Why algebra is necessary; why Mom needs to get a grip on math phobia
The recent suggestion that not every kid needs algebra is simply avoidance, and Mom needs to get a grip on her math phobia for the good of the family.
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I had a geometry teacher who was downright abusive. She assigned an open-ended art project that was supposed to incorporate principles of geometry. For the record, I am totally opposed to art projects after nursery school. My geometry project was a dismal failure. I cut out circles, squares and other shapes and tried to calculate the areas. She took me down in front of the whole class, pointing out I hadn’t done the project at all. She offered no guidance on how I might fix my project. Just withering criticism. Consequently, I break out into hives when I hear the word geometry.Skip to next paragraph
Judy Bolton-Fasman is an award-winning writer who writes about parenting and family life for the NYT Motherlode Blog and the Jewish Advocate. Judy's work has appeared in The New York Times, the Boston Globe and O Magazine. She is writing a family memoir and blogs at The Judy Chronicles. She lives outside of Boston with her husband, daughter, and son.
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But in my gut, I know that math is important in our increasingly tech-savvy world. I’ve made sure that my daughter knows that she can solve a quadratic equation as well as any boy in her class. Hacker points out that only 9 percent of men and 4 percent of women score over 700 on the math portion of the SAT. I’m not worried about that statistic’s discrepancy between girls and boys. I’m astounded by our country’s math illiteracy.
Math students, particularly girls, need both mentors and teachers to excel in the subject. In an article recently published in the American Scholar, Paula Marantz Cohen, an English professor, points out the subtle but crucial differences between mentors and teachers. “A teacher,” she writes, “has greater knowledge than a student; a mentor has greater perspective.”
Marantz Cohen is talking about the editor-writer relationship, but I think a similar relationship is very beneficial for girls in math. A teacher sits down and shows a student how to solve a quadratic equation. A mentor clears away the cobwebs of doubt for a student so that the learning can begin in earnest.
In our house Ken and I take on the roles of teacher and mentor respectively. As mentor, I try to expand my reach beyond that of cheerleader. After I read Hacker’s essay, I was spurred on to demystify algebra and asked Ken to teach me how to prove the quadratic equation Hacker offered in his piece: (x² + y²)² = (x² – y²)² + (2xy)².
“Show me how to do this for our daughter,” I said to my husband as I broke out in a cold sweat.
“She knows how to prove this equation.”
“Please,” I begged.
He proceeded to teach me a strategy called FOIL to tackle the equation. As soon as Anna heard the word in her room she called out incredulously, “Are you doing algebra?” And then she came in and showed me how to solve the problem.
The right attitude, coupled with competent teaching, means that learning algebra doesn’t have to be a Sisyphean undertaking. Even for me.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Judy Bolton-Fasman blogs at The Judy Chronicles.