The Importance of Social

A lot of my posts are tagged as "social", and I wanted to explain a bit why parents should pay attention to that tag.

In most schools, the culture is not one where liking or being good at math is reinforced or seen as cool.  This causes a lot of kids to back away from math in order to fit in.  Others, who manage to hold on to their identity as someone who enjoys and is talented at math, can often really struggle socially in middle and high school.  While changing the general culture around math is certainly a worthwhile goal, it's not a change that can happen quickly.  As a parent, you have to focus on mitigating the damage done to your children.  I think the best method is to, as much as possible, get them in an environment where being excited about math is the norm, where they have opportunities to develop friendships with others who share their interests, where they're exposed to math culture, and where they can cement their identities as "math kids".  For example, you could encourage them to:

  • Regularly attend a math circle
  • Participate in team competitions, especially ones that involve traveling to a college campus
  • Attend math camps in the summer 
  • Participate in online communities like Art of Problem Solving 

If the school environment is really unhealthy for your child, it may be worthwhile to consider getting them out of there all together.

One option is homeschooling.  For high school students, homeschooling generally involves a parent working with them to assemble a personalized education out of the many available resources (and not teaching them directly).  For example, this could include:

  • Taking classes at a local college
  • Attending a math circle and other enrichment programs
  • Taking online classes from Art of Problem Solving
  • Participating in homeschool communities like Princeton Learning Cooperative 
  • Tackling big coding projects or working through the Project Euler problems
  • Joining a local Makerspace like this one in Atlanta
Especially for math and computer science, there are so many resources out there meant to supplement traditional schooling, that they can easily be enough to completely replace it. 

Depending on where you live, you might also be able to find a school which is a better for your kid. The most awesome example is Proof School in San Fransisco, but a lot of areas have magnet schools or independent schools (ask about financial aid if money is an issue!) that could be worth considering.  Also consider schools that are willing to be more flexible - for example, letting your kid spend half a day there and half a day taking college classes. 

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