It's been 20 years since Barbie has spoken her little plastic mind.

Now Teen Talk Barbie, introduced in July by Mattel Inc., is chattering away in playrooms across the country, and this is what she has waited so long to say: "Math class is tough."

Maybe, Barbie, but math teachers are not amused.

"It's a subtle form of brainwashing," said Nancy Metz, a math teacher at Watkins Mill High School in Gaithersburg. "It's a very young person hearing that, and that's not what we want young women to hear."

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, a Reston-based organization with more than 92,000 members, drafted a letter yesterday to Mattel warning of the "negative impact" of Barbie's lament.

And the officers of the Montgomery County Math Teachers Association plan to send a letter of complaint to Mattel's El Segundo, Calif., headquarters.

"Oh my God, no, no, no, no," said Paul Thomas, a math teacher at Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County, when told of Barbie's fear of fractions. "I'll bet they don't have Ken saying that. {They don't.} This is the sort of thing that perpetuates the myth that girls find math harder than boys do."

Mattel spokeswoman Lisa McKendall said Barbie stands innocent of the charges against her. She said the doll makes many other, positive statements, such as, "I'm studying to be a doctor."

Nationally, fifth-grade girls score as well on standardized math tests as fifth-grade boys, according to a study commissioned earlier this year by the American Association of University Women. But by seventh grade the girls have fallen behind, and by high school far fewer girls than boys are enrolled in upper-level math courses, the report found.

Metz said "environmental conditioning" -- stereotypes of men as scientists and mathematicians and women as secretaries and homemakers -- is to blame for instilling in girls a lack of self-confidence when it comes to math and science.

"There are so many negative messages out there, I'd hate to see this one more," Metz said. "If you had a little 3- or 4-year-old, is that what you'd want her little Barbie doll to say to her, time after time after time?"

"It seems like such an insignificant thing to be talking about a doll, but that doll has a significant influence on the little girls we're trying to reach," said Sharon Schuster, president of the American Association of University Women, whose study found widespread bias against girls in U.S. schools, particularly in math and science.

"Barbie has been a role model for a generation of girls, and now she's speaking and what is she saying? That girls don't do well in math," Schuster said.

Mattel's McKendall said Teen Talk Barbie -- as well as other models introduced this year: Totally Hair Barbie and Rollerblade Barbie -- is merely reflecting the mind-set of Little Girl America.

After careful research, including interviews with thousands of children and test marketing on thousands more, Mattel decided on 270 sayings for Teen Talk Barbie, the first talking Barbie since the 1970s. Several hundred thousand Teen Talk Barbies are on the market, selling for about $25, and each one of them is programmed to say four things, randomly selected from the pool of 270, McKendall said.

Other sayings include "We should start a business" and "Computers make homework fun" -- sentiments that, McKendall said, "require you to be proficient in math."

"They're all reflective of what little girls are interested in," McKendall said. "Some of the kids said that math can be tough. If they had said English can be tough, we would have put that too."

McKendall said Mattel this year also introduced "Barbie for President," a doll that comes with a business suit, inaugural gown, campaign button and briefcase.

Barbie the candidate is running on a platform of environmental protection, world peace, education and racial harmony, issues that came from exit polling of 6- to 12-year-olds -- "a segment of the American population that isn't normally represented in polls," McKendall said -- at toy stores across the country. Those beat out other suggested platform planks, including "free toys and ice cream for all children," McKendall said.

Barbie may be just a doll, but the seeds she plants in the ears of little girls are important, the math teachers said.

"In today's world, math is just too important," said Mary Lindquist, president of the council of mathematics teachers. "We don't need a role model giving the message that math is a strange subject."