“Why do you care about math so much?”
As a volunteer, I spend a lot of time with middle school and high school students, and this is the question I get asked the second most often.
(The most common question I get is “What is the hardest part about your job?” I answered that here.)
Thirty years ago, I became the first American to win the world judo championships. That was brought up recently, and again, people asked me,
Wasn’t it hard to give all of this up for, well – for math?!
No, it wasn’t.
I know that many children fall behind in math by the third grade. They are slow learning their multiplication tables, which makes it harder to do division, which is just multiplication in reverse. Because they can’t divide, they can’t do fractions.
It snowballs and by the time they are in eighth grade, they have decided they can’t do math. Shortly after that, they decide they can’t do school. Before senior year, they are gone.
Sometimes they try again, years later, getting a GED, enrolling in community college. Even if they succeed the second time, they will never get those years back and will be far behind – economically, professionally – the students who were able to move right through their math classes.
I refuse to accept that just because children don’t have help at nine years of age that they are going to have less chance of a good life. Lots of people in this country talk about their concerns about inequality without doing anything. I’m trying my best every day to do something about it.
People who (wrongly) think they are smart argue with me that there will always be a bottom half of the class. This is true, but that doesn’t mean that bottom half of the class can’t all know how to multiply, divide and find a common denominator.
Yes, I like teaching judo. It’s a lot of fun. Sometimes it is the social support from adults and self-esteem boost kids need to stay in school.
What they need even more is to learn algebra. Why? Because without algebra you are cut out of a college curriculum and without college you can’t be a doctor, a nurse, a teacher.
If you don’t understand decimals and percentages you are going to fail at carpentry, at business.
Math matters in determining the path of children’s lives.
And that’s why I care so much.