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Why Saying ‘I’m Not A Math Person’ Can Be Harmful, Efforts To Improve Math Literacy

(Courtesy: Eric O. Curry)

For years, the three R’s of a basic education have been reading, writing and arithmetic.

While there are some indications that American students are faltering in reading and writing, especially worrisome is arithmetic.

Among the world’s industrialized nations, the United States is far down the list on math proficiency and math literacy, well behind such countries as Liechtenstein and Slovakia.

It’s already having an impact in maintaining global competitiveness, causing former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett to call it “a disaster in the making.”

Host Don Marsh talked with a panel of guests about why the country has a math literacy problem and about some possible solutions, one of which is to get children interested in math and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects at an early age.


  • Helene Sherman, Professor of Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and author of Teaching Learners Who Struggle with Mathematics
  • Robin Kinman, fourth grade teacher at the Community School
  • Sarah Jamison, Corporate Resources Manager at LMI Aerospace, a company with headquarters in St. Charles and involved in UMSL’s Students and Teachers as Research Scientists (STARS) program.

“People often say I wasn’t good at math and I’m not a math person…yet they won’t say, ‘I can’t read,’” Helene Sherman said.  “[I agree that children] are hard-wired to understand and succeed [in math], the problem is that as they move along in the system, they are often hearing messages from everyone that they know, perhaps at home, that they’re not good at math.  So that love and that desire to learn diminishes as the years go by.”
Victoria Sherriff, a senior at O’Fallon Township High School in Illinois, also joined Marsh to talk about how she is involved and interested in STEM subjects at a young age.  Sherriff is the CEO of the school’s Robotics Team, which won the St. Louis regional of the FIRST Robotics Competition in March.  The team qualified to compete at the FIRST Robotics Competition World Tournament in St. Louis later this month.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.
Mary Edwards came to St. Louis Public Radio in 1974, just after finishing her Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She has served the station in a number of capacities over the years. From 1988-2014 she also taught an undergraduate class in radio production at Webster University. Mary was inducted into the St. Louis Media History Foundation Media Hall of Fame in April, 2017 and received the Gateway Media Literacy Partners' Charles Klotzer Media Literacy Award in 2012. Mary retired from St. Louis Public Radio in 2018, but still serves the station as a St. Louis Symphony Producer.
Don Marsh served as host of St. Louis Public Radio’s “St. Louis on the Air" from 2005 to 2019, bringing discussions of significant topics to listeners' ears at noon Monday through Friday. Don has been an active journalist for 58 years in print, radio and television. He has won 12 Regional Emmy Awards for writing, reporting, and producing. He is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, was inducted into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame in 2013, and named “Media Person of the Year” by the St. Louis Press Club in 2015. He has published three books: his most recent, “Coming of Age, Liver Spots and All: A Humorous Look at the Wonders of Getting Old,” “Flash Frames: Journey of a Journeyman Journalist” and “How to be Rude (Politely).” He holds an honorary Doctor of Arts and Letters degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
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