I am sitting here watching my daughter take her pre-algebra test after much handwringing and crying. This girl, who is so smart and funny and insightful in a way that I can’t even imagine at her age – is afraid of math. She always has been. No matter what text we have tried, what class I put her in, what program online we have tried – she has somehow gotten it into her head that she is bad at math. This year I contacted our local public school, who has been amazing in helping me out. I talked to the teachers over there to find out what text she should be doing this year if I want to integrate her next year into the school system. They gave me the info I needed, I went and got the program, and she flew through it. I kid you not, she blew it away. A program that should have taken her a year she has already finished. Now, you would think that this would make her feel extremely confident in her math skills. Nope. When I sat her down for her to take the placement test for pre-algebra, to make sure that she was ready, she lost her mind. You would have thought I was telling her to go solve world peace or something. I just couldn’t believe it.
So I got to thinking – maybe it is me? Maybe I am putting stress on her that I am not aware of? Am I making her think that she is not good at math? I mean, I have heard the stories about girls not thinking that they are good at math because of things they learn in society – but she is homeschooled. Which means, that if she is getting that idea from “society” isn’t it really me she is getting it from? So I started looking at my own opinions and thoughts about math and I realized that I have long let it be known that I was terrible at math. And I am. But at what point did I decide this? When I went to school we took Algebra I our freshman year of high school and so on. I took it freshman year and I think I got an A. Then on to Geometry, Algebra II, and ended with Trigonometry my senior year. Went on to college and took Calculus, which to be honest – I did terribly in. But this was not because I was bad at math; it was because I decided that partying was more important than doing my work and studying. So when did I convince myself that I am terrible at it, and when did I pass this to my girl?
My son is amazing at it. He flies through it like it is literally nothing. He never needs help with homework, never has questions and is taking Geometry in 8th grade. So is he naturally gifted in it (I say yes simply because he has always loved it – in fact, at school tomorrow they had to choose what class they wanted to spend their afternoon in for a holiday treat, he chose his math teacher so he could spend the afternoon doing math. Yikes!), or did I somehow give him the impression that he is better at it because he is a boy? Then there is the fact that my daughter has always struggled with it; was watching it come so easy to him what gave her the idea that she couldn’t do it?
As a mom and a homeschooling parent, it is my job to ensure that both my kids get amazing educations. Their paths have thus far led them different ways, and much of that has to do with what they enjoy and what interests them. My daughter loves science, my son math. She kicks his butt in anything science and he kicks her in math – and yet, she doesn’t think she is as smart as him because math distresses her. Mind you, this is the same child that consistently scores several grade levels above her current grade in math on standardized tests. Last year she took the 5th grade test in math and scored 10th grade. But it is still not enough. When I told her how well she had done, she literally cried with relief.
I think this is something many of us struggle with. We don’t know when to push and when to back off. We don’t know when there is a block that is mental, or an actual learning difficulty. I thought for a long time that there was some sort of learning disorder there, but now I think that it might be a confidence problem instead. And then, there is the fact that I am her teacher and her mother. She might have a different reaction to it in a school setting where she can’t break down in tears and beg to not take something because her teacher is not her mom. I suppose we will find out next year when she is in school and learning alongside other kids just like her; perhaps her natural confidence will help her to simply buckle down and do it without giving herself unnecessary stress.
Oh, and for the record – she passed the test she just took with flying colors. Go figure….