Is Stereotyping Contagious?

“Recent research indicates that the gap between male and female students’ mathematics achievement is gradually beginning to diminish (Gutbezahl, 1995); however, female students are still underrepresented in advanced mathematics classes as well as in careers involving mathematics (Kerr,1994; Stage & Maple, 1996)” (Drzewiecki and Westberg 1). This should concern society including parents, teachers, and students. Carmen Keller is one that has explored the topic of a male driven mathematical field.

The goal in her article, ” Effect of Teachers’ Stereotyping on Students’ Stereotyping of Mathematics as a Male Domain” is to discover and prove one aspect to this male domain. This being, students of teachers who tend to stereotype mathematics also tend to stereotype mathematics. Throughout the entire article, Keller supports her thesis very well. The data she uncovers and develops is reliable, because she considers and eliminates features that could possibly factor into her research.

She controls external and internal influences such as: school grade, school track, previous achievement; and interest and self-confidence, respectively. Great research data and analysis helps the reader feel supported and the logical information helps connect society and sciences. The following information is a summary of the data and interpretations provided in Carmen Keller’s article found in The Journal of Social Psychology. Keller examines an internal influence that effects education, students’ perception of mathematics as a male domain.

With support of other research she provides, in short, the students’ beliefs and their performance are correlated. Meaning that when comparing graphs of student beliefs on gender success in mathematics and actual success, the graphs follow a similar pattern. Through personal experience, I have found this to be true. Students that have positive views about a particular subject tend to be more interested, thus performing better. This also works on the other end of the spectrum.

Negative views deem less effort, which produces results below possible accomplishment. The student is not all at fault for these beliefs; they are influence by an outside source in some way. Whether this outside influence is a fellow student, parents, siblings or teachers I feel I still need some more proof. Keller is trying to prove that the teachers’ beliefs are effecting the children. Her theory, here, has a good start. External influences also play a role in the gender differences found in mathematics. Keller mentions teacher-student interaction.

She says even though it has been found that boys do have more interactions with their teachers, it is still unknown how important this is when learning mathematics. This is why her focus is on the stereotype a teacher may portray to the class. The teacher may base the curriculum on what they feel male and female students should learn. Though I can see where she is coming from I could not see this actually happening in a classroom. I do not think a teacher would divide the classroom boy-girl and teach accordingly.

Regardless of my point, Keller reinforces her hypothesis by pointing out that if ” teachersconvey their stereotyping through classroom instruction (and) the students are aware of teachers’ stereotypingthis partly affects students stereotyping. ” I agree with Keller and feel this is definitely true considering that most young adults are highly susceptible to influence. Keller’s research is conducted very carefully. She makes it known that she left the experiment to very few possible mistakes.

In her sample she uses data she from a survey taken in Switzerland of 6, 7, and 8 grade students in public school. This is especially important in finding an overall, long-term effect because these students stay with the same math teachers during these years. Assessment in criteria of achievement, interest, aptitude and future career deems informational results. The evaluation indicates that boys tend to stereotype more strongly than girls and there were also “significant gender differences in the control variables of interest, self-confidence, and achievement. These differences are correlated to the students’ grades. Keller’s analysis brought her to the conclusion that the mathematical male domain was not that of an individual characteristic, like previously thought, but rather a characteristic of being involved in a particular classroom setting. The results did “provide some evidence that the teachers’ stereotyping affected the students’ stereotyping. ” She comes to this conclusion using the information that the stereotyping is learned in the classroom.

Who is teaching or portraying this stereotype is explained by Keller: “The theoretical assumption that teachers transmit their views of mathematics during instruction and that students adopt such views is more plausible than the assumption that teachers adopt the views of students. ” She adds that students may also be influencing each other, therefore the class holds the same views. Keller’s final thought, “the effect of school and external individual characteristics(e. g. , parents’ and friends’ stereotyping) requires investigation,” is very considerate.

With this statement she leaves the topic open for further discussions, including other influences that she did not control. Carmen Keller’s article was very informative. Some of the data may have been slightly complicated for an average consumer, not educated in statistics. I have always questioned why I have found more males in my math classes throughout my education and while researching my possible mathematical careers. Now, after reading Keller’s article, I have more of an understanding about one of the contributing factors found in the gender-divided mathematical field.

Works Cited

Drzewiecki, L. and Westberg, K. “Gender Differences in High School Students’ Attitudes Toward Mathematics in Traditional Versus Cooperative Groups.” The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. 1997, Spring Newsletter.

Gutbezahl, J. “How Negative Expectancies and Attitudes Undermine Females’ Math
Confidence and Performance: A Review of the Literature.” ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 380 279. 1995.

Kerr, B., “Smart girls too.” Ohio Psychological Press 1994.

Stage, F. K., and Maple, S. A., “Incompatible Goals: Narratives of Graduate Women in the Mathematics Pipeline.” American Educational Research Journal (1996): 33, 23-51.


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