You’re getting older and it’s time I told you the truth: The school system is broken. Your grades don’t even tell a fraction of the tale of your worth. When you were put in Title One 2 years ago for math and reading, I stood up for you. I made crazy statements and I showed you how important it all was. Because darling girl, you need to learn from the mistakes of the past.
Just yesterday you told me exactly how much money we’d need for a year of savings to go to Disney. We broke down monthly how much we’d save and you stole the show with continuing the pattern and completing projections in your head. I uttered the words, “you’re so great at math, Ava. I wish I was.” You told me, “Mom! You are GREAT at math.” I realized in that moment, I had failed you in the worst way possible. I had modeled for you everything I had come to hate about my past. I didn’t own my math-ness.
In kindergarten, we had a science teacher who made us memorize the planets, in order. Your Grandfather was annoyed and he thought the teacher was overzealous, but he helped me practice every night. At test time, I excelled. The teacher pushed everyone to memorize and learn. I thought I wanted to work for NASA. Your Grandpa and Grandma made me feel so smart. I could do ANYTHING.
I think 3rd grade is when it happened. You see, in 3rd grade is when I realized that after being told I could do or be anything, someone thought I couldn’t. Mrs. McLaughlin probably was a decent teacher, but when I was little, there was no push for STEM. Girls weren’t encouraged to play with legos or science- we were simply swept under the academic rug if we showed no early promise. I don’t remember much from my 3rd grade experience, minus two episodes that stand out still to this day. Your Aunt Mindy and I got into a fight with pencils and stabbed each other, (we both ended up speaking to the Principal,) and I was put in special education for math for 3 horrifying days.
In the Eighties, you called special education, “remedial math.” Or, “bucket brigade.” But, for a few days, until your Grandmother’s insistence won over the teacher, I was told I had no idea what I was doing, mathematically. I remember the words distinctly. Mrs. McLaughlin said, “You aren’t good at math. You need to practice more.” From that day on, I despised math with every fiber of my being. I sat in a different room and I was made fun of constantly upon my return to the classroom. That was one of many times that my insistence to ask more questions about the “why” we solved math problems as we did, got me into a lot of trouble.
In 8th grade, I was constantly in detention from the math teacher, Mrs. Fleursh, who also conveniently ran Ski Club- the horror. Understandably, my inability to control chatting played a large part. However, I’ll never forget the day I stood up to ask a question and earned my 3rd detention that week. I was completely lost and had NO idea what I was doing in math. When it came time to open our books and work independently, I felt stupid and alone. I was the class, “troublemaker,” I was told. For a while, I lived up to my expectations. I didn’t focus. I mouthed off. I absolutely hated school. And again, I hated math.
In 10th grade, our science teacher taught us an entire unit on Paper Airplanes. (For a wonderful reason, I can’t remember his name. R-something. He was a terrible teacher.) Imagine my delight when I was finally able to study lift and physics first-hand, (this is sarcasm, sweet girl.) The girls were jokingly told, “stop worrying about breaking your nails and pay attention!” If the female classmates goofed off, we were mocked for being girls in a boy’s class. If the boys goofed off, they were simply being boys. When we went out to throw our airplanes, we were told not to throw them like, “girls.” It was then that we totally and awfully, threw them as gently as we could. We didn’t care anymore. I ended up with a C, which frankly, is kinder than what I should have received. I ended up completely tuning out. Because, remember- I was terrible at math.
That same year, Grandma and Grandpa took me to Kennedy Space Center. I decided then, that I still wanted to work for NASA. It was possibly the first time I recognized the importance of math and science. I wanted to be a systems analyst but was told I didn’t have the “mindset and skills” that were needed. I think I wanted to be part of a leadership, solve dilemmas and create opportunities and achievements. I remember so clearly knowing that my brain wasn’t built for problem-solving- because that’s what I was hearing over and over. It wasn’t built to make a better world, or to remedy an equation that no one else was able to solve… or so I thought. I started writing with ferocity. I landed a coveted position as a junior editor. I worked for AOL at 15 years old on their message boards and never realized that I used math even in writing and online gaming. Go figure.
For most of my life, I’ve avoided math. It wasn’t until a decade ago when I realized, I used math daily in risk mitigation and coding. I wasn’t great at textbook problems or test questions. However, I was fantastic in the real world. Writing is a different kind of math. I sense patterns and cadence with words. I must solve for, “x” by telling a story that resonates. When I send to an editor, I must match my characters or words to what’s been requested and trim or add to suit. Math, incredible and smart Ava, is EVERYTHING.
Tomorrow, you start 3rd grade. I’ve inundated you with enough Legos, SciGrls and Goldiblocks to educate a small chater school. And, I’ll stand up when someone thinks that if you learn differently, it means you’re less. It was only 2 years ago that I felt defeated when over 70% of your class tested into Title One. You, tested out within months. Assessments are nothing. Grades are nothing. All you need to remember is: The real world is too busy to care about your test scores- the only thing that matters is you found a way to understand the concepts and can apply them when needed.
There are true roadblocks. You have my same lisp and our inability to curl our tongue upwards for our, “R-sounds.” But, you and I are brilliant and capable in the ways of math and science. I’ve seen it firsthand- I know it to be absolutely true. You also posses the fingers of a writer. Your short story and Ava-isms are a wonderful, candid testament to everything rattling around in that smart brain.
Ava, when they tell you for whatever reason you can’t, you stare at them and say, “Call me in 20 years.” Because, that- is the “x” they are going to still be trying to find.