Multiplication is vexation,
Division is just as bad;
The Rule of Three perplexes me,
And Practice drives me mad.
[An Old Rhyme]
Math anxiety. An interesting juxtaposition of terms. Why is mathematics singled out...or are there similar cases of things such as English anxiety, history anxiety, geography anxiety, chemistry anxiety, or P.E. anxiety?
Too often the blame is directed at the math teacher, when the problem (if it actually exists) is much bigger and more people are involved (including the "math anxious" person). Sometimes, the finger even is pointed at mathematics as a discipline, an act that has never made much sense.
Claudia Zaslavsky's Fear of Math: How to Get Over It and Get On with You Life (1994) is one of the most reasonable efforts to address the problem of math ansiety. She does it without throwing out all kinds of statistics and accusations, plus she is careful of the assumptions she makes. She uses a multi-cultural view in both examining the problem and suggesting possible "solutions," with the goal being to help each person "see why math matters and how to get over the math barrier" that prevents progress.
If Zaslavsky's book does not meet your needs (hopefully its not an agenda), I suggest you consider these web sites which cover grades 6-14 (yes, it actually is a 6-adult problem). All of the sites briefly address the subject of math anxiety, then try to suggest possible remediations and/or coping mechanisms. The problem is that no one has found a magical cure, as the process takes both time and patience (on the parts of the teacher and the student):
My stance: For some students, math anxiety is something that does exist and it can impede their progress as math learners, but for others, it is something that they can hide behind and absolve themselves of responsibility. In turn, for students who have it, it is something they can work on to reduce so it has less impact on their performance, rather than use it as an excuse to avoid learning.
In turn, I must admit my frustration with people who are only too quick to slap "math anxious" on foreheads of every puzzled brow (perhaps like the knee-jerk advocates of ritalin)...and my frustration with the implications of some dangerous suggestions made by some people (often unwarranted), such as some suggestions made in this poem by Sandra Davis. UGH! Based on my work with about 4000 students in my teaching career, math anxiety can be reduced and overcome.