist

    I just find it unfortunate that someone with Danica’s math abilities can make more money as an actress than through the application of her intelligence, for example, by doing voice work for cartoon characters and acting in crap like Inspector Mom and in BAD movies for the SyFy Channel.

  • advancedatheist

    The effort to interest more girls in math against their natural inclinations shows bad economics and a faulty understanding of human nature. We tend to get more efficient social outcomes by letting people sort these things out on their own, instead of trying to nudge and trick and scold them into doing things according to what central planners want. 

    Let’s look at this from the perspective of another value system: Suppose authority figures lament the fact that not enough women want to study for the ministry, and that we need special programs to keep girls from falling through the cracks and giving up on learning theology. Would you consider this a problem urgently in need of solutions?

  • Justin Miyundees

    I like that.  I also use the old adage that “there have been first rate mathematicians who could not count”.  

    I had a professor tell a story about one renown mathematician – I think it was Niels Abel.  The story goes that his wife assigned him a task of counting crates that were being packed to be delivered to her in their new home.  He relayed ahead that she should expect 16 crates so she was surprised when 17 delivered.  She double checked and again counted 17.  When Niels showed up he couldn’t believe he’d made the mistake so he went himself to confirm the count…. “So, let’s get this right now…. zero, one, two….”  It’s a cute story and get the idea across that great minds don’t all work the same so don’t tell me you’re “no good at math” – you may be a genius!

  • TheAmazingAgnostic

    Although I recognize that these books have faults, some of the people in the comments section are simply bashing them for being “sexist” and “stereotypical” without providing any suggestions for getting girls interested in STEM.

    We can all agree that these aren’t “great” books, but there has to be a balance of criticism and solutions. Notice that I said “balance;” I did not say that it is wrong to criticize the books unless you read journals and studies about the problems that girls face in the educational system (that would be Courtier’s Reply). I also did not deny that the Cosmo-esque look and writing style of the books is probably not suitable for the classroom.

    All I am saying is that we gain nothing from both of the following:

    1. Bad books

    2. No ideas for replacements

  • Seriously. If you want to make it more interesting, mix in something that appeals to the target generation instead.

    But… that is exactly what is being done here! She is taking something that appeals to a healthy percentage of the target generation and using it to teach math. That is what a good educator does.

  • Justin Miyundees

    We are confused – we believe the laws of the universe can be momentarily suspended if we only clap loud enough for Tinkerbell.  Curiouser and curiouser.

  • Nina

    As a 30 year old Mom who is returning to school, I have found her books to be very helpful! I am not a “pink girly girl,” but I have found value in her books and honestly never even considered that they could be “dangerous.” 

  • Mdwelch27

    Maybe once we get them hooked on math & the fact that their brains are important, then we will find them less receptive to the pink stereotypes that society is trying to foist upon them.   Plis, regardless on their image-consciousness, they will be more able to contribute other things of worth to our society.

  • Kas Roth

    THIS. The reason I was turned off from math for years in primary school (and I’m an engineer now) was I was always told I didn’t get it, or it was hard, or that it wouldn’t interest me. It’s utterly amazing how much pressure from teachers can turn a student’s interests, even if they didn’t realize they are doing it. 

    Get teachers to stop assuming girls and boys can’t like or do well in the same things and treat each student on their merits and we’ll have something. Many people are not visual learners, instead of “remedial” or “advanced” thinking maybe we should have classes that cater to learning style. Of course, the funding for that probably doesn’t exist in the States 

  • Sonorus2012

    Here’s what I learned as a teacher.  Different people have different learning styles.  One-size-fits-all does NOT work.  And it never did.  To simply tell students that they are bad at math or any other subject is an admission of incompetence.  No, not everyone is going to be able to excel at high level math, but the math taught through middle school and even high school should be accessible to anyone without a serious learning disability.  If making it more girly for the students to whom that approach has some appeal works, then where’s the harm?

  • MG

    Assuming all girls are the same is about as sexist as it gets. I like that Ouellette gets that. And as a feminist and techie and Buffy fan who also likes a lot of “girly” stuff, like purses and nail-polish and tidy eyebrows, and whose best color happens to BE pink–females come in combinations far more complex than just “pink” and “goth”.

  • As  a parent who raised a girl who’s in STEM classes, I don;t like the vampy pose on the cover.  She could keep “curves” in the title and show a girl (in pink, if need be) leaving curved tracks on a ski slope, etc.

  •  To use the pink metaphor, it is okay for girls to like pink, and for books to target girls that like pink.  It is not okay to make pink into a sort of requirement for femininity.

    So yeah, I don’t see any problems with the book–yet.

  • onamission5

    I am ambivalent. On the one hand, my own daughter, who got one of the top scores in the state on the math portion of the EOG tests last year, would be totally turned off by the presentation of her beloved subject in this manner. On the other hand, I could see some of her girl friends, who have already at 11 years old internalized the social message that girls are bad at all things STEM, being reached though use of this material. Knee-jerk: It does not appeal to me, and the COSMO-esque cover I actually find repulsive, and would have felt like my intelligence was being insulted if I’d been given it as a pre-teen. It would not appeal to my dd, probably for the same reasons. Non-knee-jerk: I hesitate to say it shouldn’t be used, though. A more thorough examination of the material is needed for me to form an opinion on that matter. As much as I thoroughly hate appeals to stereotypes (yes, for boys and girls, both) I am not ready to out-of-hand dismiss the usefulness of the books on presentation alone.

  • Mrs Schaarschmidt

     It doensn’t “ensure that girls remember that the only way they are “allowed” to like math is if it’s in the service of curves and getting male attention”. It’s not like anyone is saying that THIS is the only math reference that girls are allowed to use.

    What it IS doing is saying to girls who enjoy this type of magazine – hey! This is like that magazine that you like – and it’s about Math.  Hope you enjoy!

    Why is it okay to niche market every single product in the world, until we’re talking about girls. At which point we’re doing something evil. There are girls who like “girly stuff”. So she marketed math to these girls. No-one is saying that the classroom should be pinkified. She just offered an appealing book to girls in this niche.

  • Maybe we should stop thinking in terms of girl-oriented learning vs. boy-oriented.

    Or maybe, we should be emphasizing it more.

    The fact is, men and women have structurally different brains. There is strong, although far from conclusive evidence that boys and girls do learn differently. Anecdotally, that is my impression from over 10 years teaching science to middle schoolers.

    What we should be doing is not arbitrarily creating teaching styles. These are questions that can and should be answered scientifically, by looking at evidence and testing real theories. Regrettably, educational “science” is years behind most other social sciences. It is only in the last ten years or so that I’ve started seeing proper, well designed research about how we learn. But there is a very strong conservative streak running through practical education (at the level of schools and teachers), and trying to actually implement ideas that appear accurate but stand against tradition can be very difficult.

  • Michael

    You might appreciate beauty queen Corporal Katrina Hodge, who has spoken out on the need for more girly soldiers to combat the stereotype that you are either girly or tough and never both. Did I mention she was promoted after punching a gunman to the floor?

  • It’s not just “society” as an external force; it’s the internal peer pressure that drives knowledge-phobia. We have to change the way youths themselves view education.

  • Incidentally, has anyone read the “Math Girls” series of novels? They’re apparently wildly popular in Japan.

  • jjramsey


    “So, let’s get this right now…. zero, one, two….”

    So he was a C programmer? 🙂

  • ruth

    This isn’t so clear.  It is very hard to separate how we are socialized from the time we are babies from any brain differences simply due to a male/female genetic difference.

  • I agree. It isn’t clear at all, which is why I’m a strong advocate of proper, science-based studies of educational methodology, and of applying our developing knowledge base regarding the biology and psychology of the learning process to those educational studies.

    I’m not a fan of the current theory du jour approach to education, where methods come and methods go, and nobody actually takes any lessons from the results.

  • ruth

    Natural inclinations?  How in the world do you even know what that is?  We are all socialized from the time we are born and no one really sorts anything out on their own.

  • Greisha

     You think you are funny?  Think again.

  • Stuueuu

    But do 10-14 year old girls read the magazine that keeps getting mentioned, Cosmo? Was it necessary to add subheadlines on nails and boys to get her point across? No. The covers appeal to the parents, the buyers, not the reluctant audience.

  • Hooray Danica! Hooray Hemant!

  • Hooray Danica! Hooray Hemant!

  • Anything that makes math easier to understand is a good thing. It seems to be working, so good for Danica. I hope she keeps writing them. Although I’m definitely in the Buffy/zombies camp.

  • I have mixed feelings about the book. I think marketing it towards girls specifically is promoting gender stereotypes. There are a lot of girls who would be totally turned off by the book (I would have been), and there are also boys who would be attracted to it. Instead of saying that the book is for girls, couldn’t the book address fashion, style, and similar topics in a way that doesn’t scream “girls only” to its audience?

  • Noelle

    When I was at the age this is targeted for, I was already good at math. It was boys I didn’t get. I probably would’ve skipped right passed the math articles to read the one on getting boys to like me. And I still would’ve aced my trig test.

    When I was a teen visiting family on weekends and was spotted keeping up on my math and physics homework, my aunts and uncles would ask if I could rub off some of that scholarly work ethic on my same-age male cousins. Those boys had no interest in math, science, or anything that wasn’t sports, girls, or music. Maybe someone needs a math magazine with guitars.

  • It’s also interesting to me that the book seems to assume that all young women who like “girly” things are heterosexual! There are lots of girls who enjoy fashion and make-up, but who want to date other girls, not boys.

  • bjsebeck

    Do you have any data to back up that claim?  I’ve watched teenage girls pick up Danica’s books with exactly the response that she states she’s going for.  It’s an effective marketing tool and makes the material accessible for people that nobody is currently marketing the material towards.  How is this at all bad?

  • ImRike

     I don’t believe the books assume anything like that. They are math books aimed at a specific group of girls. Maybe somebody else will turn out a series for lesbian girls. Then the questions will be “Why does the author think every girl is a lesbian?” or “Why does the author think lesbian girls have a harder time with math?”
    Nobody is being forced to buy these books. It’s like asking “Why did Hemant write ‘I sold my soul on ebay’? Does he think everybody wants to read about exactly those churches he is dealing with?”

  • I think we should both be combating the social pressures that say “pink” is the only way to be female, and that pursuits like math and STEM careers are not for girls at the same time.

    While I don’t feel like that books like these are working to deconstruct the oppositional gender binary, and I won’t laud them for that, I feel like we also can’t discount targeting a pink demographic. It’s also a valid way to be a girl/woman and as long as society is screaming at girls from their moment they’re born that this is the only acceptable way to be, books that target girls where we’ve put them will have some value.

    Getting more girls and women into STEM fields is an acute problem born out of larger social pressures. If we don’t find a way to target teen girls with math skills now, that is another generation of girls told that they can’t. If we get them to believe that they can, then we have a generation of girls considering STEM careers and helping break down the boundaries of the larger problem of sexism.

  • I don’t know about every book she’s written, but Girls Get Curves has “How do you attract guys?” splashed right across the cover. It’s not even on one of the interior pages. To me, that sends a message that the book in question is aimed solely at girls who want to date boys. It’s an assumption that every girl interested in this book is heterosexual.

  • john

    I recommended “Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine and “Pink Brain, Blue Brain” by Lose Meitner for an overview of the actual neuroscience of gender difference. Essentially, at the moment there is no conclusive evidence of intrinsic differences in brain structure between females and males at birth; the differences which are observed later are due to socialisation.

  • guest

     “it’s preaching weight loss and being attractive for male attention, with some math thrown in. That’s not really the same thing. ”

    Is it? Have you read it then? Or are you just looking at the cover image? I don’t associate curves with weight loss.

  • That is also inconclusive.

  • Sindigo

    As long as they’re not using it in Art class. That is hideous.

  • Gringa

     I would agree that girls and boys do not learn in a certain way because of their gender alone, but also see it as an argument to present different learning styles. Not everyone is socialized the same or has the same life experiences.  I wouldn’t make a blanket statement that all girls learn one way while all boys learn another, but rather that all kids learn in ways that range from a-z.  It would be difficult to create as many classes as their are learning styles, but maybe researchers can figure out how to include the elements of the various styles into classroom exercises.  Along that note, I wonder how kids who go from montessori schools (where they learn through exploration) to regular schools adjust to the different teaching platform.

  • Wren Combs

    Thank you.  I had a real weird experience as a girl.  I WANTED to be a girly girl but in my family that would be accepting yourself as less than boys and not very smart.  So, I didn’t wear makeup or jewelry or dresses when I really freaking wanted to.  I would have loved these books, even if I had to read them alone in my bedroom!

  • My opinion is that we need to spend more time meeting students on their turf.  I admit to going a mile wide in terms of engagement because I want as many people invested as possible…if subtly nudging a book like this towards someone to help them become more invested in math, the ends justify the means.

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