If you ask T. what she wants to be when she grows up, she'll tell you "a scientist!" Then she will go on to qualify that and say, more specifically, that she wants to study marine biology. Awhile back I remember telling both kids that I had wanted to study zoology in college, but was held back from my aspirations because of math. To be fair, it wasn't math that held me back, but my reluctance to get my mind around it enough to push through the harder courses.
Math gives me a headache. I think I do have some type of learning disability when it comes to numbers, because I have trouble making sense of them in ways that go above and beyond simply not liking the subject. In school, math made me feel badly about myself. It made me feel thick-headed, and slow, and extremely frustrated. English, or language arts-centered classes, however, made me feel on top of my world.
When I teach developmental writing classes I always tell my students the story of my math challenges. I tell them I had to take the "remedial" math class in college, before I could move on to the first semester freshman math course. I tell them how I found myself caught in that avoidance cycle I see so often in my own students: I skipped class because I felt bad, which led to my poor grades, which led to more bad feelings, and more skipped classes. It was only with the help of my sister and a sympathetic and all-around great math professor that I was able to finally make some progress and turn the corner on my math anxiety.
T. so far doesn't have too much math anxiety. She has had moments when she's felt overwhelmed by the amount of math homework that comes home, but so far she's kept a positive attitude. I did realize the other day, though, that I think I push her more about math than I did L. at the same age, while Scott has always been the one to push L. One night I pushed on her a little too much to finish up a page of math and she said,
"Math just isn't for me."
And I had to stop and think.
Am I demanding more from her because she's a girl? Because she might have to move through a world that will assume she can't do math? A world that will expect her to shine in other areas? Or is it because the job she imagines and hopes she will have one day will require hard work in the areas I so struggled with? Or, is it because I know too well now how schools track and assess based on math skills, and that reading at a high level and showing a talent for writing and verbal skills always seems to take second place to testing "gifted" in math?
I praise her verbal and reading skills, and her many other talents, but I also want to make sure she's praised enough for her good puzzle and problem-solving skills, and her ability to work patiently through a set a math problems. Maybe, I worry, I've unwittingly planted a seed in her mind that she might be like me, and struggle with math?
I don't have any regrets at all about my own career choice, but I do regret closing doors on myself because I couldn't face my math fears and anxieties. I worry about this a lot for L., who struggles so much with self-motivation, but I also worry about my daughter, who has already faced some teasing and commentary from her peers because of "un-girlie" choices (she picked a camouflage-patterned water bottle for school this year, and a friend asked her why she picked a "boy's bottle"; or how about the time in gymnastics this past October, when she told a teammate that she was going to dress up as an astronaut. "That's a boy's costume," the girl said.).
When it comes to math, how much pushing is too much pushing? How little, not enough?
And, speaking of gender issues/inequities, have you been following the Lego controversy?
What do you think?