Nothing burns me more than those words. Seriously, would that same parent ever admit, “I can’t read, either”? Of course, not. As a society, we seem to accept a self-proclaimed inability to “do math” as a badge of honor – something to wear with pride. Often, the parent making that statement runs a business. Does that mean that running a business does not require math? Of course not. So where is the disconnect? Maybe the parent is intimidated by high school math teachers. Maybe that parent thinks that “doing math” means “doing algebra” or “doing geometry” or whatever it was he did in high school.
What to do in that situation? First, smile. Then, take a breath. Then ask a few questions like
- What kind of math do you use in your daily life?
- Do you mean that you struggled in high school? What do you think contributed to your struggle?
- What do you think it means to “do math”?
Usually, opening the lines of communication leads to understanding. The parent’s claim, “I can’t do math, either” could mean any number of things:
- I didn’t get good grades in my high school math classes
- I can’t help my child with her homework
- I struggled with algebra (or some other topic)
Through conversation, I often help the parent understand that he probably can “do math” and “does math” every day. Conversation also allows me to explain that while we are teaching some specific skills and content, we also teach communication, collaboration, reasoning, and problem solving. And those are skills that kids can take with them anywhere – and do math.