Sunday, June 21, 2009

I came across this blog post about "math deprivation" and was intrigued.


This blogger, of indeterminent gender, volunteers to teach math at San Quentin prison. Only about 50 prisoners are enrolled in this pre-algebra self-paced class, out of over 5000 prisoners at the prison (for those keeping track, that's 1%). Also, if you're keeping track, pre-algebra is a middle school class in California. With the push to get all 8th graders through Algebra, that means pre-algebra is standard in 7th grade.


Students that he works with at San Quentin struggle with this class. He makes the point that San Quentin only has this program because it is really close to several colleges, and there for grad students that can volunteer to help.


This is the line that got me thinking: I wonder, also, whether some argument can not be made that restricting access to education at this level amounts to a kind of differential punishment above and beyond that meted out in accordance with law for whatever misdeed was committed.

So what does "differential punishment" mean? It means that on top of being in jail, being denied access to education, particularly math education, is another punishment piled on top of their isolation from society.

I can hear students groaning, thinking, "having to DO math, especially homework, is punishment; how can being denied math be punishment?"

Because, math, Algebra in particular, is a gateway to other things, as Glenn Kenyon says eloquently here.

Will you working with quadratic functions in your every day life as an adult? Probably not. But, mastering algebra opens doors for you, to move on. You will not graduate from college with a Bachelor's degree if you cannot pass a class called College Algebra. College Algebra is beyond Algebra I; it's more like Algebra II. So, in order to get through college, you have to master the skills in Algebra to move on to whatever it is you want to do.

I realize that not everyone will go on to college right out of high school. But there are other professions that require math skills, as well. Do you think you can build a house without being able to figure out some basic geometric properities like area? (which I really want to connect to a future post about word problems.)

I have links to "Math Doesn't Suck" and "Kiss My Math" on the left side here. A couple of weeks ago, I was looking through them, and I can't remember which one, but in one of them, Danika tells a story about a friend of hers in college. Her friend wanted to be a doctor. She talked about it from the time she was young. In college, she realized that she would have to take calculus. Because the girl was afraid of math, she ended up changing her major and not pursuing her dream. I think that's sad. No one should let something like a fear of math get in their way of their dream!

Anyway, imagine what your life would be like if you weren't allowed to take Algebra and were instead allowed to quit when math got hard. What would your choices look like? If nothing else, mastering Algebra will allow you to have more choices.

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