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Don’t Worry If You Didn’t Solve Any of the Math Problems that Went Viral

Mathematicians believe Americans are letting their anxieties over math get the better of them.

There have been quite a few math problems making the rounds on the Internet. Did you manage to solve any of them?

It’s OK if you didn’t, says, Kevin Knudson, a professor of mathematics at University of Florida. He writes for The Conversation that while it’s wonderful to see all these problems go viral, it soon becomes apparent that many use them to affirm their belief that they aren’t good at math.

Knudson comments:

“The inability to solve such a problem quickly is certainly not indicative of a person’s overall math skill, nor should it prompt a crisis of confidence about the state of American math aptitude.”

He points out that no one would so readily admit to being bad at any other subject as we are at math. Edward Frenkel, a fellow mathematician, echoes these sentiments, saying, “It’s kind of strange because no one would ever say, ‘I hate literature,’ or, ‘I hate art,’ or, ‘I hate music.’” He believes it’s unfortunate and shameful for people to say such things.

Americans do hate on math, and some of this leads to criticisms from both Frenkel and Knudson in how it’s taught in schools. But Knudson believes that this “I’m bad at math” attitude may all be in our heads.

Take the “When is Cheryl’s Birthday?” problem: The minute it was posed as a math-related question, some gave up before they even tried to find a solution. It’s not really a math problem when you look at it — it’s a logic problem. (Solution here.)

Our anxieties about math may be getting the better of us, so Knudson asks all of us “instead of giving in to anxiety, why not think about it for a few minutes and try to find a solution? You might be surprised how satisfying it can be.”

Read more at The Conversation.

Photo Credit: Ed Wray/Getty Images


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