Drawing on data from 120 interviews with secondary schools students of mathematics aged from 14 to 18 in England and the United States, this paper argues that young people's developing identities are an important and neglected factor in success at secondary school mathematics. Students in both countries believe mathematics to be rigid and inflexible, and in particular, that it is a subject that leaves no room for negotiation of meaning. However, while the lack of opportunity for understanding mathematics was important, a much more salient factor in determining students' attitudes towards mathematics was that they did not see success at mathematics as in any way relevant to their developing identities, except insofar as success at mathematics allowed access to future education and careers. (Author)
Paper presented at the International Mathematics Education and Society Conference (2nd, Montechoro, Portugal, March 26-31, 2000).