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Math Student’s Bill of Rights

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Student’s Math Anxiety Bill of Rights
by Sandra Davis

I have the right to learn at my own pace and not feel put down or stupid if I’m slower than someone else.
I have the right to ask whatever questions I have.
I have the right to need extra help.
I have the right to ask a teacher or tutor for help.
I have the right to say I don’t understand.
I have the right to not understand.
I have the right to feel good about myself regardless of my abilities in math.
I have the right not to base my self-worth on my math skills.
I have the right to view myself as capable of learning math.
I have the right to evaluate my math instructors and how they teach.
I have the right to relax.
I have the right to be treated as a competent person.
I have the right to dislike math.
I have the right to define success in my own terms.

One of my best friends found this in high school and shared it with me, and I remember thinking it was amazing and wishing I had known about it earlier. While these rights now seem basic to me, if I had read them in middle school or high school, I think they would have been a revelation.

I really want my students to know that they have the right to ask whatever questions they have. (I’m still shocked to hear how some teachers will tell their students that they won’t answer their questions because if a student has a question it must be because the student wasn’t “paying attention.”) If a student is discerning enough to know what they have a question about, and courageous enough to actually ask it, that should be encouraged!

I also think it’s important that students realize that they can evaluate their teachers and how they teach. For teachers, this might be the scariest aspect of the Math Bill of Rights.

I can speak from experience on this. The one time I gave a copy of the Rights to a student, I was fearful that I might not be the right person to help her. But I thought the Rights might help her, and I didn’t want to not share a resource with her just because reading it might cause her to realize that she should be working with another tutor. And I realized that my ultimate goal was to make sure that she got the help she really needed, even if it wasn’t from me.

I’m not sure if the Rights were at all responsible, but shortly after I gave them to her we had a huge breakthrough and her understanding really improved. But it was one of the scarier things I’ve done as an instructor, and I can see why teachers might not want to plaster this everywhere…

But I wish that each math student in the world could have their own personal copy emblazoned on their binder or even their math book cover.

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