He estimates that, on average, 23 students out of a class of 25 enter not liking math. (That's 92 percent, if you're keeping track at home. In other words: a lot.)
"In the memoirs, I find: 'I loved it until sixth grade and after that Mr. Hanrickhan made it impossible,' " says McCreary. "So they remember the name of the individual, and sometimes they describe the day that it happened."
A turning point, that is, where "their interest and love of math fell away."
Writing it all down helps students put their bad experiences in the past. It also demonstrates, to their instructor and to themselves, that the students have other skills.
"Math has been one of my biggest fears in life," reads one mini-memoir from a women's studies student. "I studied in an education system that said science and math are the important factors ... and each student was analyzed and measured by their math and science grades."
A social work student remembered changing schools when she was in fourth grade: "I would say that's where my trouble in math stemmed from. I was not comfortable in my new school and didn't feel comfortable speaking up or asking questions when I didn't understand. I felt as if there were a few students [who] shined and the rest were left to fend for [themselves]."
McCreary, who holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Illinois and a master's degree in education from Harvard, says he likes math, but what he loves "deeply" is "how one can actually rise above a feeling of not being able to do it and as a result being an unworthy person, which is how many of the students arrive here."
His students, who are mainly adults, come from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. The program is specifically designed to serve a diverse population and to offer a rich educational experience while allowing flexibility to work around jobs, parenting and other demands.
What would you write in your math memoir? Email us at NPRed@npr.org.
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