Having taught math myself for the past 30 years, and with a brother who is a middle school math teacher, I am obviously not tarring all math teachers with the same brush, but I am really starting to get pissed off here. I have beautiful daughters, and it is not just me who says so. Here is the oldest one.

Maria and Eva cuddled up

Here are the other three.

daughtersSee the middle one there? When she walked in for the first day of an advanced math class, the TEACHER (who was a woman), asked her,

“Are you sure you’re in the right class?”

Ronda came home and told me about it. She said,

Well, I guess I don’t really look like I belong in there. I’m the only non-Asian girl in the class, and I’m tall and blonde. I really stand out.

Ronda is extremely good at math. When she was young, we assumed she would get her Ph.D. in some kind of science, but she decided to go the UFC / movies route instead.

The other three could have been extremely good at math, but it was not a particular interest of theirs. The littlest one, on the left, has done quite well in math, until very recently.

What has happened with all of my daughters, though, is that the schools and I have generally butted heads with what we expected of them. When my oldest daughter met with the high school guidance counselor, and was asked what schools she was interested in, Maria said,

“I’d like to go to either Harvard or NYU.”

The counselor laughed and said,

Of course, everyone would like to go to Harvard or NYU but let’s take a look at the local community college.

I called the counselor up the next day and asked if she was fucking kidding me. I told her that her daughter could go to the community college, but if my daughter wanted to go to NYU or Harvard that is god damn well where she was going to go. Maria did graduate from NYU, in 3 1/2 years, thank you very much, when she was 20 years old.

Of my three older children, one has a bachelors from NYU, one has a masters from USC and one is finishing filming Expendables 3 this week and then flying off to film Fast and Furious 7. They are a fairly accomplished group.

And yet … more often than not, I was pushing them academically more than their teachers were – and you can’t find a much more yuppie school district than Santa Monica-Malibu, and most of the time they all went to private schools.  As a general rule, if they fell behind (which in my mind is anything less than an A because, seriously, what do they have to do but study? It’s not like they’re working in a coal mine after school or cleaning their rooms or anything.) – I was much more upset about it than their teachers were.  They did not EXPECT my children to make straight A’s, take AP Calculus, get into top schools.

When Maria walked into Geometry in the ninth grade, one of the girls she had run cross-country with the year before, who was a junior in the same class, exclaimed in shock,

“You’re smart?!”

Yes, one of my daughters was a cheerleader. Two were very much into sports in high school. Two were very much into going to the mall and buying every item of designer clothing sold in America.

If you are a math teacher, honestly, ask yourself do you have the same expectations for every student in your class? Really?

I asked myself that same question several years ago. I teach graduate-level statistics and I used to encourage the students “who I thought would be interested” to present their research at conferences, to publish it. I quit doing that. Now, I make those announcements in class, repeatedly, and encourage everyone.

Year after year, students have surprised me by the level of motivation and the quality of their work.

Honestly, if you teach AP Calculus and you have a pretty blonde girl that comes to your class some days in a cheerleader outfit (because that’s what they wear on game days), and is making a B or C, do you assume that is the best she wants to or can do? Honestly? Just between you and me?

One of The Spoiled One’s favorite movies is Legally Blonde. You know why? Because everyone assumes the protagonist is dumb because she’s interested in fashion, pretty and naive. In the end, she is dissuaded from dropping out by a professor who tells her that she can  do it, and the movie ends with her graduation from Harvard Law School.

If you’re a math teacher, I’d like you to watch that movie, because my kids DO live in southern California and they DO shop in Beverly Hills and contrary to what you think about how they look, they DO belong in your class.

 

Comments

5 Responses to “Wonder why girls don’t like math? Look at yourself!”

  1. Slightly Anonymous on October 21st, 2013 3:50 pm

    I’m a math teacher and that’s one of my favourite movies.

    I recently quit a job and I got some upsetting e-mails from old students.

    They were being pressured out of taking AP math (equivalent) because it was awkward for the school to schedule it and find a willing teacher… it sounds like they were hearing a lot of low level comments like:
    “are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to take an easier subject”
    “you can get into a good uni without that” (for a worse value of good, sure)

    Bloody awful and undermines years of the students’ hard work.

    The upsetting part is that this is not an uncommon practice in schools here.

  2. AnnMaria on October 21st, 2013 4:01 pm

    That’s really sad, but not unsurprising. As I said, I caught myself doing the same thing.

  3. Dan on October 21st, 2013 6:20 pm

    Some good math books for girls

  4. Scott Diamond on October 21st, 2013 6:42 pm

    Way to go! I teach science (applied math) and fight this battle daily. Its not just the teachers, though. Other students and even parents (!) make similar assumptions.

    I was saved from this by my undergraduate and graduate mentors. Both were (are) women, and my PhD mentor is a former actress, and the brightest person that I’ve ever met.

    My wife, an epidemiologist, keeps me straight. She is a former college basketball player, gorgeous, and far brighter than I!

    I enjoy your column both for the statistics advice (which I need) but also for your philosophy.

    Thanks for writing so thoughtfully and so personally. Both affect my thinking.

    Scott

  5. AnnMaria on November 8th, 2013 3:19 pm

    Scott -
    One can only hope that you and your wife are blessed with daughters (or, eventually, granddaughters) because just think what a great home you will make for them.

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