If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that comment…well, I’d have a pile of dollars, and we could get mathy with it. But if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say “I’m not a reading person,” I wouldn’t have many dollars at all.
It is decidedly uncool and socially unacceptable to admit to not being a good reader, much less to being illiterate. Yet it’s totally fine to admit to being innumerate. In fact, advertising your mathematical difficulties may even lift your social standing! What?!?!
Let’s undo that. Please. If you fall into the camp of people who lay claim to not being a “math person,” stop doing that. If only for your young childrens’ sakes, keep mum about your math anxiety. If your kids are older and you think sharing your scary math experiences as a student will help them face their own hurdles, by all means go for it, but don’t let them adopt that “not mathy” identity. If at all possible, do not speak ill of math. (Or any subject for that matter. Why set the stage for your kids to dislike something before they know it? I am always bothered by adults who suggest to my kids that they should be dreading school. Why plant the seeds for negative feelings before they even exist?)
I am not trying to diminish what is a legitimate feeling of discomfort that many people have for math. I’m going to lay the blame for that squarely on the shoulders of the curriculum you were taught, and, unfortunately, on the well-intentioned teachers who presented it. Math is traditionally taught as an inflexible sequence of facts and processes to be memorized. It also gets abstract quickly in a traditional curriculum. Inflexible abstract spaces are not welcoming to children, so if you couldn’t adapt to that as a kid, you likely felt out of place in math class.
And if you actually did quite well in your math classes, enjoyed them, and have never experienced math anxiety, that’s awesome! But, it’s likely (though not guaranteed, you lucky few) that those classes were still inflexible and abstract and, alas, uninspiring in ways that they didn’t have to be.
The happy secret that we can let our kids in on is that math is actually a crazy creative space! It is much broader than the narrow memorization of addition/subtraction and multiplication/division facts. It is much deeper than the practical processes you learn to simplify an expression, balance an equation, and solve for X. And YOU don’t really need to be comfortable with all the ins and outs of those things in order to be a math positive person for your kids. Just start by NOT being math negative. Then build on that by being curious and coaching your kids to be curious, too. (FYI – apply this method to anything, really.)
Next post will be about more things you can actually DO besides just singing the “I Love Math” song to your kids. (You ARE singing that song to them, right? It’s just three words and any tune you like! Very flexible and not abstract.)
Photo credit 1:Sam Wolff via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA
Photo credit 2: fdecomite via Visual hunt / CC BY
Great advice! We have one math loving parent in the house who used to claim to love math and to be no good at art. These statements stymied artistic risk taking in our child. Fortunately, stopping that negative script has made all the difference, and now the two of them do art together.
Thank you for reminding me…I am a recovering “I am not an art person” person. I am also an “I am not a music person” person. So, I try to actively encourage those things in my kids…or at the very least, not discourage them. Thank goodness math, art, and music have many intersections!
Yes! I love intersections!
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Ok. “I’m not a math person” and I completely say that with pride. Why? because I have a learning disability and I just can’t wrap my mind around it. It’s just how I am. I don’t say it to be cool. I don’t say it to be mean. I say it because I’m honest and I know my faults. School for me has been nothing but a burden, but I also don’t seek to tell others that, for I know that people are different and think differently. I honestly adore math whizzes. Geniuses like that impress me. But if I were to talk about school, it really has done nothing but remind of the things I can’t do. Schools now a days, they don’t sit down to actually try and help the kids who require a different way of learning. They don’t understand that different people are meant to accomplish different things. To me the extracurricular and the art classes are just as important as the core classes. There are left brains and right brainers. Left brainers are logical, while right brainers are creative. If we don’t have both our world can’t excel and grow. We need both.
Lotus Grapevine, it sounds like you’ve not had a good school experience, much less a good math experience. I am sorry to hear that. Some teachers, schools, and systems are skilled at recognizing individual differences and adjusting their approaches accordingly, and many are not. We do all have our own strengths and talents that should be honored. As you explore your interests in music and the stars, you may discover a more natural connection to math on your own terms.
Ya, I never really had a good school experience. Thank you!
Pan, thank you again for a great post! It always touches my heart when I hear people who think they are not a “something” person. I’ve been that person too. “I’m just not good at movement.” “I can’t remember names.” “I’m not disciplined.”
Now that I know more about neural plasticity and how learning works, I know that all brains have the capacity to learn just about anything if we can create ignition (the desire to learn), give them the right degree of challenge (not too easy and not too hard), and allow them to learn at their own pace without sending explicit (or implicit) messages that they are supposed to be learning faster just like “everyone else”.
Lotusgrapevine, I am sorry for your school experiences (and the school experiences of all too many of our students in schools yesterday and today) that taught you that you could not learn math because you had a learning disability. Someday, I believe that we will learn that we made up learning disabilities to explain why our schools were failing so badly at teaching everyone that human brains are designed to learn–but not everyone starts at the same place or learns at the same rate or needs the exact same kinds of experiences to ignite or practice. I am so happy that you found other ways to express your creativity and capacity for learning.
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