To write The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, Amanda Ripley followed three American students as they embarked on far-flung educational experiences around the world. She set out with the aim of determining how kids in different countries learn to think and thrive in the modern economy. The resulting book provides a poignant comparison of student achievement, education systems, and cultural attitudes in Finland, South Korea, and Poland with those in the United States.
The Marginalization of Math
When you look at the list of today’s most valuable college majors, you’ll find that the highest-paying specializations have math in common. All over our society, where there’s money, there tends to be math. Still, a key finding of Ripley’s work is that, despite the continuing relevance of math skills in the marketplace, American parents have been shifting the focus away from math education. In 2009, a poll revealed that the majority ranked reading and writing skills as being more important than math and science. A recent article by LearningRx explores the causes behind this phenomenon and offers ways that parents can help children excel in math, regardless of what’s going on in their social circles.
Nurture over Nature
One belief about math seemingly unique to the American perspective is that it’s a skill set dictated by natural abilities ingrained at birth. Parents in the U.S. seem to think mathematically inclined children are born that way and that math-whiz-dom is unattainable to those who don’t effortlessly excel. The truth is, math can be taught, and the required learning starts with cognitive-skill building blocks far simpler than algebra. The most practical move concerned parents can make is to have mathematically challenged kids tested for memory, cognitive, and visual processing problems. Though these natural challenges can interfere with progress in math, they can be overcome through a variety of interventions.
Fear of Math
Another problem for American parents is the snowballing de-emphasis of math. Since most moms and dads haven’t honed their own skills since high school, they can feel inadequately prepared to help young students learn. When the subject matter intimidates both kids and caregivers, it’s easy for everyone in the family to avoid arithmetic. Fear of math, however, is no reason to rob kids of opportunities. While you may not be able to work through geometry problems with your child, you have more options than ever to hire someone who can. Just by talking about math in your home and celebrating achievements in this area, you can change attitudes about challenging coursework.
America’s plummeting math scores can’t be blamed merely on a lack of kids’ motivation or insufficient parental involvement. Both generations are putting in more hours than their international counterparts. Unfortunately, the focus in the United States has shifted from academic achievement to success in sports and other extracurricular activities. By merely balancing the importance of math and science in your conversations and activities, you can prevent these fields of study from slipping to the side. Resist the urge to spend all your time talking about effortlessly “fun” subjects and embrace the challenge of making math more enjoyable for everyone.
Finding Opportunities for Immersion
Keeping math accessible to kids is worth some extra effort. Extracurricular education can take many forms, including after-school clubs, summer adventure camps, preschool programming, and proven test prep. If your child has been struggling, consider one-on-one or small-group tutoring to get him or her up to speed. FasTracKids’ NYC Math tutoring program for ages 3.5 to 14 builds concentration, confidence, and comprehension by teaching critical thinking along with basic thinking. There have never been more opportunities, or more valid reasons, for parents to invest in supplemental education. When it comes to math specifically, you can improve your child’s prospects for excelling by giving them opportunities to learn, process, understand, remember and apply information. These fundamental cognitive skills are essential at every level of mathematics mastery.