Out on Good Behavior: Teaching Math while Looking Over Your Shoulder

By Barry Garelick

Recommended on: 6th April 2021

Out on Good Behavior: Teaching Math while Looking Over Your Shoulder, by Barry Garelick. We greatly enjoyed and got a lot out of this brief, sardonic memoir of an outstanding math teacher in an era when teaching math in public schools is becoming increasingly divorced from what neuroscience has revealed about how students actually learn math. Garelick’s witty observations give a sense of what’s going on in a way that would be difficult for most parents to discover—and some of Garelick’s observations are priceless: “I once told my eighth-grade algebra class that my classroom is one place where they won’t hear the words ‘growth mindset’—to which the class reacted with wild applause. Someone then asked what my objections to ‘growth mindset’ were.  I said I didn’t like how it was interpreted: Motivational cliches like ‘I can’t do it…yet’ supposedly build up confidence leading to motivation and success. I believe it’s the other way around: success causes motivation more than motivation causes success. [Or, as researchers Szu-Han Wang and Richard Morris have noted: “we rapidly remember what interests us, but what interests us takes time to develop.” And this Slate Star Codex article about growth mindset remains timeless.] 

Garelick presciently observes: “Where students frequently see through ineffective educational fads, people in education—after buying into such theories—see what they want to see.” Out on Good Behavior is well worth reading if you care about what your child is learning—or not learning—in school, particularly when it comes to math.

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