A cure in sight for mathophobics
By Darla Klaus
DR. BETTY BARR will teach a
math course this spring in the
UH —Open University program.
Barr says many of the problems
women have with math lies with
society's attitude toward math
If the mere mention ot calculus or logarithmic functions
causes your eyes to glaze over
or a tight feeling to grip your
throat, then chances are you are
one of the many women who
suffer from math anxiety.
The problem of math avoidance by women has long been
recognized, but until recently,
little has been done to diagnose
or cure this malady which has
kept most women from finding
employment in the higher paying fields of engineering and
Help, however, is finally on
the way for victims of matho-
phobia, and none too soon,
according to feminist Lynne
Mutchler, who along with associate Peggy Hall, recently conducted a public workshop on
Counselor PEGGY HALL with Rice University's LYNNE
MUTCHLER plan workshops dealing with math anxiety
problems women face. Mutchler, a graduate of MIT and Hall, a
mental health worker, feel that before women can enroll in math
courses they must first overcome mathophobia. This is the goal
of their seminars.
The workshop, sponsored by
the Southwest Chapter of NOW,
attracted approximately 35
women and 5 or 6 men. But this
is only the tip of the iceberg
according to Mutchler.
"We really struck a nerve,"
she said. "Math anxiety is not
peculiar to women, it's just
that women have never been
encouraged to overcome it. Men
who fear math are encouraged
to keep trying. Women are
advised not to worry their pretty
little heads about their lack of
math ability because they won't
need it anyhow."
This lack of math ability, according to sociologist Lucy Sell
of the University of California,
has forced most women to
crowd into the already overcrowded liberal arts fields such
as elementary education, social
work, music, guidance and
UH engineering professor Dr.
Betty Barr, along with Mutchler, blames many of the problems women have with math on
society's attitude toward female
math achievers and the lack of
female role models who achieve
"Most elementary school
teachers are female and they
probably had math problems
themselves, and female students traditionally identify with
their female teachers," Barr
said. "The difference begins to
show in junior high and high
school. There have been lots of
studies, but nobody has proven
that women are genetically
weaker in math ability than
men," she added.
Mutchler points out that
women who excel in math and
don't hide it are often singled
out for derision.
"I've noticed two distinct
behaviors displayed by women
math achievers. One is the
cheerleader type who hides her
talent, and the other is the
quieter, more studious type who
soon believes the myth that she
is not socially inclined. I've seen
many women who were seriously damaged by these attitudes,"
The cure of mathophobia is
based strongly on a support sys
tem, Mutchler said. "Women
have to realize this is not a lack
in themselves, but a problem
often caused by society's attitudes and often reinforced by
one specific male supremist
"The remedy is twofold,"
explains Mutchler. First is anxiety reduction, finding out the
block is there and removing it.
Secondly, some assertiveness
training is usually necessary to
remove that final block."
Mutchler, along with mental
health worker Peggy Hall, plans
to use these techniques in a
series of math anxiety seminars
in February. She also plans to
include some basic remedial
math such as fractions and
percentages in the seminars
because of the overwhelming
response to the first workshop.
"Women have always been
taught to be quiet and ladylike,
and not to ask too many
questions. If you don't understand an instructor, ask her or
him to explain it again," advised Mutchler. "Women must
realize there are no dumb
Dr. Barr believes the difficulty women have with math is
reflected by the percentage of
women majoring in engineering
courses at the University of
Houston, although the number
is increasing some each year.
In 1974, there were only 57
females included in the 11(30
engineering majors at UH,
while in 1975, almost 100 of the
1100 engineering majors were
Barr is teaching a course this
spring offered by the UH Open
University (Math 171) designed
to prepare students for calculus.
"This course is designed
for someone with a good math
background, high school algebra, geometry and some trigonometry," she said.
Women who want to learn
algebra and geometry should
explore the remedial math
courses offered by junior
colleges and community colleges rather than university-
However, she points out, for
women with the math background and a willingness to
work, the Open University
course is an excellent opportunity to learn math at one's own
pace and without the pressure
of weekly exams.
The course features weekly
discussion sessions, tutoring,
television cassettes and personal tutoring from the professor,
"if they ask me," Barr said.
Contact the Open University
at 749-4167 for information.
College credit away from the campus via television
films, radio, (audio tapes,) newspaper, and telephone
AVAILABLE NEXT SEMESTER:
not entering college
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bring special skills, strengths,
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They also have unique questions and
problems. Realizing this, the University
of St. Thomas Encore program gives
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UST offers courses in over 25 areas of study from
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AGE OF REVOLUTIONS
HUMANITIES & FINE ARTS
CLASSIC THEATER (PBS)
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MOLDING OF AMERICAN VALUES
SCIENCE & BELIEF
MORAL CHOICES IN CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY
NEW SEARCH FOR GOD (A THIRD TESTAMENT/PBS)
INTRODUCTION TO STATISTICS
SOCIAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
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HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH - DECEMBER 1976 PAGE 17