Hi, I’m Manhar and while some may say I am The Best Math Teacher, I wasn’t born that way.

Some of my earliest memories as a child are of my dad coming outside to get me when I was playing with kids down the street so I could come inside and do some math problems. 

From before I was able to read, I was able to solve word problems that my dad would read to me. 

The idea that someone could be mathematically illiterate was just as embarrassing and unacceptable as being linguistically illiterate.

No one is born “great” at math, just as no one is born “great” at reading/writing

No one is born “great” at math, just as no one is born “great” at reading/writing

I’m no math genius, truly, but I have always been good at math because in my household, there simply wasn’t any other option.

Now, as a math teacher, I wonder if our struggles with math don’t have their roots in this exact scenario. 

Please stop telling your kids you hate math.  

Children are impressionable. Extensive research from Michigan State University has shown that children as young as 14 months old mimic those they come in contact with, and that parents are the single biggest influence on their children (source).

Basic observation tells us parents who are doctors are more likely to have children who become doctors.  Mechanics are likely to have children that grow up to be mechanics, and the same can be observed with many many professions. 

What if “hating math” is being passed on the same way?

 

Every child sees their parents as infallible, perfect humans.  By the time we realize they’re just people like anyone else, they have already imprinted us with a bit of themselves, for better or worse. 

As a math teacher, I can’t tell you how many parent-teacher conferences I’ve had for a failing student where the first thing the parent said was, “Well, I was always terrible at math, so I guess that’s where he gets it from.”  I winced every time.

 

“Well, I was always terrible at math, so I guess that’s where he gets it from.”  I winced every time.

As children grow and learn, it is easy to see how their view of the “perfect parent” can lead to quick decisions about what is valuable and what isn’t.  If Dad knows how to work on cars, then that must be a valuable skill, worth learning and doing.  Mom is a great public speaker, and she’s “perfect”, so that must be something worth knowing.  Unfortunately, I believe this works the other way as well. 

Dad isn’t good at math (and he often tells me), but since he’s the “perfect” dad, it must NOT be important to learn math, otherwise he would know it.  

 

If you don’t think misrepresenting our strengths, weaknesses, and experiences to our children is common or good, then I have a question for you.  What did you tell your kids the first time they asked if you ever did drugs?  What about when they asked about pre-marital sex? Lying? Breaking the law?  It is commonplace, and beneficial most would say, to “lie” to our kids to instill in them not just what we know and did, but what we WISH we had done, or WISH we had known.  So why don’t we take the same approach with math?

Why isn’t there a stigma about being mathematically illiterate just as there is about being linguistically illiterate?

Nobody is proud to be unable to read, and those who are illiterate, are generally ashamed and don’t want to admit it, certainly not to their children.  So why is it that being mathematically illiterate is not only something many aren’t ashamed to admit, but often seem to brag about. 

Everyone CAN learn math, just as everyone CAN learn to read.

Everyone CAN learn math, just as everyone CAN learn to read.

For the record, I am in no way encouraging shaming or stigmatizing illiteracy of any form.  I am fully in favor of helping those who need education receive it, regardless of their age, and they should be comfortable asking for help without being judged.  I raise the comparison between linguistic and mathematical illiteracy only to highlight the differences in what we apparently value and deem important as a society.  

 

My point boils down to this; while parents would never brag in a parent-teacher conference about their linguistic illiteracy and use it to make excuses for their child, they often do exactly that if they are mathematically illiterate.  Why this is commonplace is a topic for another blog, or perhaps a thesis, but we can all work together to change the rhetoric in our own homes. 

 

Here are some ideas for how to talk with your child about math:

(even if you “hate” math, are “bad” at math, or don’t know how to “do math” at all)

Instead of saying: Say this instead:
I hated math growing up. Math was a challenge for me as a student, but it’s important not to give up and work hard because math is important for your future.
I have always been bad at math. I wish I was better at math.  I know I would be better off if I had stronger math skills.
The math you have to learn is useless. (Ex. I’ve never had to graph a parabola in my life) You never know where life will take you and when you might need this math.  Even if you don’t end up using it directly, learning challenging math will improve your problem solving skills, and help you learn to overcome challenging tasks in the future.
I guess he/she just doesn’t have the “math gene”, because I never understood math. Nobody is born knowing math, so everyone has to learn it.  We all learn at different speeds, but you are absolutely capable of learning and understanding math.

 

So besides changing your rhetoric about your math skills, and the value you place on mathematics, what else can you do?

Seek out opportunities for your child to have success in math, and have fun while learning.

The Math is Amazing Math Camp is just one example of such a program. 

Our camp covers 5 topics chosen because they are interesting and relevant, not because some math book says they are important.  Every day is a new story, a new exploration, filled with challenging, engaging questions that will challenge what your teen THINKS they know.  

 

Here’s what you shouldn’t do.  

Please don’t ask your child’s teacher for ‘extra homework’, 

or force your child into insufferable online classes focused on the same old boring math. 

 If your child doesn’t find math class fun or interesting, then there is little chance more of the same will interest them. 

Seek out new, exciting opportunities in math and watch their curiosity take them to new places. 

 

Some new and exciting opportunities in math are always available in our Math is Amazing Virtual Math Camp.

 

You can also find some great ideas on our social media channels and in our Math is Amazing Math Shop! 

If you do find your child ever in need of math tutoring help, I also provide some limited tutoring availability at The Best Math Teacher.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like to discuss anything further at Manhar@mathisamazing.com