Fairly silly

Maths textbooks should be banned because they intimidate pupils, a leading girls’ school headmistress has said.

Jane Prescott, head of Portsmouth High School said that students risk becoming anxious if they can see that their classmates are “galloping ahead” of them.

The move has been a “confidence booster” for girls, and allows them to “feel encouraged, and feel they are good at Maths”, Ms Prescott said.

That’s rather the comprehensive ideal run riot isn’t it?

Mustn’t let those who grasp the subject run ahead now, must we?

57 thoughts on “Fairly silly”

  1. “It is the latest school to have taken steps to ensure that pupils’ self-esteem is not dented by the classroom environment.”

    And thus will turn out reams of delicate little snowflakes who meet the hard brick wall of real life at 100mph when – if! – they start work in an office….

  2. If they feel they are good at maths does that mean they are? Which is the more important thing when it comes to exams to demonstrate competence, or for actually real usage?

  3. Bloke in Tejas in Normandy

    It’s before coffee, so I may be being especially dense; but what possible effect can the presence or absence of text books have on the little dears tender snowflake hearts?

    The fact that some are as skilled as constipated dachshunds at maths, and others can do all needed in a jiffy without breaking a sweat must be obvious enough…

  4. Portsmouth High School for snowflakes helpfully categorises itself in the local community. So much easier for parents than having to wade through and interpret reams of dubious performance statistics..

  5. As JM says, this produces people with absolute confidence in their own ability, but without any actual ability.
    People who think they know better than anyone else but who actually know nothing.
    People who stick unquestioningly to whatever they were taught because they were rewarded for doing so.
    In short people with ideas they cannot defend who hence resort to abuse when challenged, yet remain convinced that they are better than anyone else.

  6. Dunno. My question would be: Does it work?

    I’m a bit unclear on what the policy actually is. I got the impression from the article that it wasn’t about not letting students “gallop ahead”, it was about not letting them *know* whether they were or were not galloping ahead, so they could concentrate on simply doing maths. The idea seemed to be to be able to sneak in material from next year’s curriculum without students being put off by knowing that they were designed for older students. They’re given all the same problems out of the same maths textbooks, but presented anonymously, without being labelled with an implied ability level.

    One of the paradoxes of STEM is that up to a certain age it’s apparent from the results that the girls *can* do maths, but they drop out anyway because they themselves think girls can’t/don’t. It’s a culture/perception problem. If all it does is mute this perception without making the lessons any easier, and that stops students being held back by extraneous psychological factors, it could actually *improve* their real attainment. The school’s exam results seem to suggest it doesn’t do a huge amount of harm, anyway.

    If you take away their speedometer, then when they hit the office they discover they were doing 100 mph rather than the 70 mph they thought they were.

  7. “Maths textbooks should be banned…”
    So are they going to derive mathematics from basic axioms? In the classroom?
    Can I come and watch?

  8. The irony is that without a written text it is precisely the gifted ones who have the advantage, as they understand and remember without the need to refer to the text. The less gifted ones could read the text and explanation many times until they understand it (or begin to).

    Then again, anyone stupid enough to get rid of textbooks to ‘even the playing field’ will be too stupid to grasp this point.

    Anyway, aren’t we being exclusionist here? If people can get good marks in Maths even when they are crap at it, why are we excluding people who aren’t even doing Maths from getting good marks too? Why am I not awarded an A* A-level in Maths from this school? Just because I’m not female and I never attended it? What fucking reason is that?

  9. The Meissen Bison

    Where’s the problem?

    If one can become an economics professor of practice without ever having studied economics, why should these girls have to learn about horrid sums from a book?

  10. This is the complete opposite of the comprehensive ideal. My grandfather – who was a founding head teacher of a comp – would be spinning in his grave.

  11. “This is the complete opposite of the comprehensive ideal.”

    How do you know? Does anyone here even understand what this proposed policy actually entails? Because the article doesn’t specify.

    “My grandfather – who was a founding head teacher of a comp – would be spinning in his grave.”

    Probably. At the standard of English comprehension, and the jumping to conclusions.

  12. NiV

    Thanks for that. If one reads the article, it’s certainly not as one sided as it might first appear…

  13. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    molesworth, as ever, was correkt in his estimation

    “all books wich boys have to reed are wrong”

    ( and I am still indimidated by maths textbooks in my 50s)

  14. “The move has been a “confidence booster” for girls…”

    So this headmistress is publicly stating that the poor little girlies cannot cope?

    Isn’t that heresy? Where are the screeching feminists denouncing her, then?

  15. But why should girls, specifically, be put off by textbooks? Surely the same would work with boys, if it’s a thing. IMHO maths is one of those things that gets hard after a certain point which is different for each of us. Mine came after Ordinary Differential Equations at uni. Vector calculus – grad, div, curl – was hard, and don’t start on EM theory!

  16. “One of the paradoxes of STEM is that up to a certain age it’s apparent from the results that the girls *can* do maths, but they drop out anyway because they themselves think girls can’t/don’t. It’s a culture/perception problem. If all it does is mute this perception without making the lessons any easier, and that stops students being held back by extraneous psychological factors, it could actually *improve* their real attainment. The school’s exam results seem to suggest it doesn’t do a huge amount of harm, anyway.”

    Men can look after children perfectly satisfactorily. They can do all manner of jobs that are currently female dominated. Yet they choose not to. Can you not see that the same must apply to women? That there’s lots of things they could do if they put their minds to it, but temperamentally they really don’t fancy doing so? I could be a teacher. I’d fucking hate it, but I could do it. Do I want to? Of course not, so I don’t.

    Ability may (or may not but lets ignore that for now) be distributed equally for all subjects between the sexes, but desire to study different subjects, and work in different career fields are most definitely not equally distributed.

  17. This is a private school (£14,000 p.a. fees – day school), so let them experiment. The parents will soon decide whether this is what they want.

  18. “They can do all manner of jobs that are currently female dominated. Yet they choose not to. Can you not see that the same must apply to women?”

    Yes. Perhaps one of the reasons men don’t choose to look after children is that they keep getting told they’re bad at it? Like, if you ever see a man being handed a baby for the first time, their reaction is often extreme nervousness – ‘Am I holding it right? Will I drop it if it wriggles?’ – and they quickly hand it back to the mother and don’t try it again.

    Men ‘know’ they’re bad at it, avoid practicing it, and so soon are. Women know they’re supposed to be good at it, push through their nervousness, and soon really are good at it.

    There’s no real difference in skill, just in self-confidence.

  19. Jim,
    I was going to say much the same. I’m quite capable of repairing cars and motorbikes but I pay someone else to do it because I don’t want to. Nothing at all to do with confidence.

  20. I’d say you misunderstand self-confidence, NiV. Self-confidence isn’t gained by not failing. All that provides is the illusion of competence.* Self-confidence is gained by learning to fail on the way to achieving. That one has actual confidence in oneself to overcome adversity.

    *Which is what Pat is talking about at 9:08
    Although “In short people with ideas they cannot defend who hence resort to abuse when challenged”
    No. Will accuse you of abusing them because you refuse to accept their incompetence.

  21. “I was going to say much the same. I’m quite capable of repairing cars and motorbikes but I pay someone else to do it because I don’t want to. Nothing at all to do with confidence.”

    Personal preferences are another reason, no doubt. Most boys don’t go into maths, either. That they don’t clearly isn’t because of sexism.

    Like I said earlier, though, the question is: “does it work?” If the school with this policy doubles the success rate of girls doing maths, it’s surely worth at least trying to find out whether the policy has anything to do with that?

    Girls achieved over 13% of A* grades almost doubling the national average of 7%.

    There was a 100% pass rate this year and an impressive 44% of all grades at A Level were A*/A and 76% were A*- B. All girls who sat Further Mathematics achieved an A or above plus there were also outstanding results in Physics and Maths where all girls achieved 100% A*-B. In Drama and Art all the girls achieved A*-B.

    Of course, there isn’t enough information here to tell. High success rates at A-level could be due to sample selectivity, more skilled teachers (this is a private school), better motivated students, or better educated parents, as well as teaching methods.

    However, the fact remains that the article is quite vague about what the method actually entails – sure, there are no textbooks in sight, but that doesn’t imply expected standards have been lowered, or that the materials used and questions set are any different. There’s a huge amount of jumping-to-conclusions going on here.

    I think it’s fairly well known and widely accepted that confidence is an aid to success. Whether that’s what’s going on here, or in general, is hard to tell. But neither is the idea obviously ridiculous. It needs some controlled experimentation to gather evidence.

  22. “Self-confidence isn’t gained by not failing.”

    Where does anyone say that this is the sort of self-confidence we’re talking about?

    You’re *assuming* that the purpose in removing the textbooks is so that students can’t tell when they’re failing – that the resulting boost in self-confidence is unfounded.

    But the headteacher is saying that the purpose in removing the textbooks is to remove the *unfounded* prior beliefs about what they are or are not expected to be able to do, to eliminate the *unfounded* lack of confidence, so that their confidence will be driven by their *actual* success.

    “*Which is what Pat is talking about at 9:08
    Although “In short people with ideas they cannot defend who hence resort to abuse when challenged””

    Does “snowflakes” count as abuse? How about: “some are as skilled as constipated dachshunds at maths”?

    What examples of “abuse” here are you referring to?

    “Will accuse you of abusing them because you refuse to accept their incompetence.”

    Has anyone actually demonstrated their incompetence? What’s your evidence?

  23. I could be a teacher, but I refuse to apply for any teaching or school-based jobs as any person with a penis who wants to work around children is automatically a kiddie-fiddler, with the desire to work around children being the proof.

  24. I and two pals were slung out of a class at school because we were so good at it that we made the rest of the class (almost all girls) feel really fed up.

    Really!

  25. The article suggests quite strongly that what the school has done is ditch the standard textbook that everyone is working through at the same time in favour of material tailored to particular pupils, whether they’re ahead of average or behind it. Which sounds entirely sensible, if harder work for the teacher.

    It also quotes the head as saying that they do very well in maths and the pupils really enjoy it – those look like some pretty good results in my book.

  26. “Perhaps one of the reasons men don’t choose to look after children is that they keep getting told they’re bad at it? Like, if you ever see a man being handed a baby for the first time, their reaction is often extreme nervousness – ‘Am I holding it right? Will I drop it if it wriggles?’ – and they quickly hand it back to the mother and don’t try it again.”

    Mainly because just about every woman in the land makes it her job (allied with the media) to point out that men are completely useless at looking after kids (they aren’t they just do it differently to women, which as we all know is just wrong). Perhaps you should suggest that the entire media and female sex stop portraying men as idiots unable to tie their own shoelaces let alone their kids, then we can discuss whether girls need more ‘confidence’ to continue studying maths.

  27. Dennis the Peasant

    Like, if you ever see a man being handed a baby for the first time, their reaction is often extreme nervousness – ‘Am I holding it right? Will I drop it if it wriggles?’ – and they quickly hand it back to the mother and don’t try it again.

    Nothing like an absurd, unsupported generalization to start the day. What next? That white people don’t have natural rhythm?

  28. I should have imagined that knowing you are “galloping ahead” would enhance your confidence. The only time #1 son seemed to enjoy school was when his Primary school put him in with a class of children 3 years older for maths lessons (and a few other subjects) – of course when the education bureaucrats at County Hall found out they insisted on moving him to a different school.
    The only good point brought out by the newspaper is that the Head of Maths wants teachers to be able to teach children of different abilities at different levels rather than insisting that they all slouch along at the speed of the slowest.

  29. “Mainly because just about every woman in the land makes it her job (allied with the media) to point out that men are completely useless at looking after kids (they aren’t they just do it differently to women, which as we all know is just wrong). Perhaps you should suggest that the entire media and female sex stop portraying men as idiots unable to tie their own shoelaces let alone their kids,”

    Sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? Men and women are more similar than either likes to think. 🙂

  30. I still don’t think you get this, NiV. True self confidence can only be determined when it’s tested. If you’re denying the knowledge of one’s position relative to others, whatever opinion you have of yourself is being formed in a vacuum. It’s meaningless. It’s going to dissolve the first time it collides with reality
    Self confidence is only worthwhile if it’s based on ability. You could have all the self confidence you might wish as a tightrope walker by walking a line painted on the floor. But if you’ve no sense of balance & a head for heights you’re going to fall off & break your neck trying it on a rope 20 ft up

  31. Um, comprehensive skool in the early eighties. I don’t remember a maths textbook being used at all. Other subjects, yes. Maths and possibly Physics, no.

  32. @ NiV
    “One of the paradoxes of STEM is that up to a certain age it’s apparent from the results that the girls *can* do maths, but they drop out anyway because they themselves think girls can’t/don’t. It’s a culture/perception problem. ”
    Bullshit!
    Apparent to whom? Someone from the Ministry of Truth?
    The reason why girls are assumed to be less good at Maths is that we have billions of data points showing that, on average, boys do better at Maths.
    A few years ago when CourseWork was in vogue girls did better than boys in every subject – except Maths. Someone pointed out that Maths was the only subject where coursework was done at school at not at home where Mum would help her daughters, but that didn’t alter the fact that boys got better results than girls despite the toxic attitude to school among certain sub-groups of schoolboys.
    I am not saying that no girls can do Maths – my big sister got three ‘A’s in Maths and Physics ‘A’ level, my mother’s State Scholarship was for Maths, French and something else, we had a couple of female lecturers for Applied Maths and Geometry at Uni – but that the perception that boys are, on average, better at maths is based on observing reality.

  33. John 77, I’m not sure where you get your numbers from but in the PISA tests girls do better than boys across the world.

    It’s not that they’re better at Maths, but they work harder (on average) and are more prone to obeying instructions (on average).

    But at the end of school a boy quite good at Maths knows it’s a meal ticket. The girl meanwhile has more options, because she’s also better at writing.

    STEM is no longer predominantly male — except in the areas where language skills are unimportant. It’s not that girls select out of Maths, it’s that boys select in.

  34. @ Chester Draws
    BBC reporting on DoE data – not current because I only looked at this stuff when the boys were at school, but factual (and memorable ‘cos Girls were better at everything except the one subject where it wasn’t set up to encourage cheating).
    “where language skills are unimportant” – what on earth does this mean? Are you saying that boys do badly learning mathematics in a foreign language? Or what? A lot of people consider mathematics to be a language that helps us read the world around us. Or is that weasel to say that girls superior language skills disguise the superior maths skills of boys in some areas and then pretend that they are superior across the board?

  35. Girls read and write better. At least at school level. Don’t be obtuse.

    The “mathematics is a language” thing isn’t helpful. It’s not a language in the sense we usually mean.

    By the way, I virtually never use textbooks. Partly for the reasons in the quoted article. They are inflexible at best, crippling at worst.

    I also believe confidence is important in Maths, but confidence comes from success, not being told you are good. But “success” doesn’t need to mean top of the class, just getting better. Lots of people actually enjoy Maths without being good at it, just as you can enjoy football and be a duffer.

  36. I was not intimidated or upset I struggled with A Level maths – maybe a tad angry – I accepted it and tried as hard as I could.

    Finally scraped a pass whilst at Uni by going to night-class at nearby college.

    Calculus is my weak point.

  37. “I still don’t think you get this, NiV. True self confidence can only be determined when it’s tested. If you’re denying the knowledge of one’s position relative to others, whatever opinion you have of yourself is being formed in a vacuum. It’s meaningless.”

    ‘Confidence’ is having the belief that you can do what you plan to or have been asked to do. Do you have confidence in your ability to do mental arithmetic, or solve geometric problems using trigonometry, or solve differential equations?

    And you are quite right, that belief needs to be accurate. No use being persuaded you can solve differential equations and find, on getting a job requiring it, that you can’t.

    It’s a different question entirely to believe you can do it better than anyone else.

    It’s the same error people make in economics – “Are you earning enough to feed yourself and do the stuff you want to do?” is a different question to “Are you earning as much as those other people over there?” Are we worried about absolute poverty, or relative poverty? The economics of envy thinks the latter is what’s important, and so cares about inequality rather than whether people have enough to eat. But it’s not the only way to look at the world.

    School is not a race. where only the relative fastest get a prize. School is where everyone learns the skills they absolutely need together, in parallel.

  38. @ Chester Draws
    Explain yourself and don’t be so bloody rude
    What do you mean by “except in areas where language skills are unimportant”? What areas of STEM subjects, except writing essays to describe non-mathematical results, classify for each part of your division? You apparently have access to world-wide data so let’s have a link to some of it.
    By the way, reading and writing are not the same as language skills.

  39. “One of the paradoxes of STEM is that up to a certain age it’s apparent from the results that the girls *can* do maths, but they drop out anyway because they themselves think girls can’t/don’t. It’s a culture/perception problem. ”

    How many children have you raised, NiV?

    More pertinently, why automatically assume that that it’s a “culture/perception problem”? You wouldn’t have some heavy bias in your handbag, would you?

    My take on this ‘problem’ is that either testosterone encourages mathematical ability or oestrogen inhibits it, which would explain why the sexes diverge in this respect at puberty. And my thesis is at least as sound as yours if not more so.

    Anyone who has observed their own or other children closely will most likely confirm that that boys and girls show marked preferences for particular toys from at least six months of age. Social conditioning is unlikely to be responsible at such an early age.

    We are a sexed species. The sexes are not inter-changeable, and a sexual division of labour has many advantages. And biological sex cannot be reduced to gender socialization.

  40. Pelinor: work tailored to pupils – that sounds like the School Mathematics Project that I went through in the early 1980s. And is exactly what the comprehensive ideal actually is, not “teach all identically”.

  41. john 77 probably had the same experience as me – taking an Oxbridge maths degree in the days when all colleges were single sex, which meant male students outnumbered females by about 5:1. Making the reasonable assumption that competition for places was equally fierce for both sexes, the null hypothesis that mathematical ability is equal in males and females would lead one to expect that most of the female students would have been in the top 20%. They really weren’t.

  42. “School is not a race. where only the relative fastest get a prize. School is where everyone learns the skills they absolutely need together, in parallel.”
    If only that were true. Maybe it was, once.
    But modern education is set up to credentialalize. What pieces of paper it produces are the metric by which those passing through the system are assessed.

  43. “More pertinently, why automatically assume that that it’s a “culture/perception problem”?”

    Because maths scores and gender gaps are different in different nations and cultures, and have been experimentally shown to be affected by what you say to students before administering the test.

    There may be biological factors at work too. But in China there is no difference in maths scores between boys and girls, and in the Indian province of Tamil Nadu and in Malta the girls outscore the boys. (Although the Indian province of Himachal Pradesh has one of the largest gaps in favour of boys.) How can this be? Is it your theory that testosterone affects Chinese/Indian/Maltese bodies differently?

    In any case, when I said “up to a certain age it’s apparent from the results that the girls *can* do maths”, I wasn’t talking about tiny differences in the mean. I’m talking about the bulk of students.

    Here’s an example of the spread of mathematical ability of the two sexes in the US (From the ‘Project Talent’ study done in 1963.) You can see that men score higher than women in the US, particularly at the top end. But you can also see that the bulk of the two distributions overlap. Pick one boy and one girl at random, and it would be a pretty even bet which of the two was better.

    According to the standard by which people say “Girls can’t do maths”, neither can virtually any of the boys.

  44. @ Chris Miller
    Yes, except I remember reading it was 6:1. I wasn’t going to mention it as a piece of anecdata but the roughly one-seventh of maths undergraduates who were female got a slightly lower average class in Finals than the men. That was despite all (or nearly all) the cleverest schollboy mathemaricians wanting to go to Trinity Cambridge so Oxford should have had fewer guys able to get a top first.

  45. @ NiV
    If you would deign to read my posts before creating a straw man that said “Girls can’t do maths” it would allow us to concentrate on an intelligent debate.
    If you use my sister as a standard most boys can’t do maths, but that is *not* what anyone except you (not even Chester Draws) was discussing.
    Your argument that some girls are better than some boys is an exact parallel to the claim that women are as tall as men because if you pick one of each at random there is a significant chance that the woman will be taller.
    I am arguing from real-life observation from two centuries since “National Schools” were founded for the poor https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_school_(England_and_Wales) with no pre-conception that boys would be better at maths, from DoE reports showing that girls do better in coursework and “arts” subjects, and one stating that they do better in everything else but not maths, from personal observation (there are guys who are visible in a higher stratum at maths than I but I have never met a woman who was, although I’ve met two or threewho were better at maths than I) that – despite the distraction from sports which were predominantly masculine in my youth so affected boys’ academic performance worse than girls – boys generally did better at maths while far worse on handwriting, entertained by the comments from the feminists that examinations for Maths are unfair on girls.
    Your graph shows an overlap but without a definition of “math ability”, an explanation of who and what was measured, why there is more area under the red curve than the blue, how you get a bell curve with both a higher peak and longer tails, I cannot deduce anything from it that I do not already know. Most bell curves for almost any gender-linked classification show longer tails in the blue.
    I have *always* been talking about the bulk of the students: I’ve had friends who just couldn’t do arithmetic so I know that some boys & men cannot, but they are outliers.
    The question was “does it help to ban textbooks?” which morphed into: is the difference between boys and girls at maths just psychological? The answer to the latter is “No”.

  46. “If you would deign to read my posts before creating a straw man that said “Girls can’t do maths” it would allow us to concentrate on an intelligent debate.”

    What I originally said was: “One of the paradoxes of STEM is that up to a certain age it’s apparent from the results that the girls *can* do maths, but they drop out anyway because they themselves think girls can’t/don’t. It’s a culture/perception problem.” I was talking about can/can’t.

    You responded to this saying: “The reason why girls are assumed to be less good at Maths is that we have billions of data points showing that, on average, boys do better at Maths.” Assuming that was intended to be an answer to my comment, rather than a strawman, I presumed you were disagreeing that “girls *can* do maths”.

    Are you now saying your response was a strawman?

    “The question was “does it help to ban textbooks?” which morphed into: is the difference between boys and girls at maths just psychological? The answer to the latter is “No”.”

    No. The question wasn’t whether it is “*just* psychological”. I’ve never excluded biological influences. The question was whether the difference is *partly* psychological. The reason for discussing it is that the proposed theory behind banning textbooks is to eliminate certain psychological biases affecting objective maths performance. (Related to confidence, perceived difficulty, competetiveness, and gender-based expectations.) If such biases exist, then the technique could be effective.

    Does self-confidence have any impact on performance? If you go into a test expecting to fail, having been told that the test is really hard and you’re inherently bad at at, could that possibly have any impact on how well you can concentrate, how much effort you devote to it, and how long you persist at it? What do you think the experimental evidence shows? If the differences are *entirely* biological, why does the effect vanish in China?

    I don’t know if the textbook ban works, but the school in question gets double the national average of A*’s, so they may indeed know what they’re talking about. The common assumption that they were a bunch of idiots who needed to be “purged” for even daring to suggest that boosting confidence could enhance objective performance, didn’t seem to me to be based on evidence, or noticeably superior mathematical skill.

    But that’s OK. We can still have an intelligent and enjoyable debate figuring out if that is so! 🙂

  47. @ NiV
    Can you read? – obviously you can because you read the first sentence. Are you willing to read? That is the $64 question. I am now doing a cut and paste – which anyone can check
    “The reason why girls are assumed to be less good at Maths is that we have billions of data points showing that, on average, boys do better at Maths.
    A few years ago when CourseWork was in vogue girls did better than boys in every subject – except Maths. Someone pointed out that Maths was the only subject where coursework was done at school at not at home where Mum would help her daughters, but that didn’t alter the fact that boys got better results than girls despite the toxic attitude to school among certain sub-groups of schoolboys.
    I am not saying that no girls can do Maths – my big sister got three ‘A’s in Maths and Physics ‘A’ level, my mother’s State Scholarship was for Maths, French and something else, we had a couple of female lecturers for Applied Maths and Geometry at Uni – but that the perception that boys are, on average, better at maths is based on observing reality.”
    So you are talking bullshit QED
    What is clear from the article is that the Head of Maths wanted to be allowed to teach children of differing ability at different speeds – which is obviously (to anyone except SJWs and the hard left) a sensible plan, as I pointed out in my first post on this thread! This will, almost inevitably produce a better performance at ‘A’ level since those who are better at Maths will not be held back by the slowest – distinctly elitist but dressed up in the jargon of the anti-elitist movement.
    The “boosting confidence” line is almost Donald Trump in its success in misleading the unskilled reader.
    How many of the sums/questions on the blackboard are invented on the spot by the teacher and how many of them are copied out of a textbook?Not claiming your mind-reading abilities I don’t venture an answer but only a guess that the vast majority are lifted out of a textbook.
    You never said it’s just psychological??
    “One of the paradoxes of STEM is that up to a certain age it’s apparent from the results that the girls *can* do maths, but they drop out anyway because they themselves think girls can’t/don’t. It’s a culture/perception problem.”
    Well, if that isn’t saying that it’s just psychological, then your language skills are nearly as bad as mine. [Nearly, not quite]

    Incidentally, self-confidence can have a negative impact on performance – I failed one exam because I read the first question, thought “Yes, I can do this” and started writing then suddenly the invigilator said “half-an-hour to go” so I hurriedly drew my answer to a close and tried to do the next 4 questions in 25 minutes. On the re-sit I read through the paper and started with the one I liked least. On another occasion I was persuaded to turn up for an exam not having done any of the recommended course-work because work had got a lot more busy after I sent in my entry and still passed (I invited the whole of team at the office out to a drink when I got the result).
    Yes, self-confidence can help but as a means of reducing exam nerves – it’s the nerves, not the ignorance that matters and exam nerves can afflict even those who know that they know everything in the curriculum: the most intelligent (not quite the same as “cleverest”) boy of my age at Prep School failed the 11+ because he had exam nerves and only got a place at, not a scholarship to, Balliol because he had exam nerves.

  48. “Can you read? – obviously you can because you read the first sentence. Are you willing to read? That is the $64 question.”

    Yes, I can. Can you?

    You didn’t answer the point. I commented “One of the paradoxes of STEM is that up to a certain age it’s apparent from the results that the girls *can* do maths, but they drop out anyway because they themselves think girls can’t/don’t. It’s a culture/perception problem.” to which you responded “Apparent to whom? Someone from the Ministry of Truth? The reason why girls are assumed to be less good at Maths is that we have billions of data points showing that, on average, boys do better at Maths.”

    My statement was “girls *can* do maths”, you replied comparing that to Orwell’s Ministry of Truth which I took to mean you disagreed with the statement, and then later you complained about me “creating a straw man that said “Girls can’t do maths””!

    Don’t object to the statement “girls *can* do maths” and then call it a strawman!

    “I am not saying that no girls can do Maths”

    That doesn’t help! You might have meant that the set of people who can do maths has three girls and 99% of the boys, all ranked ahead of the 99% of girls who can’t. It’s not specific.

    “Not claiming your mind-reading abilities I don’t venture an answer but only a guess that the vast majority are lifted out of a textbook.”

    You read my mind! I said that, too! “They’re given all the same problems out of the same maths textbooks, but presented anonymously, without being labelled with an implied ability level.”

    “Well, if that isn’t saying that it’s just psychological, then your language skills are nearly as bad as mine.”

    It’s not saying it’s ***just*** psychological!

    It’s saying there are a lot of girls who *can* do maths, but they drop out anyway because they themselves think girls can’t/don’t. It doesn’t say (and obviously doesn’t mean) in either clause “all” girls, no exceptions. There’s an implicit existential quantifier in there.

    I’ve got a feeling this is one of those annoying conversations where the participants are actually violently agreeing with one another, both under the impression that the other person meant something different! 🙂

  49. @ NiV
    It is perfectly obvious – since I stated that in so many words – to everyone except you that I was not claiming that girls cannot do maths.
    It is apparent to you and the Ministry of Truth that girls (perhaps just most girls) drop out because they themselves think that they can’t do maths, not for any other reason. It’s not apparent to me. I admit that there are some girls who think that they can’t do maths but they aren’t the ones who should be doing STEM subjects at university – the ones who should be doing STEM subjects at uni are those on the right-hand tail of your bell-curve *and* have confidence in their ability so that they dare to query a blatantly wrong figure spewed out by a computer. Most girls who have significant natural ability at maths find that out before they have time to learn that some people think girls can’t do maths: I was taught to read by my five-year-old sister so when I started school I was (relatively) good at reading and writing – we moved so I changed school when I was six and the class was doing arithmetic at each individual’s own pace and we suddenly discovered that John was good at arithmetic. Any girl would have discovered the same.
    The extreme right tail of the bell-curve has a more than 7:1 ratio of males to females which is why Chris Miller and I, at different times, observed that the average performance of female undergraduates reading Maths was inferior to the average performance of male undergraduates. I am sure that there were a few females who were better than I – I just never spoke to any of them (not a single one, a few friends of friends read maths but none of them was even as good as me) – as well as a few who who did better in Finals because they worked harder.
    I apologise for forgetting that you had also said, before I did, that the problems were, very sensibly lifted from textbooks. I don’t think it needs to be anonymous – when #1 son started secondary school, the first year maths teacher gave him and two other boys a third year text book while the rest of the class had a first year book.
    Sorry, I don’t do/understand existential qualifications – that’s a bit over my head. I can read numbers, which *are* a form of language, but I’m not as good with words. I will believe that a few girls drop out because they don’t believe that they are good enough at Maths or Latin or running marathons, just not that it is a significant factor in the STEM gender balance. The difference is mostly, not wholly but mostly, due to differential at the right-hand tail of the ability curve. There are also other reasons: my little sister, who usually came top in Maths at school (not quite always, one boy went to Cambridge and one to Imperial, so she had competition) chose to do Philosophy and Economics because she found it more interesting – and then specialised in Mathematical Logic.
    I agree with most of what you are saying, except your inability to read what I had written (that may be childish, but it does bug me as you may recall from earlier arguments with third parties).
    Anecdata alert re women who think they can’t do maths – two or three years ago my wife’s then boss asked her to ring me and do a sum for her, so I did; then she asked “how do you do it on a calculator?” and I had to say “I’ve no idea, I should never do it on a calculator”, after which wifelet and I jointly worked out how to do it on a calculator. Apparently asking my wife and her ‘phoning me me up asking me the answer was quicker than her doing the sum herself 😉

  50. “Sorry, I don’t do/understand existential qualifications – that’s a bit over my head. I can read numbers, which *are* a form of language, but I’m not as good with words.”

    That’s fair enough. My apologies. It’s a technical term borrowed from predicate logic.

    Propositional logic provides simple logical statements about objects one at a time. “Tom is a cat”, “Jerry is a mouse”, “Jerry is not a cat and Jerry is not a dog”, etc.

    Predicate logic adds in two extra sybols called quantifiers which make the logical language much more powerful. These are the universal quantifier meaning “all”, and the existential quantifier meaning “some”. (For all X, there exists some Y such that Y > X, for example.)

    English is less precise, and often doesn’t specify which (if any) it is talking about. “Humans went to the moon in 1969” really means “Some humans went to the moon in 1969″. “Humans are mammals” means “All humans are mammals. “Neil Armstrong was a human who walked on the moon” is a proposition, without quantifiers. People generally figure out what quantifiers are needed, from context.

    My point was, when I talk broadly about “girls” and “boys”, there’s an implicit “some” in there. I don’t necessarily mean *all* of them.

    “Anecdata alert re women who think they can’t do maths…”

    I did my maths PhD at a university that had previously been a women’s college. They were co-ed by then, but still majority-female. So I met a lot of women who could do maths! It gives me a somewhat different perspective.

    And I’ve plenty of anecdotes about people thought they could or could not do maths. I remember having to teach several first year university physics students (male, as it happens) how to do long division, because they’d never been taught it (they claimed). I remember one woman complaining that she was stupid and didn’t understand maths, and who to illustrate gave some example of one of the really basic things she didn’t grasp. (I can’t remember exactly what it was – something like why does multiplying two negative numbers give a positive number.) I explained it in about a minute, and she got it immediately. It wasn’t that she was stupid, it was that her effin’ teacher didn’t know, and had fobbed her off with a “It just is”! But she had just assumed it was because she was incapable, because girls are no good at maths.

    I think – from personal anecdata – that most of the common inability with maths is due to bad teaching, and that nobody notices because everybody just assumes they don’t understand because they’re bad at maths. It’s socially acceptable to be bad at maths – people even take pride in it, and boast about how bad they are!

    So while there may well be some inherent limits to ability involved, I think the bulk of the differences are due to cultural factors – bad teaching methods, the social acceptability of failure, the ‘geek’ factor, and how different people respond psychologically to all the bad teaching and other social factors involved.

    Colombia has a maths score of 382 and a gender gap of 32. China has a maths score of 600 and a gender gap of -2. The difference between the two is massive, and not due to having a different biology! Observed differences in maths ability are mostly – not entirely – cultural and social.

  51. @ NiV
    “So I met a lot of women who could do maths!” Lucky you! I grew up with three but I didn’t know any girls who were as good as my big sister while at uni – probably down to the 6:1 gender ratio, they didn’t bother with the likes of me. Most of the nice girls I met were going out with friends who were “Blues” or seriously bright (several are, still – which implies a better-than-average mortality rate – married to them).

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