Today’s post was inspired by a story in the Washington Post entitled *Want kids to learn math? Level with them that itÂ’s hard.* The post will discuss how math can be perceived as hard or easy, depending on who you are; it will also deal with the myth that one is or is not a “math person” by nature. There is a widespread notion that some people are just naturally good at math and others are just naturally hopeless at it. This is untrue. Like any other learned skill, you get better at math with practice. While there is some degree of natural talent, anyone who does not have one of a very few rare disabilities *can* master basic mathematics.

One fairly large problem is that most people teaching math are usually pretty good at it themselves. To *them* math really is easy, at least at the level they are currently teaching it. If too few of the people charged with explaining math to the rest of us are sufficiently self-aware to realize how difficult and strange math can be to those encountering it for the first or second time, there’s a problem. Worse, many students who are supposed to be learning math are instead actively avoiding learning math while looking frantically for a way to tunnel under the actual work. This leads to the tragicomic sight of people doing huge amounts of work to avoid moderate amounts of work — largely based on a terrifically inaccurate estimate of the amount of work required to achieve basic competence.