math

“There is also a deeper loss that’s harder to put a price on. If children are born with anything, it’s a sense of the invisible beauty and elegance of the world. They love seeing patterns, making connections, and solving problems. But the majority of children will lose this sense of wonder and curiosity before they grow up simply because, as a society, we expect so little of ourselves.”
—John Mighton

“Some small event in early childhood or at school might start an avalanche of learning in one child but not another. The fact that an avalanche occurs on one mountain and not another does not imply anything interesting about mountains. It does not prove that one mountain is more prone to avalanches or that an avalanche could never be started.”

—John Mighton

These quotes come from John Mighton’s book The Myth of Ability: Nurturing Mathematical Talent in Every Child. He has another book called The End of Ignorance: Multiplying Our Human Potential. In this second book Mighton explores why children lose their innate sense of wonder and curiosity. In school systems (and by societal beliefs on human ability) children are sorted into who is good at math and who is better with letters and so on. Since we as a society believe individuals are born with a certain innate talent then why bother trying to develop something we do not have? Mighton argues we should not sort our children into categories so early in their education. By telling my daughter that she’s just not a mathy person I am throwing her potential away. I haven’t actually said as such to her but I have thought it. To me the thought is the same as committing the crime toward her.

Instead of sorting our children shouldn’t we be trying to awaken that avalanche of learning, discovery, and ability? And since I now believe Mighton’s insights (the two quotes above) to be true then I need to model this belief in how I teach my children and (here’s the hard part!) in my beliefs about my own abilities or lack thereof.  So how is this to be done? What kind of teacher do I need to be for my children to really “get” math…or music, art, writing, science…whatever.

I’m not sure this process can be facilitated so much as nurtured. That “avalanche of learning” happens because someone invested themselves into another being. I saw this happen with Middle Boy. He has a passion for music because he felt loved in his preschool. The high school girl’s who designed the curriculum all loved music. They all played instruments or danced. They passed their love and enthusiasm for music to him. They invested themselves into their curriculum and into the children they taught. My son can play a song by ear…not perfectly or immediately. But he can sit at the piano and figure out a melody. Is his talent for music innate or inspired? A bit of both?

I’ve also noticed that when my husband spends time helping our children with their music their ability increases. Not just a small increment. I hear a leap in improvement in all of them. My husband doesn’t play piano nor does he read music quickly. He will even admit their ability to play the piano far surpasses his own. Yet, when he invests his own time (something he has a limited supply of at home) they improve.

As the mother, nurturer, educator at home I need to bring about the conditions that will support and encourage Mr. Mighton’s avalanche. I’ve been reading these books and articles on education, philosophy, mathematical ability, motivation, human development…seeking how to create such an environment. All this time my husband has been modeling the answer for me during his music practice coaching. I am married to the most fascinating man.

“My heart is singing for joy this morning. A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil’s mind, and behold, all things are changed.” — Anne Sullivan

 

 

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