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  • Writer's pictureMarkus Essien

Why Teaching Math Sucks and Why Parents Should Shut Up About It.

Math is the least spoken language in every household, so why do we think students should be fluent in it?

In K-12 schools across the U.S., math programs are often inordinately scrutinized and viscerally criticized by parents. As one gentleman once told me, "your math program sucks." Although short on specifics, he wasn't necessarily wrong that there is something amiss about math education in this country; however, he may be pointing his finger in the wrong direction.

This week, I was leading a professional development session with a group of talented teachers and the subject of math came up. Recognizing that one approach couldn't possibly be the best for every student in their classrooms, they were considering whether they were teaching one class of twenty or twenty classes of one. Some of their first graders were just learning how to tell time, while others were ready to talk about time zones, and others who were ready for algebraic expressions. Daily, math teachers across the country are performing miracles, and sadly, they may have to keep performing them forever. And I think I may know why.

In short, math teachers are tasked with trying to teach a language to non-native speakers. And adding to this challenge, none of their students are learning to speak it at home. Sure there's the occasional lesson about measuring dry goods when baking a cake, but if we compare how much a child's native tongue is reinforced at home versus the conceptual understanding and computational application of mathematics, there's no comparison. We've told teachers that math is their problem to solve.

As an adult, who is functionally literate in math, I am ever in awe of those who are fluent in it. And as an extension, I am in awe of those adults who are talented and passionate enough to want to teach it—thank you for your patience and care. And in honor of those brave souls and the mysterious language that they de-mystify for our children—as parents and collectively—let's shut our big yaps about it.

Markus Essien is a filmmaker, musician, and educator, currently living in Aurora, Colorado.

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