Written by Derrek Studebaker, AmeriCorps member serving on the New Schools for Baton Rouge team at Claiborne Elementary School.

“I’m just no good at math.” Anybody who has spent time trying to teach people math has heard people say this. As an AmeriCorps member working in a math classroom, I hear this statement multiple times every day. Saying that you aren’t a math person isn’t just incorrect, it is harmful.

Purdue University conducted a survey in which they found that there is a minimal difference genetically for most people. The researchers found that the large difference came from how hard people worked, and if they thought they were math people. Additionally, researchers at Oklahoma City found that the idea that someone is just not a math person actually impacts the gender wage gap.

Despite the countless studies done about the human brain’s ability to comprehend mathematics, many people still believe that they, or other people, are not “math people”. This is because of how prevalent this notion is in our society today. There are parents, students, and even teachers who believe that certain kids will not succeed in math. By teaching a student that they cannot learn math as well as others, that student is inherently set back in school and in life.

Clearly this is a major issue, but what can we do to stop it? As AmeriCorps members it is vital to not only tell students that they can succeed in math, but also to act like it. We of course have our focus list students, who we work with more closely, but there are many more students who need help. If we did not spend our time also helping those who are behind but not on a focus list, those students may be left behind.

One of City Year’s founding stories is “Everybody Can Be Great.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.” As AmeriCorps members, we need to remember that everybody can be great. Even the students who ask the same questions over and over again can be great. Without being treated like they can be great, it will be harder for them to reach the same heights.

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