Youth and math: an interview with Linda M. Gojak, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. A fuller version of this interview (conducted by Pam) is at
Q: How would you sum up math knowledge among kids in North America today?
A: International studies show that we’re not competitive with the top countries in the world, but you have to be really careful when you look at international comparisons, because we strive to educate all our students, while other countries that competitively do well are much more selective. For example, in China, at the eighth-grade level kids are given a very high-stakes test and only a select number get to go on to high school; others go to vocational schools or don’t go on to school at all.
Q: Is online learning particularly suited to math and science learning?
A: To me, both math and science education offer opportunities to communicate and discuss and reason with others. There’s a lot of good material online that can help enhance their mathematics achievement, but it’s really important for kids to have an opportunity to share their thinking in real time with one another, and online learning does not always give them that opportunity.
Q: What can parents do to help their children engage with math?
A: First, let kids know that mathematics is as important as reading and writing. It really is a critical factor in a child’s future options. Second, talk to the teacher. If your child is struggling, work with the teacher to provide opportunities so your child can do better in math. Sometimes parents think that they’re the teacher when their kid gets home. But math education looks different today than when parents were in school, so it’s more important to communicate with the teacher than to become the at-home teacher. Third, our children are very overbooked these days. They come home from school while both parents are working, or they come home and have to go to soccer or baseball or music practice. It’s real important for parents to realize that they need to set up a place for kids to do homework—a quiet place, and a time when the television and maybe computer are turned off. That homework is an important part of reinforcing what the kids learned in school that day.
Q: Is math competency more important today than it was in previous generations?
A: Absolutely. Career options aside, in today’s economy, society, and political environment, we need to know when we’re reading or hearing legitimate information. We need to be able to look at the numbers and say, “This just doesn’t make sense.” There is a wonderful book called How to Lie with Statistics. If there are a lot of people lying with statistics, we’re going to be a very misinformed population unless we develop that ability to reason and see through the lies.

Excerpted from Jump-Starting Boys: Help Your Reluctant Learner Find Success in School and Life, by Pam Withers and Cynthia Gill (Viva Editions). All references (footnotes) contained in the book.