Florida needs to get to the point where saying “I’m not a math person” sounds just as bad as “I’m not a reading person”.
Right now, not being a math person is fine, according to many. Some of our policy-makers – even those holding powerful positions in the education establishment – profess publicly that their math skills are poor. Some have never made such a public confession, preferring to conceal their weaknesses in that area. The problem is that few of those prominent individuals apologize for their lack of mathematical literacy. After all, the predominant attitude right now is that some people are math people, and some people aren’t, and that is OK.
The problem is that while we keep giving mathematical illiteracy a pass, math skills are becoming more and more important to achieving middle class incomes. The highest paying bachelor-level careers require very strong math skills. The most lucrative associate degree-level careers require strong algebra skills.
Every time policy-makers have a public discussion about education and neglect to mention Florida’s crisis-level middle school math situation, they have missed one more crucial opportunity to right the state’s educational ship.
Of course, it is more comfortable for policy-makers to talk about reading, or virtue, or some other subject that they have mastered themselves. So math – and its first cousin science – easily fall off the agenda.
More of these leaders need to take the lead of former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz, who publicly talked about his own shortcomings in math (he did so at the inaugural Future Physicists of Florida induction ceremony in 2012) but pushed hard for the improvement of math and science education.
Math and science education in Florida will not improve unless our leaders make it a high priority, talk about it every time there is a discussion about the future, and then focus the resources on the issue necessary to reach every kid in the state.
If our leaders do this now, maybe a generation from now our own kids will talk about the strange old days when adults thought it was OK to not be “a math person”. And laugh about it.