Why My Kids Can’t Count To A Million

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howmuchisamillion.jpgAs some of you know, I had an assignment in which we wanted to make 1 million stars and fill up the wall with that many stars. I set up the project by reading the book How Much Is a Million by David Schwartz and Steven Kellogg, and telling them that we’d be attempting to do as one of the facts stated: fill up seventy pages worth of stars, which I calculated to around 12,500 stars a student. I explicitly stated in the aforementioned post that I knew the kids wouldn’t get that far, but just to believe that they could really encourages them to do so. (Eventually, we’ll make it to 1 million, but they don’t know it yet.)

One month later, we have almost 60+ pages full of stars from the kids, and they’re really nice. But of course, as the latest trend has been, certain people want to squash even the sweetest of fruits just to say that they could. I won’t go into specifics, but let’s just say that we still have this pervasive theme of discouraging imagination and creativity in favor of rigid indoctrination. We shouldn’t have higher-ups coming in my room in front of the kids and basically crushing all the encouragement I’ve been giving the kids about their accomplishment, especially when it was my idea and I never got any assistance for said project.

And even when there’s the slightest hint of creativity from the higher-ups, it’s not done to achieve anything but as a facade to look ingenious. I look at what we did, and not only did it really pump up the kids, but it actually helped with a few of the math state standards, so I was essentially preparing them for the test without teaching to it. On the other side, we have people trying to emulate popular game shows on their computers but it has little to no relevance to preparing them for the test, and it’s taking away from our common planning, where we can be … planning in common … or whatever that was supposed to say. Y’all get the drift. I was also able to tie this in to Penny Harvest, and if all goes well, we’ll be able to observe what a 100 million pennies looks like in Rockerfeller Center.

Reaching for the StarsBut it’s just another footnote on how even within our own communities and people who share certain commonalities with their students can still be myopic enough to crush kids’ hopes with a lack of courtesy and encouragement. You can have all these slogans for student success, get great remarks from outside officials through your quality review, and get a great letter grade from NYC’s khan himself, but until we can effectively change the thinking our children have about their school environment and how they perceive their world, we’ll continue the endless cycle of mental and emotional abuse many inner-city children continue to endure and feed into.

According to the estimations of Schwartz and Kellogg, it would take approximately 23 days non-stop for someone to feasibly count to 1 million. Sounds like a little, but it apparently takes a lot longer to get our kids to believe that that’s possible. And even longer for everyone else to believe that those kids can believe that.

Thoughts?

jose, who has an issue with the institution and not the individuals who crushed the fruit to begin with …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 2

  1. Alisha

    Jose: You’re dead on. I have the opportunity to work with teachers who crush kids’ dreams, too. . . If things go according to plan, though, I won’t have that same opportunity with those same teachers next year.

  2. Hugh O'Donnell aka Repairman

    “We shouldn’t have higher-ups coming in my room in front of the kids and basically crushing all the encouragement I’ve been giving the kids about their accomplishment, especially when it was my idea and I never got any assistance for said project.”

    Jose, I have no idea how your bureaucracy functions, or how secure cohort teachers are, so I’d be remiss if I said anything prescriptive, but out here in the wild west, I’d be kicking ass and taking names. My attitude was alway that I was looking for that job when I found it, with or without “tenure.” For anyone to discourage students, especially when their teacher had already planted seeds of belief, is unpardonable.

    A creative and engaging math teacher may be the rarest of all educators. (You by now realize I have personal experience to verify this assertion.) For years, in my district, we set math improvement goals and formulated strategies for their achievement. We even emphasized math across the curriculum, for crying out loud.

    What we should have done was fire all the math teachers who were flunking all the kids, and go on a hunt for the rare birds, the creative and engaging variety of math teacher. In all those years, I never realized that it wasn’t the math program that couldn’t move us forward, it was the assumption that all math teachers could somehow learn to help kids achieve.

    Bottom line: if you get tired of NYC, move west. We need creative and engaging math teachers, and we appreciate them.

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