I read an article today in the New York Times discussing the latest wave of math reforms to hit country as part of the Common Core curriculum and how similar attempts at reform in the past have failed us as a nation. I must admit the article brought tears to my eyes as I recalled my many years as a frustrated student in math class.
Time and time again I would sit in class knowing that I was a capable student and yet feeling stupid and helpless when it came to my inability to solve the simplest of problems. Like an attack dog I was trained to read problems for the keywords that would guide me to whatever pre-prescribed problem solving strategy had been taught in class that week. I was never taught to think for myself when it came to math, only to jump through the proverbial hoops of standardized test that the state demanded our teachers train us for. As I read this article it was refreshing to see that shortcuts that I developed on my own to understand and perform math tasks were not a reflection of my failure as a student but rather my brain working to learn something the curriculum failed to teach me.
This article also reminded me of the struggles that I faced as a student from a working class home, who didn’t have parents who were able to reinforce at home what school had attempted to teach me. Many of my middle class peers in the Pre-AP and AP courses that I took had already been exposed to higher levels of math and different manners of thinking from their affluent and business savvy parents, but I didn’t have that safety net. So I often worry about the generation of boys and girls in today’s K-12 public education system, because I want desperately for the school system not to fail them in the same ways it failed me. But I know how difficult it is and how long it takes for even the smallest of things to be reformed. And so my heart goes out to them, the far-too-many students that will slip through the cracks.