Overcoming Math Anxiety

Shelia Tobias
Review by: Amanda Perri

Shelia Tobias is a very influential feminist author and researcher. She received a Masters of Philosophy at Columbia University with a background in history and literature from Harvard/Radcliffe. Since then, she has received 8 honorary doctorates. Shelia’s work is focused on breaking down barriers for girls in math and science, as well as teacher education.

Overcoming Math Anxiety is an intelligent and research oriented look at Math Anxiety; a debilitation that many individuals live with on a daily basis. This book would be useful for those individuals who have struggled with a “fear” of numbers, and want to understand their anxieties more clearly. This book, rather than offering advice or motivation to expose oneself to situations involving math, takes a research-oriented approach, helping the reader understand the origins of their worries about math. In this sense, it is informative as it critically dissects how the “hidden curriculum” of educational systems today influences our success in not only math, but other subjects as well. Keeping in mind that the author, Shelia Tobias, comes from a Feminist viewpoint, this book focuses largely on gendered education. Tobias reveals that despite no conclusive evidence that there are significant differences inherently and men and women’s capacity for intelligence, women are still expected to perform more poorly than their male peers, and this spills over to the amount of encouragement and opportunities they receive in school to excel in math. Tobias even dissects how the types of play boys and girls are encouraged to engage in may influence the development of spatial sense. As such, Shelia encourages her readers to find control over their mathematical strategies and experiences. In doing so, Shelia purports that this will encourage mathematical competence, which, as demonstrated by Shelia, can afford individuals greater opportunities in the workplace and beyond.

The purpose of this book is twofold. Firstly, it serves to help individuals (mainly women) who suffer from math anxiety break down their fears and understand that the root cause may not be inherent to their own intelligence or capabilities. Secondly, it is useful for educators who want to establish a teaching practice that creates equal opportunities for all students by being mindful of their biases, language, and planned activities.