Photo by: Vauvau
By Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor
Call me Wannabe Tiger Mom. But when my seventh grade daughter began
complaining that she was going to essentially be doing a second - albeit
more advanced - level of pre-algebra this year, I was compelled to do
something I would have never done back in the old days before I worked at
GreatSchools. I became one of *those* mothers. After back-to-school
presentations, I found a moment to whisper sweet nothings into the math
teacher's ear: shouldn't we bump her up to algebra?
The teacher, a 30-year veteran of the algebra wars, told me he was open to
the idea and that he thought she could probably do it, but if she chose to
do move up, there was no going back. The first couple of months was all
review he explained, so by the time it got hard she would be ending the
It all depends on if you're planning on applying to private high school, he
explained. After all, if private school is in your child's future, then you
need to do GPA risk management, because he assured me, there will be bumps
in the road and there's no guarantee she'll get an A.
Over the weekend, my daughter and I weighed the pros and cons. She's not a
breezy, leave it to the last day type of gal: she has a pit bull's diligence
and an actuarian's risk aversion. One adoring teacher recently teased her
when she failed to get a class joke: "You're so smart and so slow." This
sounds horrible, but it's true.
So we talked about risk. She would love to go a private high school, but in
our neck of the metropolis they cost $35K a year, so it's unlikely. But even
if it was our plan, I thought about how easy it is encourage our children to
avoid challenge, risk, and cognitive sweat when it comes to their education.
I could tell from our conversations my daughter was already well tutored in
this mindset and she began leaning away from jumping up a level.
Growing up we all encourage our kids to do things that scare them - whether
it's learning to swim or running for student body president. But in this age
of college acceptance anxiety, it's tempting to treat our children's
education as a series of safe bets on their future, not about the substance
of the learning experience itself.
I told my daughter it was her decision but that she needed to make an
informed decision. We borrowed the textbook and looked at the chapters her
teacher said got difficult, then watched a couple of videos on those
subjects by Salman Khan. I told her we could review the lessons the night
before so she'd have a preview of what she'd be doing in the classroom the
next day. And I told her, again and again, it was her decision.
In the end, she chose to try Algebra. We don't know if this was a good
decision or not, but I'm happy to see she was willing to bet on her ability
to take on a challenge - GPA be damned. There may be a time when I'd
counsel caution, but for now it seems more important for her to feel like
she's challenging her brain than repeating material she's already done. But
who knows, perhaps in a few months I'll be confessing that we made a horrible
decision. (Just yesterday I learned how countries whose students perform the best in math learn algebra slowly over multiple years.)
Only time will tell, but what's life worth without an occasional long shot on yourself?