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Letters to the Editor: Subtract the shame from learning math. Add affirmation and hope

A student writes in a notebook next to a pink calculator.
A student works on problems during a 12th-grade math class at Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles in 2019.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
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To the editor: Stanford professor Jo Boaler is hopeful about new approaches to teaching math, and I am hopeful too.

In school, I encountered the wall of indifference in learning math that Boaler talks about. In my 40s, I learned only through a chance encounter with a doctorate holder in econometrics that my earning a B in a graduate school econometrics course demonstrated a decent understanding of the topic. Previously, I believed that my grade indicated that I had little understanding of the subject.

A small bit of encouragement and affirmation while taking the class could have helped considerably.

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For those who teach math to others, I humbly suggest that they take just a little time to affirm and encourage others who may have not had previous exposure to the subject. This would have helped me understand that I had a decent understanding of math while younger.

Hopefully, more can be done to consciously encourage those who may lack confidence in a challenging subject.

Avis Ridley-Thomas, Los Angeles

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To the editor: Boaler writes, “The current system of mathematics teaching in the U.S. invites few students into the richness of thought.” But public schools offer math instruction in every jurisdiction in the U.S. Everyone is invited.

She also mentions “decisions, by schools or districts, to put students on different tracks as early as third or fourth grade and teach them math that often limits how far they can go.” But recently, a high school teacher in Baltimore revealed that most of her students were reading at an elementary level. Why is it surprising that some students would be on a different track than others?

California students are underperforming in math. But the math framework revision the author and her colleagues propose will just make things worse; they hope to decelerate math and lower expectations. This won’t help students, particularly since the proposed revision is based on research that has been criticized as flawed.

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Please, California Board of Education, reject the proposed revision to the math curriculum framework.

Kathryn Jordan, Palo Alto

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To the editor: Boaler raises several interesting points, but she still misses one of the most important — how do we integrate math with other subjects instead of leaving it as a stand-alone?

Are music teachers prepared to teach the math behind Selena and Tupac? Are English teachers prepared to teach the math behind Shakespeare and Maya Angelou? Are social studies teachers prepared to teach the math behind Roman engineers and the Great Wall of China?

Are schools prepared to return drafting, wood shop, auto shop and other electives that show children some of the enjoyable uses of math?

And are math teachers willing to adjust the order of instruction to more closely mesh with science classes so children aren’t exposed to a topic today, but not see its use for months or even years?

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Once we stop pretending that each subject can be taught as an individual stove pipe, we might be able to address why so many students are not willing to put in the effort to learn math.

Mark Peckham, Las Vegas

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