Elaborating on Beating Stereotype Threat

Posted on November 1, 2012 by


I’ve written about Stereotype Threat.  “Stereotype threat” is a fear a student has of confirming a stereotype that adversely perfects the performance of a task.  Example:  women drivers.  Asian drivers.  The black or Latino student in math class.

Here’s what I gave as the “solution” to dealing with stereotype threat as it pertains to math classes.

I think students have to know that there’s more depth to their abilities.  I’m just speaking as a student, an autodidact, whose tried to learn tons of things.

They have to know that they’re more than “smart” or “dumb.”  They gotta know what exactly makes them “smart” or “dumb” in certain subjects.  And within those subjects, such as math and science, they gotta know what they do well and mess up in.

Rather than saying that they suck at the big sweeping categories of “math” or “science”, I think it might help if teachers, peers, parents, whoever, could better pinpoint specifically what a difficulty is within the large categories of “math” and “science”, rather than making general judgments about a students’ ability in those subjects as a whole.  Maybe the student sucks at linear algebra, but is an absolute genius at doing geometric proofs, but is discouraged by the fact that his/her grade is determined by all that time spent on linear algebra.  Maybe they don’t get the concept of probability but are geniuses at descriptive statistics.

As it is right now, it seems that tons of people in general here in America get away from these categories of math and sciences because they categorically dismiss anything to do with the juggernaut categories of knowledge called math and science.

The answer the basically, don’t allow students to dismiss themselves of entire subjects without knowing their full range of abilities.

Looking at that post again, what I mean to say is this:

  • Large sections of people think they suck at something and perform worse at it because they may think both publicly and privately, in large numbers, that their ineptitude in “doing something” is “woven” into a category that forms a significant part of their social identity.  In my case, the “doing something” is “taking standardized tests”, one of my categories “Filipino” does OK, but doesn’t get elite-level scores.   Maybe I would do better at learning at what kinds of standardized test problems exactly  I tend to do bad at in standardized tests and I score a lot higher.  Otherwise without that knowledge, I’m predisposed to guessing and just saying and perhaps privately thinking “I suck at standardized tests.”
  • For those whose ineptitude in “doing something” is in performing on math and/or sciences tests, I made a suggestion that instead of students learning that they suck in the big categories of math and/or sciences through grades, they learn more specifically what they do/don’t do well in within those subjects.   So instead of students’ saying they “suck at math”, perhaps they say, I suck at fractions” or “derivations”, which doesn’t necessarily implicate the entire category of math, but just identified elements within math that they may struggle with.  Letter Grades in mathematics, science classes or whatever are basically whole-sweeping judgments of a students’ abilities to pass exams;  unless the student is privately knowledgeable of their abilities, perhaps they don’t learn that they have strengths within Mathematics-related activities, such as logic, or geometry.  Instead, they just get a grade, which depending on how bad they are, their confidence to persist in further-related activities, can lead them to discard the category of math and sciences altogether and accept that they are weak in the entire subjects, rather than just portions of it.
  • For teachers to carry out this philosophy of teaching, they have to have a good conceptualization of their students and understanding of what their problems are and where they come from to eliminate these problems at their root.
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