"I Can Barely Read"

       "I can barely read."  

       You never hear anyone ever say this with pride.


       Last week I attended a Professional Learning session about Blended Learning.  Three English teachers were presenting.  One of them said, "...and we're all English teachers, so when we put grades into the grade book, we are all bad at math so we look for shortcuts."

       I am a mathematics supervisor and everyone in the room knows who I am.  When the teacher made this statement about being bad at math, another teacher looked at me and sort of made a face that said, "I think you just insulted the math supervisor who is sitting over there."  The speaker saw this face and looked at me; and then other people in the room began to realize what was going on.  Slowly people started to laugh at the slightly embarrassing situation that this teacher put herself in.

       I didn't want this presenter to feel bad so--with everyone looking at me and wondering how I was going to react--I said, "It's OK."  And then I said (with great pride), "I can barely read."  And the whole room broke out in a loud laugh.

       Why is it perfectly acceptable in our society for grown, educated people to say (out loud and in front of other grown, educated people), "I can't do math."?  But it is completely unacceptable and cause for embarrassment to say (in front of other people; and with great pride), "I can't read."  Why aren't people embarrassed that they can't do math in the same way they would be embarrassed to not being able to read?

       Teachers, parents, coaches, and all leaders need to speak up when they hear children (and adults) proudly saying that they can't do math.  It reinforces to students that it is OK to be bad at math.  This leads to students who refuse to put in the effort to learn mathematics.  Students begin to believe that they really can't do math AND they believe that this is perfectly OK and it's not OK.

       Math is important.  Math is reasoning.  Math is thinking.  Math is problem solving.  Math is perseverance in the presence of difficult situations.  And everyone can do math.

       What you say is important.  People are listening.  If you would never say, "I can't read.", then don't ever say, "I can't do math."

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