Are we all equally gifted in math?

There’s a Facebook group I joined prior to our move called “Leaving California.” I think they have more than 50,000 members. I found the group helpful to learn from other people, what movers they hired, where they were moving to and why. Today I clicked on it out of habit and found an article called “In the Name of Equity, California Will Discourage Students Who Are Gifted at Math” by Robby Soave. The sub head states: “The new framework aims to keep everyone learning at the same level for as long as possible.” It’s from the website Reason, which until this morning I’ve never seen.

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My daughter and Waffles at her college graduation.

Here’s an excerpt:

“California’s Department of Education is working on a new framework for K-12 mathematics that discourages gifted students from enrolling in accelerated classes that study advanced concepts like calculus.

“The draft of the framework is hundreds of pages long and covers a wide range of topics. But its overriding concern is inequity. The department is worried that too many students are sorted into different math tracks based on their natural abilities, which leads some to take calculus by their senior year of high school while others don’t make it past basic algebra. The department’s solution is to prohibit any sorting until high school, keeping gifted kids in the same classrooms as their less mathematically inclined peers until at least grade nine.

“The inequity of mathematics tracking in California can be undone through a coordinated approach in grades 6–12,” reads a January 2021 draft of the framework. “In summary, middle-school students are best served in heterogeneous classes.”

I understand that putting kids on certain tracks may have unintended consequences like getting stuck with fewer opportunities to learn. I do know that kids develop individually at different rates and sometimes someone may be slow in one subject only to have it click later on. However, I really disagree with this following paragraph:

“All students deserve powerful mathematics; we reject ideas of natural gifts and talents,” reads a bulletpoint in chapter one of the framework. “The belief that ‘I treat everyone the same’ is insufficient: Active efforts in mathematics teaching are required in order to counter the cultural forces that have led to and continue to perpetuate current inequities.”

My issue is the rejection of natural gifts and talents. As someone who wasn’t a whiz kid at math, I recognized kids with more talent. My son and daughter for example are both better at math and took more advanced classes than I did. I wasn’t horrible but I struggled in Physics and Trig.

The author of the article agrees with me and suggests more choice of more subjects as an answer:

“This approach is very bad. Contrary to what this guidance seems to suggest, math is not the end-all and be-all—and it’s certainly not something that all kids are equally capable of learning and enjoying. Some young people clearly excel at math, even at very early ages. Many schools offer advanced mathematics to a select group of students well before the high school level so that they can take calculus by their junior or senior year. It’s done this way for a reason: The students who like math (usually a minority) should have the opportunity to move on as rapidly as possible.”

For everyone else… well, advanced math just isn’t that important. It would be preferable for schools to offer students more choices, and offer them as early as possible. Teens who are eager readers should be able to study literature instead of math; young people who aren’t particularly adept at any academic discipline might pick up art, music, computers, or even trade skills. (Coding doesn’t need to be mandatory, but it could be an option.)

If equity in Math is the new standard of our public schools, I have some questions.

Do we recognize natural talent in athletics? Or does everyone get to make the varsity team?

Do you think students who are gifted in a subject should be held to the level of the entire class?

Should there be gifted classes? Should kids skip grades? What will be the end result of keeping everyone the same?

Does everyone need calculus and advanced math classes to be successful? Why or why not?

Is letting go the same as losing control?

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My son with his best swim buddies.

I wrote this when my son graduated college and was starting in his adult career. I realized I had lost control over his life choices and it was time for me to let go.

As an empty nester, there are times I wish I had more control over my kids’ lives. I don’t have much anymore. I remember the days when they’d actually do what I asked them. They believed the same way I did about everything including religion, politics and what books to read.

They watched the movies I’d check out from the library, and because I picked them out, they loved them. One day my son asked, “Mom, do they make movies without singing and dancing?” Yikes. I guess I was a little too into the classic musicals. I am happy, though, that my kids got to share that part of Americana. Many millennials never learned the words to On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe from “The Harvey Girls.” My aunt was surprised while visiting us when my son invited her to watch a movie. She was expecting Disney or Barney. She was thrilled to watch “Meet Me in St. Louis” with him.

happy kids playing in the sand.
Back when I got to pick out the movies.

Somewhere along the line of those perfect days, I lost control. Today, my kids have their own opinions about religion, politics, and life in general that aren’t exactly the same as mine. For example, I want to tell my son to pursue a career in business or law. My husband and I send him job openings in the Bay area, where he’s currently living. (FYI, We don’t want him to live that far away. We don’t like how expensive it is. It’s all wrong to us.)

Does he listen? He’s polite. Every time I text an employment opportunity, he thanks me and says, “that’s a good idea.” Then he goes and applies to one of the worst school districts where the standardized test scores are 2 in math and 7 in English. He decides to teach instead of what I want him to do—and in one of the most difficult situations possible. He thinks it will be a challenge.

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High school graduation speech.

I can’t stop him. He’ll have to live his own life and learn his own life lessons. There’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. So, I guess I need to learn to let go since I’ve lost control anyway. I am proud that he’s an adult with his own dreams and goals.

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The gang at Laguna Beach.

UPDATE: The teaching career ended and our son went into business jobs. He’s loving the job and company he’s working for and also wants to pursue a masters degree in data science. We’ve tried to stay out of his decisions and only offer advice when he asks. He’s making a great life without us telling him what to do! Imagine that?

What is your reaction when your kids make choices you disagree with?

Do we all despise unsolicited parenting advice?

brother and sister playing at the beach
My kids when they liked to eat chicken fingers.

When my kids were young, I’d often get unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends and family members — and even complete strangers. I read with interest this article by Meghan Moravcik Walbert called Keep Every Single Parenting Opinion to Yourself for a website called Lifehacker.com: 

We’re living in a particularly divided country right now, but we are lucky to still have one great rage-inducing unifier among parents: We do not want your unsolicited opinions about our parenting. This is especially true if you do not have children of your own. (Dogs don’t count.)

I have to believe author Jill Filipovic simply wanted to argue about something unrelated to the literal end of our democracy when she tweeted this sparkling gem of an opinion recently:Jill Filipovic@JillFilipovicI know the thing parents hate most is when non-parents assert what they will do as parents which is inevitably smug and incorrect, but I am 100% sure I will never assent to a “kid’s menu” or the concept of “kid food.”9:29 PM · Sep 24, 2020

In a follow-up tweet, she rhetorically ponders, “Do you think children in most of the world order off of a ‘kids menu’ and survive primarily off of chicken fingers and plain pasta?”

It seems her argument is that kids should have more variety in their diets, ignoring that kids’ menus exist to offer smaller, significantly cheaper portions of food for children to make it affordable and less wasteful when families go out to eat. But see, this is why parenting opinions from non-parents is so universally grating: They’re blind to fundamental aspects of parenting that are obvious to those of us who have actually done it.

Yes, you’re very smart, and you’ll introduce your kids to lots of flavors, and they’ll always eat exactly what you eat because there’s no way you’ll cook one meal for you and a separate meal for them. If you become a parent, what’s more likely is that we can look forward to hearing you say, “No, honey, you have to buy the dinosaur-shaped nuggets; he doesn’t like the regular ones.”

I have one dear friend, well more than one, who constantly criticized the bland
“kid food” I served my children. We would go to a friends home and stay for a long weekend and I’d bring food for my kids to eat — things I knew they’d like. Yes, my groceries included chicken fingers. My friend didn’t understand why my kids wouldn’t eat her kale with quinoa or homemade chile rellenos. She’d point out another friend of hers who had kids who loved to eat all her veggies and her adult flavored dishes. My kids liked carrots, snap peas and the like — especially dipped in ranch dressing. At a young age, their taste buds were more sensitive to spice. It wasn’t long before they grew into more adult diets and indulged in sushi, spicy Mexican and Indian food. As adults they love to eat vegetables and they cook healthy and interesting meals. No, they are not living off of chicken fingers.

The point is that I’d get criticized by friends and family members who didn’t have kids, or had children who were infants or teenagers. They weren’t dealing with kids three to seven years old and they either hadn’t been through those experiences yet or their kids were 10 years older and they forgot about those glorious days.

I used to ask my kids what they wanted to eat. My daughter always said chicken. Once I made pan-fried sole for dinner. She said, “Now this is the chicken I like!” That was eye-opening to me, because I didn’t realize that she was calling most foods “chicken!”

One of my friends had a son a couple years younger than my kids. We were at a family-friendly restaurant and her toddler son kept jumping out of the high chair. She said, “I really owe you an apology. All of those things I criticized or tried to give you advice about — I had no idea!”

There’s more great examples in the article about unsolicited advice and how parents think they would NEVER raise their voice at their children (who aren’t born yet). Read the entire article for yourself here. It’s an entertaining read.

Here’s another article I’ve written about unsolicited advice. Read it here.

children climbing on me at the beach
Life at the beach with two young kids.

What’s the worst unsolicited advice you’ve been given?

My son wrote about his “crazy mom” for his senior project

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My son is visiting us soon to see our new home for the first time. I can’t believe we went through such a rocky time as we did during his senior year of high school. Thankfully, our relationship is so much better than this memory….

“I had no idea your life was so difficult and that your mom was so ‘crazy.’ Your senior project made me cry.”

I found these words scrawled in a handmade card to my 18-year-old, valedictorian son, wedged next to the front seat of my car.

I couldn’t breathe. Then I howled. My beautiful first born. The little pee wee with the stocking cap and button nose who stared at me with huge eyes the day he was born. The toddler with white blond curls who called me “Sweetheart.”

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This stranger living in my house made his senior project about me? The horrors of living with me? After everything I had done for him? Years filled with volunteering as a room-mom, midnight trips to the ER for his asthma, driving to the Getty for field trips, opening our house for movies nights and spaghetti feeds. Me?

A friend with older kids warned me that the senior year “can be kind of tough.”

No kidding! I never dreamed how hard. I found myself at odds with this person, who used to be my best friend. I alternated between yelling, cajoling and pleading with him to finish college applications, meet countless deadlines and study for exams. No wonder he called me crazy.

The stress of applying for college proved to be filled with potholes, no, make that sinkholes — the kind that swallow entire houses and families. What to declare as a major, where to live, what to write for a personal statement are enough to stress out the calmest kid.

So what else makes applying to college so awful?  Try these numbers on for size:

• More than 3,000,000 high school seniors apply to college in the US — never mind the ones throughout the world trying to get into our top schools!

• The number of students who apply to seven or more colleges has grown from 9% in 1992 to 29% in 2011. 

• Yale’s applications doubled from 2002 to this year, topping 30,000.  Yale accepted roughly 2,000 in 2013.

• Harvard has nearly 35,000 applicants, 2029 admitted in 2013.

• Number of applicants for University of California Santa Barbara in 2013 was 62,413, They had 4,550 in the freshman class last year.

• UCLA is one of the most applied to schools in the country, with nearly 100,000 applicants, and they admit 15,000.

Between December and graduation, my son received eight out of nine college rejections –further making him love me, hate me, turn to me in need, and then reject me again. I could do nothing to help his torment. In the end, he accepted admission to his one school.

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Hang in there moms of juniors and seniors. When it seems like there is nothing you can do to help, take a deep breath.  Be there for support and offer advice if they ask for it. Love them, even if they are undeniably rude. Forgive yourself if you lose your temper.

I believe our kids take out their fears and frustrations on those they love most.

I am happy to report that two years later, the stranger living in my son’s skin has disappeared. I have a son who calls me the moment he finishes a final that he knows he’s crushed. He calls to ask how to cook chicken stir fry.  And he calls to say he loves me.

Photos: (top) My son during graduation. (second) a beautiful baby, (above) my son when he was at the age when he thought my name was “Sweetheart,” and (below) a view of my son’s university. Not too shabby, after all.

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Looking back: A birthday for the dogs

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Friday was my son’s birthday. I miss him so much but am looking forward to his visit when we are all vaccinated. Hopefully, he and his girlfriend will be here in a few weeks. I’m so proud of the caring and sensitive person he is and how he’s enjoying his career.

I can’t help but get sentimental and nostalgic for when he was a young boy. He called me “sweetheart” because he thought it was my name. When we went to “Mommy and Me” at the Palm Springs Pavilion, there was a “good-bye” song at the end of each session. When his name was called, he’d toddle to the teacher and plant a kiss on her cheek. He was so sweet. Still is.

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In honor of his birthday, I’m reposting a story I wrote when he invited 50 kids to his 2nd grade party. Originally published in the Los Angeles Times Kids’ Reading Room, it’s about Angus our yellow lab of 15 years, who shared my son’s birthday.

A Birthday for the Dogs

“MOM, I’m inviting 50 kids to my party.”

“What, Robert?” Mom said. “That’s too many. Do you know 50 kids?”

I sat in the back seat while Mom drove home after school. My eighth birthday was in two weeks. 

“There’s my class, plus Cub Scouts, and playgroup.”

“I can’t afford to take 50 kids skating or bowling. And I don’t want 50 kids in my house. What about the city pool? It’s heated, open year-round, and it’s only 50¢ a kid,” Mom said.

“A swim party, that’s cool!” I said.

“I’ll say yes to the party, but no to presents. Fifty presents is too much for one eight-year-old. It’s decadent.”

“What’s decadent?” I asked. Mom used words I didn’t know.

“Self-indulgent, corrupt.”

I sat silently and thought I’d be sad with no presents. Then I remembered Angus. Mom got him for me as an early birthday present. We were on a waiting list for two years with Guide Dogs of the Desert. He was being trained as a companion dog for people who couldn’t see. We got him because he had poor hips and couldn’t be a working dog. Angus was big, yellow, and I loved him. We shared the same birthday.

“I have a great idea!”

“What?” Mom asked, glancing at me in her rearview mirror.

“I’ll ask for money for Guide Dogs of the Desert.”

“Ah?” Mom made a weird swalloing noise.

“It’s Angus’s birthday, too.”

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In the rearview mirror I watched Mom dab at the corner of her eyes with a tissue, and nod her head in agreement.

Two weeks later, I had a great birthday. Fifty kids came with bathing suits, towels and money. Instead of opening presents after cake, we counted dollars they had stuffed into a large jar decorated with photos of Angus. 

Together, we raised more than $1,600 for Guide Dogs. Mom called me a “philanthropist” – whatever that is.

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Happy birthday, son! We miss you, Angus!

What she thought about our new home

It was a relief. My daughter spent a few days with us in our new home. She likes it. She likes the area where we live — even though it’s not California. It’s in Arizona.

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Waffles, my daughter’s pug.

Her first job out of school was in Arizona and she has terrible memories. She took the job because the company flew her to Scottsdale from Utah. They put her up in a hotel, they took her out to dinner. She was swept off her feet. It was in her father’s field of investments So, it all seemed perfect to her. But it was far from it. It turns out taking a job to get your parent’s approval may not work out.

She lived in a house we purchased in a quiet family neighborhood. Not at all the best spot for a 22 year old — unless complete isolation and living next to boomers is your thing. Then her house got broken into and ransacked. The only good thing about that is they didn’t steal her pug. They locked him in the garage. Eventually she quit her job, got another one plus nannied in the early mornings for a single mom. She got hired for dream job in the Bay Area and moved up there. That worked out fine until COVID hit.

Fast forward to December 2020 and we moved to Arizona and she told us she would never come visit. She doesn’t have good memories of her one year here. I kept telling her although our address says Scottsdale, it really isn’t. I told we were out in the “sticks” as my hometown was called growing up. We’re far enough out of the metropolitan area to have a whole different feel.

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Our queen bee Olive.

She was surprised how far out of town we live. And she loves the nature. We watched a dozen javelina cross the street including babies at sunset. She enjoyed the bunnies and quails romping through our yard. She loves our house. She’s planning on another trip soon to visit.

The only snafu was Waffles. Olive was sleeping under our bed and Waffles decided to charge her at 4 a.m. We heard the kerfuffle and Waff flew out from under the bed. Olive stayed put.

The next day our daughter wiped a booger from Waffles’ snout. It turned out to be a claw embedded through his skin. There was no more trouble from Waffles and Olive after that.

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The nature trails across the street. I wonder how old this saguaro is?
saguaro growth chart

Was it really one year ago?

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Our cool as a cucumber cat helps keep me calm.

It was a little more than a year ago that COVID-19 was hitting our daily lives. We had no idea what was heading our way. Our kids got orders to shelter in place a few days before us. They live in the Bay Area and we were in Southern California. A year later, my husband got his first shot and I’m scouring through pages on my computer to find an appointment for me. Once we are vaccinated will our world open up? Will I want to be in crowds? Or has this isolated lifestyle become something I won’t want to shed?

This is what happened to me mid-March 2020:

I was doing okay, but yesterday when my kids called me and said they were under mandatory “shelter in place,” I started to panic. I’m wondering if the world will ever get back to normal? They were working remotely in my son’s house in the Bay Area.

The mandatory shelter in place started today. Yesterday they were told to prepare to be home for at least two weeks. My daughter is working remotely and decided to get out of the city and drove home last night. It’s so nice to have her home! I wonder how long she will be here?

Waffles the pug with flowers
Waffles the pug came home, too.

My dad agreed to let me grocery shop for him and I found everything he needed except for toilet paper, of course! While I was driving from his home, my daughter called and Waffles, her pug, ate something and was trying to throw up, but nothing was coming up. I told her to call a vet and I got really stressed out again! She called back in tears and said that the vets she called would NOT take new patients in their practice due to the Coronavirus! I was in the car and while she was talking to me and I noticed a big white pick up truck on my tail! Then he swerved in the lane next to me, and started yelling and screaming, giving me the finger. He threw a milkshake at me! It hit my windshield and the car was covered. I’m still shaking.

What in the h*ck is going on, folks? Is this really the time to become completely unhinged?

White truck throws milkshake at me
This is the guy in a white pick up truck with a Home Depot trailer who threw a milkshake at me.

Let’s take a moment to breathe some fresh air, calm down, take a walk and enjoy your families. And love up our dogs and cats, too!

What are some of your memories from one year ago? Did your area shut down or did it stay mostly open?