Tag: Education

Stop Telling Your Kids You’re Bad At Math

“How was skiing?” I asked my 14-year old daughter as she hauled her boot bag into the car. “Well, the ratio of snow to ground was definitely low,” she replied, adding that she had tried to figure the ratio of snow-to-ground during practice but had received only mystified looks. “Stop the math!” demanded a coach. “You are confusing us!”

Why do smart people enjoy saying that they are bad at math? Few people would consider proudly announcing that they are bad at writing or reading. Our country’s communal math hatred may seem rather innocuous, but a more critical factor is at stake: we are passing on from generation to generation the phobia for mathematics and with that are priming our children for mathematical anxiety. As a result, too many of us have lost the ability to examine a real-world problem, translate it into numbers, solve the problem and interpret the solution.

Mathematics surrounds us, yet we have become accustomed to avoiding numerical thinking at all costs. There is no doubt that bad high school teaching and confusing textbooks are partly to blame. But a more pernicious habit does the most damage. We are perpetuating damaging myths by telling ourselves a few untruths: math is inherently hard, only geniuses understand it, we never liked math in the first place and nobody needs math anyway.

Often adults are well-meaning when telling children about their own math phobia: after all, won’t it make the children feel better if they know that others feel that way as well? Research shows the answer is a resounding “no.”

Anxiety over mathematics has been recognized as a grade killer. The National Mathematics Advisory Panel of the U.S. Department of Education has found that anxious students perform lower than their abilities. What’s more, there is growing evidence that mathematical anxiety can be passed on like a virus from teachers to students as well as from parents to children.

Girls are especially affected when a teacher publicly announces math hatred before she picks up the chalk. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reported that female — but not male — mathematical achievement was diminished in response to a female teacher’s mathematical anxiety. The effect was correlated: the higher a teacher’s anxiety, the lower the scores.

Parents’ mathematical anxiety can have a similar effect on their children. Researchers observed that children who received math homework help from mathematically fearful parents showed weaker math achievements than their peers, which in turn resulted in increased math anxiety for the children themselves.

 What we need to do instead is encourage our children to persevere. In France, for example, math skills are appreciated and it is quite cool to be good at math. Teaching — especially math teaching — is a highly respected and well-paid profession, even at the preschool level and children there are trained early to appreciate the art of mathematics.

Working on mathematical skills is not unlike practicing a sport: neither can be learned by watching others perform the activity and both require encouragement and effort. In the words of Michael Jordan: “I’ve missed 3,000 shots. Twenty-six times the game-winning shot has been trusted to me, and I’ve missed. I’ve lost over 300 games. I’ve failed over and over and over again, and that is why I’ve succeeded.” (Notice the math in that statement?)

You do not need an innate mathematical ability in order to solve mathematical problems. Rather, what is required is perseverance, a willingness to take risks and feeling safe to make mistakes. The next time you help a student with homework, try to repress the “I hate math” instinct, which is even worse than making a few flubs.

Instead try to have fun and give reassurance that perseverance will yield results. Numbers are always simple, clean and beautiful — and nothing to be afraid of.

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*Originally posted on the Washington Post.

Black Boarding Schools Are Driving Academic Excellence

“The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards.” – Anatole France

In the past decade, we have seen HBCUs in general attempt to increase their academic standards for admissions for a number of different reasons. Unfortunately, as is often the case it seems with HBCUs and African America in general this move is done in isolation and not in conjunction with the rest of the ecosystem. As a result we are seeing K-12 outcomes for many African Americans in this country getting progressively worse or stagnant in most of the country. If the pipeline that produces your core student demographic is not improving its academic outcomes, then how can HBCUs not expect student shortages that leave them with tuition revenue shortfalls. Of course some of this is being done as accreditation agencies squeeze HBCUs due to high default on student loans by former HBCU students and alumni. There are also those whose answer to “fixing” HBCUs is to gentrify them thereby diluting our institutional and cultural power. Where have we seen that playbook before? The real answer to the quality of student HBCUs are getting lies in HBCUs and their alumni investing back down the educational pipeline from which their core students come and strengthening it so that future HBCU students have strong academic prowess before they even get to our campuses.

Boarding schools in this country have a long, rich history, and their current value today can not be understated. They tend to have an extremely competitive admissions process, tuition and faculty that would make more than a few colleges blush, and endowments that Historically Black Colleges & Universities dream about at night. The Forbes’ list of America’s top 20 boarding schools paints quite an amazing picture of what pipeline behavior is suppose to look like. The median percentage of these twenty elite boarding school graduates going into the Ivy League/MIT/Stanford pipeline is 30 percent. Three times the percentage HBCUs are getting from their core demographic. Their faculty has a median of 76 percent with advanced degrees. At Philips Exeter Academy almost 13 percent of their faculty have PhDs. Yes, a high school with PhDs teaching. Imagine for a moment the first time most African American students who come to HBCUs have encountered a PhD level professor. It is usually not until they have reached college and some may not see one until they have reached their major classes, whereas these students are coming out of high school with four years tutelage under PhDs in the core classes of english, history, math, and science. Lastly, the endowments among the top twenty (with 3 schools not reporting) have a median of $105 million, average of $204 million, and combined value of $3.5 billion. Seventeen prep schools have combined endowments valued at twice the size of 100 HBCUs. A startling revelation if ever there was one.

It has been noted that prior to desegregation, “there were nearly 100 black boarding schools in the U.S. before the 1960s, established by local blacks, religious organizations and philanthropists, when the local governments failed to provide schools for black children” and as it stands today, there are only four remaining. Over 50 years later while the number of black boarding schools have dwindled, African American education outcomes have also plummeted in parallel. Recent reports put the African American male high school graduation rate nationally at an abysmal 52 percent. It is clear that as we gave up control of our own education institutions that our ability to garner positive education outcomes became increasingly harder and harder to achieve.

The four remaining survivors Laurinburg Institute in North Carolina, Pine Forge Academy in Pennsylvania, Piney Woods in Mississippi, and Redemption Christian Academy located in New York. Their geography alone is both a gift and curse. It allows each to have a strong territory of its own, but makes it virtually impossible to engage in joint activities like athletics and the like given the cost of travel for institutions that are largely cash-strapped much like their higher education brethren. It is hard to imagine that if African Americans have not been proactive in the way of funding HBCUs, that AABSs will fare much better in recruiting high-quality or transformative donors. The reality though is not only does that investment need to be made, it needs to be made at a larger rate than we could even possibly make for HBCUs. It does not matter what we do at the collegiate level if we do not at some point fix the early childhood to secondary education institutional pipeline. We will continue to overburden our HBCUs with developmental students and be subject to calls for faux diversity that whitewashes our institutional power as we make our usual overabundance of concessions to make others feel welcomed. HBCU strategy must involve investments in the K-12 system either through pre-K programs on the campus and K-12 charter schools either run by the HBCUs themselves, HBCU alumni, or HBCU support organizations. To that last point, there are rumors that the HBCU Endowment Foundation and Center for HBCU Media Advocacy are in talks to form a partnership that would create a boarding school. This is in addition to the HBCU Endowment Foundation’s long-term plans to be involved in early childhood education in the form of an HBCU version of Head Start. It would not hurt at all if the five HBCU conferences (SWAC, MEAC, SIAC, CIAA, GCAC), Divine 9, UNCF, and Thurgood Marshall Fund joined and created their own schools also either independently or jointly.

For generations and then some, HBCUs have led the way to producing African American teachers and principals. It is time we go ever further and start to create a culturally relevant school system (pipeline) that is tailored to the needs of our children and communities there within. An earlier investment would pay significant dividends to building a rapport in our community’s psychology well before it is even time to choose a college. Currently, most of our kids’ see nothing but HWCU/PWIs throughout their childhood and do not come into contact with an HBCU until almost a last resort. That has to change and the quality of education that our children have not gotten since before desegregation has to change. We need to be on their mind from the moment parents are expecting their child as the place that will ensure the best education for that child from early childhood through college. HBCUs have been sculptors who for the past 50 years who have done the best with the clay they were given, but sometimes the sculptor must step back and create their own clay to make the beauty in their work fulfill its greatest potential.


*Originally posted on HBCU Money.

READERS: Black History Fact of the Day – Meet Deputy Secretary of State, Dr. Clifton R. Wharton!

In December 1992, Clifton R. Wharton added another item to his extensive list of accomplishments when he was named Deputy Secretary of state by President Clinton. Wharton, born in 1926, was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, the first to be president of a major university that was predominantly white, the first to serve as chancellor of the State University of New York, the first to chair the board of a major foundation (the Rockefeller Foundation), and the first to head a Fortune 100 company. In 1987, he became chairman and chief executive officer of the country’s largest private pension system, the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association and College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF). He kept that position until President Clinton appointed him deputy secretary of state.
Wharton, whose father, Clifton R. Wharton, Sr., was the country’s first African American career ambassador, earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard and a master’s from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. He served as president of Michigan State from 1970-1978 and as chancellor of the State University of New York from 1978-1987.
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READERS: Black History Fact of the Day – Meet Maulana Karenga, The Founder Of Kwanzaa!

After meeting Malcolm X as a college student in the 1960s, Karenga became politicized and helped found the US organization, which among other things promoted a cultural revolution for African Americans. In 1966, Karenga created Kwanzaa, a holiday designed to celebrate and honor the values of ancient African cultures and inspire African Americans to greater pride in their heritage. Kwanzaa is based on the year-end harvest festivals that have taken place throughout Africa for thousands of years. The name comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits of the harvest.” Karenga chose a phrase from Swahili because the language is used by various peoples throughout Africa.

Karenga is a professor in the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach and is the director of the Kawaida Institute for Pan African Studies in Los Angeles.



READERS: Black History Fact of the Day – Meet Edward Alexander Bouchet, The 1st African American to hold a Ph.D. Degree (and from Yale University nonetheless)!

Edward Alexander Bouchet was the first African American to graduate from Yale and also the first to earn a doctorate degree (Ph.D.) from an American university. 

Edward Alexander Bouchet was born in 1852 in New Haven, Connecticut.  His father, William Bouchet, had come to New Haven in 1824 as the valet of his former slave owner, who had freed him.    Edward Bouchet’s father worked at Yale College for a time, as a janitor, and was prominent in the African American community, serving as a deacon at the Temple Street Church, the oldest African American church in New Haven.   Edward Bouchet’s mother was Susan Cooley Bouchet.  

Edward Bouchet attended The New Haven High School from 1866 until 1868 and graduated from the Hopkins Grammar School in 1870.  He was the valedictorian of his graduating class.  In the fall of 1870, Bouchet entered Yale College along with the son of his father’s former employer. At Yale, he studied mathematics, physics, astronomy, mechanics, five languages including Greek and Latin, as well as Logic and Rhetoric; he graduated summa cum laude in 1874, ranked sixth in his class, and  was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.  

Bouchet continued his graduate studies at Yale, and earned his Ph.D., in Physics in 1876.  His dissertation was on Measuring Refractive Indices.  He was the first African American to earn a doctorate in any subject at any university in the United States.  

After graduation, Dr. Bouchet’s demonstrated brilliance and credentials did not afford him the opportunities (such as positions in research, or at top universities) typically available to people of his unusually high level of education.  He spent the rest of his life as a well-respected teacher. 

He taught chemistry and physics for many years at the Institute for Colored Youth, a Quaker institution in Philadelphia.  Later on, Dr. Bouchet taught at St. Paul’s Normal and Industrial School in Virginia, served as principal of Lincoln High School in Galipolis, Ohio, and was a professor at Bishop College in Marshall, Texas.  He also held the position of business manager for a hospital in St. Louis and worked for a short time as a U.S. Customs Service inspector.   He retired from college teaching  in 1916 and lived in New Haven for the last two years of his life.  

A former student of Dr. Bouchet’s described him this way:  “…He was a fine Christian gentleman , a consummate scholar, one who seemed very knowledgeable in all areas and yet was extremely modest and a person who set a wonderful example of politeness and graciousness for the community. …Certainly it is impossible to assess the far reaching influence of Dr. Bouchet upon the hundreds of persons whose lives he touched.”


*This article was originally published in Gibbs Magazine.