Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Last night I had a conversation with my ex's son, C-Man, who is in the 6th grade, about math. Sort of. C-Man goes to a magnet school for fine arts, which is wonderful. This school places high expectations on the students, and so it should. C-Man has always been book-smart and prone to dramatics. In other words, I knew that this would be a good fit. C-Man's biggest problem in public school was being a big fish in a little pond. In other words, C-Man was too smart for his own good, and was bored. This has been an ongoing hurdle for C-Man to bear. A few months ago, everyone found out that C-Man hadn't turned in any homework, for any of his classes second semester, and might flunk out of school. The good news was that his test scores were great. This was strictly a homework issue. C-Man was smart, just not doing his homework. The irony was that C-Man would do academic, but non-homework related projects at home. The only thing that came to my mind was that he was bored by the homework. However, he really loves his school, and is now sufficiently frightened that he is doing it anyway.

Did you know that kids are doing algebra in 6th grade? I took algebra in 9th grade. I liked it and did well in it, but there is a huge difference between a 6th grade mind and a 9th grade mind. C-Man's teacher is going to start tutoring him on Thursdays after school in Math. C-Man is not happy about this. C-Man doesn't think he needs tutoring. C-Man gets all of the answers right. Why does C-Man need tutoring you ask? C-Man won't show his work. The teacher wants C-Man to write down all of the steps to solve the problem. My response is, "Well, do it."

C-Man says, "I know the answer just by looking at the problem AND he has more steps than I do. I can solve it in fewer steps and he doesn't like it. He says that my way is wrong. He wants me to do it his way, which is longer."

And here lies the quandary for every parent or parental role model, which is the category I fall into. Has C-Man shown him his steps and hit this wall already? Or is he assuming that the teacher will not like what he sees? What if C-Man shows him his steps and the teacher sees that C-Man is a brilliant mathematical mind in the making? The teacher already knows that C-Man can just look at the problem and solve it IN HIS HEAD. How do I make C-Man feel good about himself and still respect his teacher? Right now, C-Man is convinced that he knows MORE than his teacher and is giving his teacher attitude, which is not a good thing.

So, I take out some paper and put two dots on it. Each represent a specific place. Point A and Point B and then I draw lines. One line is the shortest distance between the points. The other line is slightly more curved. The straight line is the teacher's way of solving the problem. And the curvy line is C-Man's way of solving it. He disagrees. He thinks his line should the straight line. I mark an area on the teacher's line with xxx's, and tell him the reason he doesn't take that line is because it's under construction, and it slows him down. Therefore, the curvy line is faster. However, until he shows the teacher his curvy line, and explains to the teacher about the construction going down on the teacher's straight line, the two of them are not going to understand how the other one thinks. I followed that gem up with, "C-Man, your teacher went to college and majored in Math."

The whole time I'm thinking, "Please Mr. Math Teacher, don't be one of those people who squashes a child because he can. If the only real problem here is that C-Man is smarter than you and has found a faster way to solve a problem, don't penalize him. Don't break his spirit or make him feel small or less than or stupid when he isn't. I know that it must sting, him being twelve, and you being a grown man, if he's already surpassed you, but you can choose to help him flourish. Please choose that."

I am reminded, once again, by the great power that teachers wield. This one man, right now, has the power to boost the self-esteem of a young boy and, perhaps, light a fire that could make this world a much finer place. Or, he can blow out a candle, and we will never know what could have been.


  1. This post is close to my heart. My 10-year-old daughter is in 5th grade, she's a straight A student because she puts in the required work and is very organised when it comes to her studying...she is no mathematical genius...but once she learns how to do something there is no stopping her! But I have noticed that she is faring very well in this education system that caters to children like her and there are other classmates who are geniuses at say chess or light years ahead as far as following their extra-curricular interests in science, maths, even language who are not doing as well as they should be in class because the system works that way...rewarding students who may be medium in intelligence but work consistently and penalising brilliant minds who want more independence in the way they learn...

    It's a tough one. Montessori might work for C-man (We don't have it here)...

    Plus, I, too, am amazed at what they are doing in 5th grade...this year they did weight, mass, velocity and she was asking me how to figure square roots the other day. As for history - they are doing the Byzantium which is full of political strife, dates, emperors and intrigue. Kills me! Weird thing is - they get it...

    And that leads me to another question...just because they "get it" does it mean that they must be taught it at such an early age? Have we forgotten this magic little thing called "childhood"?

    Good luck with C-man...Hope the teacher is a caring one who has worked out his own issues so that he can be good with more challenging kids.

  2. I love this post! I'm not saying I was the brightest child, but when I was about 9 or 10, I had a teacher who told us something that was incorrect and I pulled her up about it. She refused to admit her mistake and I refused to back down. She made me stand in the hallway for the rest of the lesson for being "argumentative"! I didn't let it drop (you may have guessed I can be like a dog with a bone by now!) and even when she found out she was wrong, she refused to apologise and picked on me in lessons from that time on.

    I also used to refuse to do homework, even though I'd work on my own projects at home. I don't think I was ever punished for it. As I explained to my teachers, I didn't agree with homework and punishing me wouldn't make me do it, so what was the point in giving me detentions? Punishing only works if it makes someone change their ways and I wasn't going to. Looking back, I must have come across as a right little sh*t! ;o)

    Of course, Tabitha will not know about this and I will be encouraging her to tell me about her day and go through her homework with her! I have a feeling she's going to be a very bright little girl. She's certainly the most inquisitve (and easily bored) of all the children around her age at the nursery group.

  3. Oy vey...this is a toughie. School serves two purposes most of the time: one is education; the other is socialization. Both are equally important.

    Some teachers have a lot of pride, such as the ones your friend mentioned in the comments section; even if wrong, they will not back down and will only seek to humiliate or humble a child. I do not think this is what school is for. It seems like a battle of wills between C-Man and his teacher... I just hope the teacher treats C-Man with a little respect if he wants to get any back.


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