Should we give daughter special education or let her be who she is?
May 22, 2016 8:03 AM   Subscribe

We are troubled as to whether or not we should put our daughter in a math special education program. The school has said she needs it, but she is adamant that she does not want to be seen as different.

She feels so strong about this, I feel like this is one of those turning points in life where I might make a huge mistake in what I do. My daughter is very gifted in music, has sung for hundreds of people in various venues, won awards, is in OPUS, has been in the theater and been selected as the favorite by the audience, plays musical instruments and won awards on those. She is also a public speaker. The reason I mention these, is to explain that she, as our daughter, has shown us who "she is" and the Mom in me says I should simply love her for who she is and not put such importance on school grades. I, myself, was an academic, so at first it was hard to see my daughter not get excellent grades in school. I would say she is a B student in other classes, but math is very hard for her. We have taken her to tutors, I've tried to help her, but she hates math and also is very challenged in it, when she does try. Sometimes she gets B's, sometimes C's, and sometimes, D's and F's.

Do I just not listen to her and put her in the special ed math class and tell her, "Look, sometimes you have to do things in life that you don't want. You need to pass the math class each year as you go through high school." OR do I just let go of the thing, stop trying to help her (which ends in arguments), not put her in that special class, and let her be who she wants to be, and if that is a performer of some kind, then so be it.

She is 13 so one of these days, before I know it, she will be out of the house and I want a relationship with my daughter. In the end, her happiness is what I want. I want her to feel good about herself and love her life.

posted by lynnie-the-pooh to Education (65 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sometimes she gets B's, sometimes C's, and sometimes, D's and F's.

It sounds to me like the school thinks you are dealing with a learning disability or something that can be fixed by enrichment. Put her in the program. You are the parent, and Ds or Fs are not going to be acceptable if your daughter wants to go to a good college, even in performing arts.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:14 AM on May 22, 2016 [34 favorites]

Not having math blocks a person's path to many possible careers. I suggest you explain this to her and suggest she try it out for a year, or a term, or whatever applies where you are. Maybe she needs help past a few simple conceptual blocks, or to have something explained differently from how it was given her in class.
posted by zadcat at 8:14 AM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

What does "Special ed" math class mean? Is it within a totally different program for kids who are special ed across the board? If it's just a remedial math class within her own regular track, there will be likely be other kids in there who she knows from other classes, and she is probably overworrying the stigma. If she would be put into an actual special ed class when she's not actually special needs in any other way than math, I would not do that for a kid at age 13 who is sensitive about her own developing sense of herself. I would just beef up the tutoring.

However, as a parent of a kid like this too, I would in any case find out about the teacher in this math class. If you find out from other parents that it's a great teacher who reaches out to the kids as individuals to meet their unique learning styles, I would push her to try it for at least a year. If you hear from other parents that it's just basically a slow class, as these sometimes are, often with a tired teacher and behavior problems in the class... well I have been there and would not put my kid in it again.
posted by flourpot at 8:16 AM on May 22, 2016 [14 favorites]

We have taken her to tutors, I've tried to help her, but she hates math and also is very challenged in it, when she does try.

Has she been screened for dyslexia or another learning disability? On what actual basis is the school suggesting a special ed class? I don't know how it works in your district but please be aware of the possibility that her school is trying to put her in SE instead of providing her with a (costly) IEP that will let her stay in mainstream classes for all of her subjects.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:17 AM on May 22, 2016 [19 favorites]

Alternatively, could you hire another tutor over the summer and see if she can be caught up?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:17 AM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

She needs to learn the math. Not only does she need to pass the math test each year in high school, but she will need to test at a certain level for secondary education as well.
posted by JujuB at 8:19 AM on May 22, 2016 [16 favorites]

So this issue is that she doesn't want to be seen as different, not that she doesn't think she needs help with math, right?

Make sure you're solving the right problem here. Try to pull in the guidance counselors if possible.

As for whether or not she would benefit from remedial help in math, of course she would. And of course you should put her in that class. Almost every professional musician I know has another part-time or full-time gig. Many of them are web developers and use some advanced high school math every day. So she's going to need to get comfortable with it. She doesn't need to major in it or anything, but algebra and geometry is truly a necessity.
posted by joebakes at 8:20 AM on May 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

So if I have this correct, the school says your daughter would benefit from being placed in a different math class for kids who are challenged by it. Your daughter doesn't want to be made fun of for being in "special" math. You want your daughter to do well in school and get high grades, but math is a sticking point. Is that all correct?

I was repeatedly informed of how creatively gifted I was as a kid, and most of my family is of a similar level of intelligence and we all have some kind of art we prefer. But I was always horrendous at math. I was put into a gifted and talented core program in grade school and stuck with it into high school. In that program everyone was accelerated at least a year ahead in math, and the even mathier kids were bumped up further. Math was, is, and always will be a huge sticking point for me. In high school when I was in "normal" classes I took the basic algebra and it was too hard for me - my first ever D on a report card, my first ever F on a test. In college (which I attended with an academic merit scholarship for which I had to maintain a 3.4 GPA) I failed my single math requirement - TWICE.

Guess how I got the credit and graduated? I registered for the "math for artists" class. In that class, yes, there were a few students who were taking it because it was the dumb kid math. But mostly, the professor took us through applications that were relevant for our majors, and methods that appealed to different kinds of intelligence. The homework and test requirements were different - not really less - and while my resentment about math never really went away, a lot of my math stress that originated way back in 3rd grade was finally relieved by knowing that the other students were just as confused and hoping to get through this intact as I was.

13 is different from college, but the principles are the same. If this special math is going to give her different ways to work through the basics, relevant applications to her interests, and comrades in math-arms, have her take it. Her friends will stick with her and the bullying potential will only last a couple weeks, max. If, however, it's just a class where kids who suck at math get sorted and then shuffled through the system until they graduate, don't bother. Get her some tutoring, perhaps through someone who can speak music to her as well (music and math are a pretty common combo, frankly I'm surprised that she's not into it. Does she like Steve Reich?) and set her up to get over this hurdle.
posted by Mizu at 8:23 AM on May 22, 2016 [26 favorites]

"Look, sometimes you have to do things in life that you don't want. You need to pass the math class each year as you go through high school."

I think this is a very sensible approach and I don't see you ruining your future relationship with your child over taking this approach. Sometimes doing tough things sucks but it is (cliche alert) character-building in the end.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:24 AM on May 22, 2016 [16 favorites]

So this issue is that she doesn't want to be seen as different, not that she doesn't think she needs help with math, right?

Make sure you're solving the right problem here.

This. As a child I had some difficulties (not academic, but I think the concept is similar) and pushed back against getting help for them. Looking back at this as an adult, talking about/getting some help working through the FEELINGS and my mom showing understanding around my FEELINGS about all of this so that I was more OK getting the help would have been really useful to me in the big picture and would have made me feel more secure.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:36 AM on May 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: To answer some of the questions would be an IEP and she would have a special ed teacher coming into the main classroom where the other children would see the teacher working with her.

Also, she has not been diagnosed anything, but the school believes she may have a math disability. I figure if she is getting B's in other classes that is fine. So we are good with the other classes. And then when it comes to performing, or singing, or music, she excels off the charts.

posted by lynnie-the-pooh at 8:39 AM on May 22, 2016

Are her grades in other academic subjects good, or poor?

If all her academic grades are weak, than a learning disability assessment is really important.

If her grades in other academic subjects are good, than you most likely have someone who has fallen into the "it's okay to be bad at math" trap which results in the miseducation of "arty" kids and especially arty girls.

The solution then is tutoring, but you need the RIGHT tutor. Math tutors have two core customer groups: parents desperate to see their not-smart kid pass the lowest level of college prep math, and parents desperate to see their smart, good at math, kid get into an Ivy, converting honors math A-s and As to A+s.) Getting your smart daughter to B+s is a rather rare niche.
posted by MattD at 8:39 AM on May 22, 2016 [12 favorites]

Not a parent of teenagers, but I literally never got anything above a D in math and now do data analysis as a big part of my job. It really really doesn't matter in the long run. Sounds like you understand your kid better than the school does. They just want high test scores (imo), so if you think letting her continue to struggle with regular math classes will benefit her, sounds like she'll be fine (aka she will pass and graduate, the only thing that really matters in HS).
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:39 AM on May 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

Math and music are intimately connected -- can you find a tutor for her who will be able to bridge the two, and put math in terms she instinctively understands?

I can understand not wanting to feel singled out at school, especially to feel singled out for a perceived failure when she's used to being singled out for accomplishments. I struggled a lot in specific math and science classes in high school, despite testing into the math/science magnet, but I was extremely successful in others; it depended hugely on the teacher and whether they could speak my language. (Most didn't try or care; they had more naturally math-inclined kids to pay attention to, and didn't have time to translate for a logic-inclined kid.) I tried a number of approaches, including dropping out of high-level math into normal math, but the most successful was my approach to chemistry: I got a tutor who could break down the subject in a way that made sense to me. I could have self-loathed my way through chemistry and probably pulled off a bad but passing grade, but having the tutor actually made me feel like "oh, I'm not dumb, it's that the way I'm being asked to learn doesn't work for me," which made me a little more inclined to work harder in that class and elsewhere.
posted by babelfish at 8:42 AM on May 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

I think your framing here is tripping you up.

There is nothing incompatible about receiving special education services for math in high school and growing up to be a performer.

If she is interested in public performance, then I would push her to be more intellectually honest about not wanting to be seen as different. If she is happy standing up and performing and receiving accolades for being seen as better, which I think a successful performer needs to be, then really she is concerned about not being seen as worse, and is responding to a fear of stigma, which is a very normal human and teenage impulse but seems less likely to be integral to her specific inviolate identity.

Furthermore, performers, especially, I think, young women performers, are probably more likely to find themselves in situations of being manipulated by more powerful people looking to use or exploit their talent, and if anything, I would say someone with that ambition needs to work on embracing herself, weaknesses and all, or else she will be much more vulnerable to the manipulation of others who may be very happy to play with areas of sensitivity in her ego and self image.

(And of course, a high school diploma and a working knowledge of math still put her in a much better position to say no to sketchy opportunities and to look out for herself in negotiations).

13 is a prime age for exploring one's identity. It's not a great time to carve it into stone and assume that it's set forever. Yes, you should let go of the need to see her being an academic superstar, but I think you need to not feed either her adolescent understanding of special education being a valid stigma or of a life in dramatic performance as being incompatible with academic pursuits (where the goal is competence and credentialing, not awards and accolades). I think feeding into her view that kids in special education are doomed, or meant, to be viewed with scorn and pity is a neglected parenting opportunity that has the potential for great harm to her and to others.

All that said, as a (newish) special ed teacher, it is much much harder for students to get the full benefit of the services if every ounce of their being is wrestling and resisting the identity of 'being' special ed, and they can do a lot of harm to their own and other kids' educations if they're always looking for the chance to say, "See, *he's* the retard [sic], I'm normal."

So basically I think this is parental hill worth the conflict with your daughter and perfectly congruous with her own professional goals and, potentially, identity as an artist rather than a scholar. AND I think you both may need some help, maybe with psychologists/therapists who really understand these issues, and for you, maybe with some background reading about exploitation of performers and sociological and anthropological issues around special education, including stigma.

Being a grown up with a strong self image with room for her own weaknesses (and accommodating and working around then rather than denying them) and with compassion for the weaknesses of others seems like a great identity aim for a 13 year old aspiring performer.

On preview, depending on the specifics, I don't necessarily love your school's approach, and the details of how to support your daughter in math may need more investigation and advocacy from you. But I stand by my general view that it would be a big mistake to accept the framing your daughter/you seem to be leaning towards in your question.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:43 AM on May 22, 2016 [33 favorites]

it would be an IEP and she would have a special ed teacher coming into the main classroom where the other children would see the teacher working with her.

That's a bit different than a whole different set of material. This is just extra help. Maybe with more understanding of the program she'll realize its nothing to be embarrassed about--you can always tear up an IEP and cancel the extra help if its unbearable.

Definitely make sure that there isn't some shitty bullying going on of other kids with IEPs. If there's a group of mean kids keeping their peers from getting help that's something the administration needs to deal with.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:43 AM on May 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

The school thinks something worth paying an aide to help her means they think something specific is going on. People who suck at math or are lazy don't get that kind of help.

Practice with your child in how to normalize it. She gets help and extra time on homework. Math is hard. Kids get that. She will be okay.

Just do it. It could really be invaluable for her, and find adaptive techiniques skills to accommodate whatever problems she has.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:45 AM on May 22, 2016 [10 favorites]

I would get a psycho-educational assessment and find out if your daughter has a learning disability. If your school can't do one in very quick order, it would be worth paying the $3k to get it done - you may have medical benefits that cover it. If she has a learning disability, she will be protected by disability and human rights legislation and you may also receive tax incentives or, depending on extended medical, even be able to have costs of tutoring defrayed. You would be able to apply to charities for grants. She would be eligible for an IEP and they would have to deliver schooling that accommodates the need.

I would find out what special ed means. I struggled with math because I had a couple of teachers who were terrible. I didn't pay attention to them and then I ended up with a big gaping hole. I also would have done far, far better in an enriched math class, rather than being told I just wasn't as good at math as humanities. Once someone told me I wasn't enrichment material, I believed them. Imagine my shock when I got to grad school and the workforce and found out I was as good or better as many engineers and scientists! And the enrichment materials probably would have engaged me and the social environment would have supported me.

Also, get a tutor for the summer. And can she go to summer school this summer to see if that helps?
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 8:50 AM on May 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also, if it just means that a teacher is coming into the room to help her, you could tell her to say to her friends, "ZOMG! My parents are so into math! They want me to get extra help and they found out they could do THIS instead of paying some much for a tutor. You know how my mom/dad is! Sheesh! It's like they want me to go to Harvard for math or something. Whatever. They told me the money we'll save on tutoring can pay for my $extracurricularsheloves$ and that getting this math help means I probably don't need to take _____ in university."
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 8:53 AM on May 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

I think you should put her in the program. Among other things, it's totally possible that your kid is catastrophizing. If your daughter tells anyone who asks that she's just getting extra help with math and doesn't act like it's something weird or shameful, there's a pretty good chance that the other kids won't pay that much attention to the whole thing.

I think she would just be narrowing her options a lot if she gives up on math right now. For an example, in the FAQ for Julliard they say:

Does Juilliard have a minimum GPA?

Although The Juilliard School does carefully evaluate the transcripts and diplomas earned by applicants, there are no specific courses, GPAs, or class rank required. Transcripts are reviewed to ascertain scholastic competence sufficient to succeed in course work at the college level, and an essay is required to help evaluate the intellectual and scholastic aptitude of prospective students. Although greatest importance is placed on the required audition in which the student performs in front of Juilliard faculty, these other elements of the application are critical in evaluation for admission

Which means that even music schools and performing arts schools look at your transcripts. And if your daughter applies to one and is up against someone with a similar amount of talent and ability as your daughter who has better grades, then your daughter would be at a disadvantage, I would think.
posted by colfax at 9:16 AM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, I'm overwhelmed with the caring and detail that you all have sent to me.

In response to some of your comments...........yes, my daughter has already been bullied, and we have dealt with the school about it, as I would never let something like that go. It was a threat and it was also a physical harm to her face. I can't believe how young girls are jealous over a girl that performs. It is unbelievable. I think my daughter is afraid that when the word gets out about the math, it will be these girls "opportunity" to really pounce. I know what you guys are saying about the worth of getting help. I actually want her to get extra help. In talking with all of you, I think I'm seeing that this is a much larger issue for me, that this really isn't about math at's about what message are my husband and I telling our daughter about discovering who you are, accepting your weaknesses, managing what you can, but then loving yourself and doing what you love in life. In the end, that's what we want for her, is to be happy and energized for every day because she does what she loves and if every day you are told you are not good enough in something (that supposedly you NEED) you can't help but feel bad, and then if you add bullying into the equation.................I have a lot to think about.

All of your comments are really helping me sort this out.

Thank you.
posted by lynnie-the-pooh at 9:41 AM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think that say framing this as either special education or "letting her be who she is" is a false dichotomy. Getting help with her math does not take away from who she is. She is still a performer and an artist. She will just be a performer and an artist who will have a better chance at getting into the school of her choice. There is no way that testing for any type of higher education won't include math. Maybe it won't hurt her, but it probably will. Why chance it?

I don't think that pushing harder at math will hurt your adult relationship with her. I think it will be far more likely that she will end up being grateful - eventually. Ten years after high school, my son thanked me for not letting him quit piano lessons, even though he hated it at the time (the comparison I made then was that he hated math too, but no one was saying I should let him quit that). Ask adults who no longer play instruments if they wish their parents had pushed them more. Many will say yes. You're the parent. You can see the big picture better than she can.

You might end up with her being angry at you for a while for making her accept the help she needs. Or you could let her make the decision now and end up with her being angry at you because she couldn't get into the school she wanted to because her math scores were too low and you didn't push her. I'm not saying this isn't a hard thing for you to deal with - it definitely is. I'm just saying that taking the path of least resistance now doesn't mean she won't blame you for the results of that later.
posted by FencingGal at 9:41 AM on May 22, 2016 [10 favorites]

In my experience, aides who come in to one class are good at making it look like they're there to support the teacher and class as a whole, and that they just happen to stop by the one desk. They're probably not going to sit right next to your daughter the whole period.

Your daughter (and you) might be surprised how many of the kids in her school have IEPs. They're used for speech therapy, for anxiety, for all kinds of things.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:44 AM on May 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Schools can't put kids on IEPs without a qualifying disability and to figure that out, they legally have to do psychoeducational testing. Then the Team, which includes you, meets to go over those results and decides if she qualifies.

What you're describing is having her work in a class where there's an aide. Aides spread themselves around because they're supporting a few kids, more often than not.

I'm really sorry she was bullied but in my 20+ years of special education teaching, I've never once see girls bully other girls because they aren't great in math.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:50 AM on May 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

" In the end, that's what we want for her, is to be happy and energized for every day because she does what she loves and if every day you are told you are not good enough in something (that supposedly you NEED) you can't help but feel bad,"

Turn this message around a little bit -- it's not that she's "not good enough" at math, it's that math is more difficult for her than for other kids, and more difficult for her than her other subjects are. You get better at it by working harder at it (and getting a diagnosis if there's a specific learning disability that she can learn to work at and manage). Some of this sounds like, because your daughter is very gifted in other areas, she isn't accustomed to failure and you (as the parent) aren't accustomed to her having to struggle and be frustrated. But SO MANY gifted kids are ill-served by never having to struggle and therefore never learning to work hard at something that doesn't come easily. In addition to needing the math to keep her options open in the future, it is a gift to teach her to work hard through frustration at something that doesn't come naturally. There will come a moment in her art where something doesn't come naturally, and doesn't want to come at all, and that's when a lot of talented amateurs give up. Teach her how to work hard at something that sucks and she doesn't enjoy and isn't naturally good at -- that may be the most valuable skill she learns from this experience.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:52 AM on May 22, 2016 [19 favorites]

It might also help to find performers and others with math and numbers backgrounds to inspire her. Oprah wouldn't be where she is now if she didn't look at residuals from syndicating. Mayik Bialik and Danica McKellar are probably too far out of her age range for her to care. But there are lots of math-savvy business people in the Arts world.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:56 AM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hello again, to the writer who said she never saw someone in 20 years get bullied because they were not good in daughter was bullied because of all the attention she gets when she performs and gets awards..................the math is one more thing that makes my daughter feel bad, and she thinks that when the girls see her getting help, they will find that as an avenue they can use to make fun of her.

I appreciate all your comments.
posted by lynnie-the-pooh at 9:56 AM on May 22, 2016

the math is one more thing that makes my daughter feel bad, and she thinks that when the girls see her getting help, they will find that as an avenue they can use to make fun of her.

I mean, obviously this is possible, but not a reason that your child shouldn't pass math. You might want to look into organizations like Girls, Inc that work with girls who need more confidence in academics.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:04 AM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes, the problem is the visibility of other kids seeing she is "bad" at math and this opens the path for more bullying. 13 is such a tough age, being seen as "different" at that age can be actually traumatizing. I really can't overemphasize how traumatic it might be for her to have to go through that kind of public humiliation (because that's what it would be) over and over again on a daily basis. I would be extremely impressed if she has any ability to concentrate on math problems in an environment where her peers will be judging her.

I don't know what the right thing to do is here, but I just want to stress that openly helping her with her emotions, listening to her, and NOT trivializing the stress that this causes her, will play a HUGE part in how successful she becomes academically.
posted by a strong female character at 10:06 AM on May 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

She is 13 so one of these days, before I know it, she will be out of the house and I want a relationship with my daughter. In the end, her happiness is what I want. I want her to feel good about herself and love her life.

I assure you that your daughter will not disown you for requiring her to get extra math help. It's clear from everything you've wrote how much you love her and that want her to self-actualize. Even if she doesn't believe that at any given moment, over the long-term she will know it to be true.

High school math builds on the skills that you learn in junior high. It is important for her to get as solid of a foundation as she can now in order to get by in high school. She will likely feel a lot worse in high school if she ends up unable to graduate on time if she doesn't pass her math classes. As an anecdote, my high school boyfriend was the state debate champion one year, but he ended up dropping out of school and didn't graduate because he couldn't pass his math classes.
posted by TheCavorter at 10:16 AM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

A compromise approach is to get her math tutoring this summer, if you can afford it and if she will cooperate. It would be less visible than receiving assistance during class. She might work hard at this if she thought it would spare her embarrassment later, despite her distaste for math.

Math anxiety is fairly common and there are adult resources to assist in overcoming this. There are also fun math resources for kids, but she might find them rather childish. My kid found Khan Academy helpful for filling in math gaps. Assessing what your talented daughter does and doesn't understand and then figuring out how to help her learn successfully next year is what I would aim for. (You could have a trigger level that if she wrestles with her aversion for math and applies herself and doesn't score below 70% on any tests next year, then she doesn't have to have visible help in class, which is what she doesn't want. If you decline to sign up for assistance now, does that really mean she can't qualify for assistance in, say, November?)
posted by puddledork at 10:27 AM on May 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

> the math is one more thing that makes my daughter feel bad, and she thinks that when the girls see her getting help, they will find that as an avenue they can use to make fun of her

If these girls are such jerks, they're going to bully her either for getting help in math, or for getting bad grades in math. She might as well get the help and good grades, and you should approach the bullying as a problem separate from her needing additional support in one class.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:28 AM on May 22, 2016 [14 favorites]

Bullying is awful. If she's 13, is this going to be her last year of middle school by any chance, and then possibly in a high school where things are better? Or is she in a 7-12 system? Could she change schools? (Some counties do make this possible, if difficult, in cases of bullying). The IEP might even help with this, if it can show that she is entitled to services that her current school is not able to provide.

Please do everything you can not to let bullies stop her from getting the best education she can. These are important years in math. Depending where in the country you are, if she can get a solid basis in these years she should be ok for the first couple years of high school math and can possibly stop there if she really hates it. But so much better to get her the extra support now and let her work through it than have her in a situation where she is repeating courses she hated the first time, and that her cohort has already passed (which is unlikely to be a fun social situation for her either).

I would definitely go forward with the IEP process. Having the IEP and recommendations does not MANDATE any services, is it always up to the parents what services the child will receive, but it does mandate that if the parents want services, the school has to provide them. If you end up deciding not to move her to another classroom, she could still likely get extra time on certain exams and the use of a calculator on certain exams where the calculations are more incidental but could trip her up needlessly.

Having these accommodations in an IEP would also most likely make it much more easy for her to get accommodations in college (or any setting that receives federal funding). It also could turn her college application essay from explaining away her mediocre grades to a story of overcoming a learning disability to get passing grades (if she chooses to share, nothing will be visible outside the school except what she chooses).
posted by Salamandrous at 10:33 AM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

> public humiliation (because that's what it would be)

No. If the IEP involves public humiliation, it's a bad IEP and needs to be rewritten. If the school district can't figure out how to get an aide into a classroom without humiliating the child who needs support, they need to get their act together. Catastrophizing is not helpful.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:33 AM on May 22, 2016 [9 favorites]

I one of the gifted and talented kids, like your daughter but with the visual arts instead of music. I left my "normal" high school every day to go to a visual and performing arts school in the city near where I lived. I was also horrible at math, and failed several times. I nearly didn't graduate because of my horrible math grades - I was a senior in a sophomore class, and I could barely keep up. I always wondered about a disability. My parents figured that I was good at other things, so they let it go. Years later, in college, (in a math for artists class) I was told that I actually have a mind for math, but have never been taught in a way that my mind can process. I just think differently. Learning math was always something that I really wanted for myself, and it severely affected my sense of self esteem and self worth, but my parents couldn't afford a tutor and at that time I guess the schools made the assumption that I was lazy or incompetent. I wasn't. I wanted to learn.

Fast forward to today, and I can't even split a check in my head when I go out with friends without my cell phone. I can't multiply large numbers in my head, and figuring out interest rates and such makes me break out in a cold sweat. I've had embarrassing social situations and, worse, financial difficulties because of my complete and utter avoidance of all things math-related.

This will follow her if you don't insist that she work it out. However, I strongly disagree with the following statement:

Among other things, it's totally possible that your kid is catastrophizing. If your daughter tells anyone who asks that she's just getting extra help with math and doesn't act like it's something weird or shameful, there's a pretty good chance that the other kids won't pay that much attention to the whole thing.

Telling a 13-year-old girl that, by worrying about being seen as "different", she's catastrophizing, is completely invalidating and dismissive of her feelings which will have a direct impact on her ability to learn. A stressed system cannot learn. I repeat - a stressed system cannot learn. Learning is as much about being comfortable with your surrounding environment as it is about picking up the concepts, retaining and later recalling them. And the idea that the kids just wouldn't pay attention to the fact that she has an aide coming into the classroom is, I'm sorry, well intentioned but not realistic. She's THIRTEEN! And she's already been bullied. I think her instincts are good, and kids know their world much better than strangers on the internet. If she senses that she's going to be thrown to the wolves if these kids see an aide, she's probably right. Personally, I'd honor her feelings about it AND insist that she deal with the issues. It isn't so black and white. You can do both.

I agree with all of the excellent advice above that she needs to deal with this problem, both for her future and her sense of self-worth and ability to tackle a challenge successfully. But the idea that she can do that on the school's terms (i.e. an aide in the class) is, in my opinion, perhaps not the best option. Thirteen-year-olds are vicious, and I wouldn't want to take the chance that the name-calling or whatever wouldn't leak out into the world of social media.

I'd suggest contacting a special ed lawyer for a consultation and simply ask what your rights are. Can the school provide a tutor at home, given that she's had issues with bullying? What are the options besides a tutor in the classroom? Can she stay after school, or go in early? If you pay for a tutor at home, can they subsidize the cost of the tutor?

Best of luck!
posted by onecircleaday at 10:43 AM on May 22, 2016 [11 favorites]

If your daughter turns out to have a learning disability such as dyscalculia (which several completely awesome, totally competent adults I know have), a regular tutor will probably not help and will probably hurt. I'm not familiar enough with the issue to know how to find qualified tutors or specialists, but it might be something to look into. (If she is diagnosed with something and you're in the US, she'll likely be able to get accommodations in college/university, but a) she has to get there first, b) it's possible to waste lots of money and time on developmental math classes, or even run through financial aid before even hitting GE/major classes, and c) taking a bunch of developmental classes reduces students' chances of graduating--not because they're behind others in some way, but just due to the narrowing funnel effect of having to take so many extra, challenging, gatekeeper classes.

Good luck!
posted by wintersweet at 10:45 AM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm really sorry she was bullied but in my 20+ years of special education teaching, I've never once see girls bully other girls because they aren't great in math.

Kids bully kids for everything, especially at this age. Anything that makes you stand out - physically, developmentally, academically, socially, whether ahead or behind - makes you a potential target. And bullies are good at keeping it subtle and out of authority figures' sight. Not to mention that if you're already in bullies' sights for one thing, they're primed to seek out anything else they can use against you.

The whole setup with the special ed teacher coming into the main classroom, where all the other kids can see you, strikes me as a bad idea for dealing with educational differences in middle school. I'm guessing the intent is to avoid singling out the kids who need extra help, but really they're just singling them out right in front of all the other kids.

OP, you're right to take your daughter's worries seriously - so many parents don't. On the other hand, getting help with math now will help avoid further challenges down the line, and could help her get into the college of her choice - perhaps one as far away from the mean kids as possible. Tackle it now. If you avoid getting her help with math now, the bullies win - forever. (Besides, they will find other reasons to bully her, no matter what she does with math.)

And learning to persevere and succeed at something that is difficult and unpleasant is just as valuable, if not more so, than the math itself. It gets so much harder to learn this the older you get.

See what options the school has, or that you can do independently, for keeping the tutoring discreet; her academic work isn't other kids' business. Find out how your daughter would best like to approach getting extra help, and honor that as best you can. Let her know that getting some kind of help is mandatory, but let her have some choice in how to get it.

And consider reframing how you talk about her struggles in math; it's not necessarily that she's "bad" at it, but everyone processes knowledge differently and sometimes the best way you learn a subject is completely different from how the teacher teaches it. Maybe she's not bad but good in a way that hasn't been unlocked.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:46 AM on May 22, 2016 [18 favorites]

Is it possible that your daughter has dyscalculia? It's similar to dyslexia, but for math, and is much lesser known. Having her properly diagnosed could potentially be immensely helpful!
posted by amf at 11:06 AM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is not a decision she really has enough information to make—she has no way of knowing what life would look like without the skill or what it would be like to acquire it later or how she'd feel about not having done it later. You, of course, don't have information SPECIFIC to your daughter about this, but you have a pretty good pool to draw from. That's what parenting is about sometimes.

So get more information, including some cognitive testing, and figure out how to make this happen, even if it involves the extra assistance.
posted by listen, lady at 11:16 AM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

(Oh, fwiw, I have ADD that went undiagnosed for most of my life, which made rote learning (like languages!) difficult, so I didn't take a second language, or much math, or any science, in college, and that I didn't is an enormous regret. And I'm a professional writer.)
posted by listen, lady at 11:19 AM on May 22, 2016

It would be a giving your daughter a very good and important gift to help her learn that struggling with a subject or certain material is not a shameful thing. Struggling when your peers are not struggling is not a shameful thing. Struggling so much that you need extra help is not a shameful thing. Receiving help to learn something that is very challenging to you is not a shameful thing. There is no shame in being a unique person with your own talents and challenges.

Special ed has a bad reputation, but in my experience (working within and around schools), it's really the area of education where teachers, parents, and students have the most opportunities to tailor education to meet the actual needs of the individual student. If you want your kid to be able to be herself, having an IEP could actually be a really great thing--rather than struggling with the cookie cutter math curriculum, she would get an individualized plan to meet her unique needs and help her succeed.

I was a really excellent student, but for years avoided things that felt especially challenging because I could not tolerate that feeling of struggling to learn something. I wish someone had helped me when I was much younger to understand that engaging with something that is challenging, and persevering through that struggle, is more valuable than breezing through something that comes easily. (Not because we shouldn't pursue our passions, but because within our passions, there will still be challenges to struggle through, and we need the learning-skills and learning-stamina to face those challenges.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 12:03 PM on May 22, 2016

I teach in a classroom with a paraprofessional aide, and I've had students refuse her help because it makes them "look different."

But they REALLY needed the help. So we took a soft approach: the aide would check in with these students, just as she did with the rest of the kids she helped. Just, "Hey, where are you at with the assignment? Okay, do you need help?"

Eventually, we established that she was just "the second teacher" who could explain things in a different way. Our attitude about it destigmatised asking for help. Now, the kids who need the help get the help they need, often because they seek it out. And more than just the IEP kids get her help.

Talk to the teacher and the aide. Tell them that your daughter is uncomfortable asking for help, and see what they can do. I guarantee you they've dealt with this situation before, and should be able to offer help in ways that aren't quite as obvious.

Good luck. And thank you for advocating for your kid.
posted by guster4lovers at 12:07 PM on May 22, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm a public school teacher so I'm very familiar with the concept and implementation of IEPs and how this would likely look. I can guarantee you that it's very, very different than when we went to school, fortunately. I was born in the early 80s and had a few crappy teachers who wanted to hold me back, assign unfair labels, put me in the wrong remedial classes, etc. My parents fought the system and I'm so glad they did, so I can see where you're coming from here. That said, I'm also so glad to see things have changed for the better now when it comes to special education options. As others have said, it's possible to be gifted and have a learning disability; I know this firsthand.

With an IEP, your daughter would be assigned a caseworker. A good caseworker will advocate for your daughter with her teachers, help advocate for you with the school administration, and help your daughter learn to advocate for herself with teachers and classmates. As with any field, there are some decent, some crappy, and some exceptional SPED teachers and caseworkers. A good match will help your daughter grow and succeed not just in the math classroom but outside of it as well at school. The IEP is reviewed by a group that could include the parents, student, caseworker, counselor, an administrator, and teachers. Those meetings can be powerful and wonderful because I've seen it with my own eyes. If you don't like what you're being offered, you don't have to sign off on it. Ultimately, as the parent, you make the final call.

FWIW, I never talk publicly about students' IEPs or status as "special education" students unless they bring it up themselves. A lot of inclusion math classrooms will have both teachers working with ALL of the students. You can surely work something out in the IEP meeting where your daughter has as little attention brought to this as possible. See what the teachers do and see what would work best for you. If you are open to them while advocating for your daughter, I think they will be able to be flexible and supportive. If you can talk to some other parents whose children receive services from the school, I think you'll feel a lot more empowered and positive Perhaps the PTA has a parent who works as a special ed liaison or the administration could recommend someone.

If you'd like to talk more about the bullying, we can do that, too. The school should be taking that seriously and helping, and it sounds like they're not doing their best right now. I can see your reluctance to get that math support when they're not being supportive in other ways but I think things will work out better in the end all around. Thanks for sharing this question with us and for being so open-minded about options!
posted by smorgasbord at 12:09 PM on May 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

Seconding everyone who's said "maybe find ways to engage her with the math side of music" and "find the right tutor." I think both might help the math anxiety/stereotype threat part of her difficulty -- it sounds like her feelings about math are as much in her way as actual problems with math. I empathize, because I was pretty much the same girl. Big performer, struggled mightily in math in high school, and I basically just sort of worked myself into a lather about how much I hated math. I decided I was more like my mom -- the humanities person in the house -- than my dad -- who was trained as an engineer -- and I seized on that perception to defend my insistence that I wasn't meant to do math.

It helped me a lot to have two of my female teachers work with me outside of class -- they understood where I was coming from and were very kind. One had been a psych major, and the other was a math genius who'd attended Harvard at sixteen, and they never, ever acted like they were frustrated with me, and that made a world of difference. Who they were and how they worked with me mattered way more than anything else.

I survived. My math grades were lower than my other grades, but I made it into a number of good colleges and eventually did a doctorate. As a grown up I now engage with math in ways that are meaningful to what I care about in the work I do -- mostly using statistics and data analysis, to highlight problems that human beings are having in the real world.
posted by gusandrews at 12:13 PM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm puzzled by the assumption that the only option for her to get the extra help is with an aide helping her in class. As someone pointed out above, that... just sounds like an obvious recipe for disaster, so obvious that I have trouble believing it's what they're intending to do. So first thing, clarify - are they talking about having an aide in there who's obviously, visibly assigned to your daughter? And that's the avenue for the extra help they want her to have? Or is it an aide who's there for everyone?

I would take your daughter's concerns about visibility totally seriously, and ask for help that won't cause further social trouble. If the whole class is always together for math, maybe the aide time is after school?
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:08 PM on May 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm puzzled by the assumption that the only option for her to get the extra help is with an aide helping her in class.

Inclusive Classroom: "Inclusion means giving all students access to regular classrooms, instruction and learning opportunities. Although the term “inclusive classrooms” is relatively new, it complies with the original intention of laws passed by Congress, beginning with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975.

IDEA was amended in 2012 to make provisions for measuring the academic success of special education programs against testing standards set for students in regular classrooms. The purpose of inclusive classrooms is to provide an education for special needs students alongside nondisabled students in K-12 schools that receive public funding. The intent of IDEA, therefore, is not simply to give students with disabilities access to an appropriate education but also to include them within regular classrooms rather than isolating them."

Lots of other good information there too that might answer some of your questions about Special Education.
posted by NoraCharles at 1:57 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I come from a slightly different situation - I was identified as (classically, math and reading, can't express myself artistically to save my life) gifted and talented in elementary school, and put into the appropriate programs. In fifth grade, as far as I could tell, I was utterly failing my gifted math class. I wanted out. I fought and fought and argued and begged to be let out, and my parents refused - I found out later, on the advice of my reading teacher, who was a totally awesome woman.

The reason they refused, the reason they were told to refuse me, is that it's all very well for a gifted student to have a lot of things come naturally, and to only do those things, but even the most gifted have something, somewhere, that does not come easily to them. Gifted kids (and adults) thus tend to simply stop trying at those things, because obviously if they are going to be good at something it has to come naturally and easily and not require hard work. Turns out that's a really bad attitude for life! And indeed, this math class was literally the first time in my elementary education I had ever genuinely struggled with something. To have let me immediately drop it at the first sign of difficulty would have sent a really bad message to me.

While I was pretty unhappy about it at the time, what I learned was that even if I tested as gifted in math, some types of math simply required me to work a lot harder than others to master them; it was, eventually, entirely possible to do so, but I just had to put in the hard work I usually didn't have to bother with. It was incredibly valuable, and it wasn't more than a few years later that I was regularly acing my math classes... with a lot of hard work. There are still types of math I loathe -- looking at you, geometry -- but I have an engineering degree and spent four years taking multivariable calculus, differential equations, discrete math, and linear algebra, and (for the most part) really enjoying it even when it was kicking my ass.

So from the "what will my daughter think of me" perspective: you do not do wrong by making her get the help she needs to learn math. You are her parent, and 13 is a bit too young (IMO) to just "let her be who she is" and treat her as an equal capable of making adult decisions. She will learn a valuable lesson about perseverance, and respect for what non-gifted people do every day to succeed; they don't get to just shrug their shoulders and say "well I guess I won't read for the rest of my life", or anything like that.

The bullying issue is, I believe, distinct from the dislike and dismissal of math, and should also be dealt with through the school. As said above, there's a good chance her teacher has already handled similar situations with other kids and will have a good way to manage the classroom to make it less obvious that THIS GIRL HERE RIGHT HERE IS GETTING EXTRA HELP BECAUSE SHE IS SPECIAL RIGHT HERE EVERYONE LOOK. This is their job. Please meet with the school to discuss all your concerns and to make the teacher aware of bullying concerns so that he or she knows to look out for it and to nip it in the bud before it starts. Frankly, teenage girls who are bullies will find whatever they can to give her crap for - you have the upper hand here knowing EXACTLY what they might run with given the opportunity, so you can address it and mitigate it before it even starts.

And talk with your daughter about the importance of performers being business-savvy, to understand their own accounting, to manage themselves, and look at the myriad young people (particularly young women) in the pop industry who have been exploited by managers and record labels and others who take advantage of the fact that these are young naive types who rely on others to tell them what is and isn't a good business decision. She doesn't have to take differential equations in college, but she does need basic high school math to manage herself. It's a matter of self-preservation.
posted by olinerd at 2:50 PM on May 22, 2016 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I bet those kids will use this against her. What's been done about the bullying? That seems more urgent than the math issue (although losses in math now will likely add up later).

Will also say that, I too noticed your investment in your daughter's musical talent and achievement. Which is understandable - it's wonderful to be able to take pleasure in seeing your child do well, and to be able to support the interest and gift she evidently has. I'm wondering, though... If your daughter is often explicitly told she's special, and is getting this message in other ways - how does she talk about her accomplishments to other kids? Kids can definitely be animals (well, they/we are animals) and are usually more than happy to take down a tall poppy. A lot of things that are an ordinary part of life for her (went to a rehearsal, got an award) might come across as "bragging" to other kids; if she is also putting an awareness of her specialness across, that is like a target being painted on her back. I don't know what the answer is, hopefully someone in your world with experience can speak to that - but that is a dynamic that can happen :/

(I would also say that very high expectations and personal standards - even if she's delivering on them right now - could potentially cause issues later on - with e.g. perfectionism, say. Especially if her achievement is talked about as a result of an innate talent vs not effort. The label of giftedness isn't always such a gift. Just something to think about. It is not a bad thing for your daughter to not be great at some things and have to work at them; well-roundedness is worth striving for, too. She may decide not to pursue music later on - or that choice may happen for her - and she might be bad at parts of other things she does along the way, and that will be extremely challenging if she doesn't have tools for it, and is judging herself using the standards [and feelings] of her current success.)

If she needs help with math, she should have it. There is probably a way she can get it that doesn't inflame the situation. Dealing with the bullying issue in tandem would probably help.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:13 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

If the school district can't figure out how to get an aide into a classroom without humiliating the child who needs support, they need to get their act together. Catastrophizing is not helpful.

No, you don't understand. It would be public humiliation from the perspective of a 13 year old. Because of experiences like these, when I was 13, I became suicidally depressed, made a suicide pact with a friend, and when this was discovered I was hospitalized for 2 weeks. I've been struggling with recurring depression ever since. This is not catastrophizing, it's a statement of fact.
posted by a strong female character at 3:16 PM on May 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

> No, you don't understand. It would be public humiliation from the perspective of a 13 year old

I'm sorry this happened to you. My 13-year-old has an IEP, has a one-on-one aide in some subjects, and I know what I'm talking about. Your experience is not the standard one. The OP needs to not pass their anxiety and stereotypes about special ed on to their daughter.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:24 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think that being somewhat open about struggling in math may reduce the bullying because it's humbling. If she's a gifted performer, the other girls are jealous. If she always presents as being totally on top of everything, they'll be jealous. If she has areas of weakness that they know about, they may feel less threatened by her.

On a different note, one of the most important lessons that gifted children need to learn is that where they aren't gifted, they need to work harder. We aren't gifted across the board, and the areas that are hardest for us require the most attention, not the least.

And on another note, it's so essential that she have a strong understanding of math for the rest of her life. She'll need it to invest money, get a decent mortgage, understand an employment contract, evaluate risks in medical treatments, or even just calculate how to split a check and if buying in bulk saves her money. This is as essential a life skill as reading. If she struggled with reading, would you let that go? If she needed braces for dental health would you let that go because it hurts and it's socially awkward? These things are essential things to go through.

I'm not suggesting dumping her in the deep end and letting any bad consequence just go. You can still work with the school on making the support work for her; you can provide tutoring that doesn't take place in front of other kids; you can try this series of workbooks that has been shown to get 99% of students up to grade level in math. But I agree with the other posters that learning math has to happen, and that letting her fail at math will handicap her tremendously as an adult. That's not letting her be her; that's setting her up for a lifetime of being cheated, confused, and financially at risk.
posted by Capri at 3:24 PM on May 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

I also want to point out that bodies change and voices change. Emphasizing the wonderful gift that may not be permanent is a little identity crisis making. I lost an octave on my voice in middle school, and Just couldn't do the amazing singing I could do pre puberty.

To me this is simple, your kid needs help in math. An aide in the classroom would be immediate attention to mistakes for corrective learning.
A tutor could help instead, but make sure you know exactly why they want an IEP. A tutor might be more stressful because it means she had to spend time multiple days a week after school doing something she hates. It's double the math.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:51 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was like your daughter: B grades everywhere, exceptional violin and vocal performance student, failed Algebra, Geometry, and Chemistry in High Scool. Had to re-take them ALL and it really ruined my chances at certain scholarships and schools. In college I got a D in Math 1010. Twice. I just couldn't get a handle on it. In fact it seriously messed me up and I didn't finish my undergrad until I was 32 (just barely two years ago).

Here's the weird thing. To finish my degree I had to complete several math courses in my thirties. Maybe because I was older and was determined to finish, somehow I figured it out and for the first time in my life, math started to make sense. I'm still really slow at it, but I no longer hate it.

I think part of what I needed was just to find my own way of learning math. For me a lot of that meant going over foundational concepts over and over and over until they were second nature. It was tedious but necessary.

I realized that this was a huge reason I failed maths in high school..and I believe that Middle School was the turning point. My parents didn't care and they didn't push me to do better at math so I never got any help at all. I'm sure I would have hated it, too! But I'm also sure that if I had gotten help back then, I would not have struggled for so very long.

When I tell people that math isn't my strong suit they'll often recite that old line about musicians being good at math...that really bugs me. It may be true for some musicians, but I'm not at all surprised that it's not true for your daughter. Especially if she's so exceptionally good at the music.

I don't have anything to back this up, just my own experiences. Some kids are just wired different. That difference helps them excel at some pretty unique things (like music), but it also means that learning certain other things in the usual way is really challenging. Working with a special education teacher may help your daughter unlock the mystery of how she needs to learn quantitative reasoning skills.

Finding a way to get that help without bringing attention to it with her peers would be the ideal solution. It will be hard, it will make her really unhappy for a little bit, but this is really important in the grand scheme of things.
posted by Doleful Creature at 6:50 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have dyscalculia and it sounds lIke she might have it. It's not that we're bad at math, it's that it takes us waaaaaaay longer to get to the point where it makes sense. We can learn it, just not the way normal people understand it. I usually tell people I have the number sense of a 3 year old. I can't be tricked with numbers because I have no instinctual understanding of them. Everything has to go through conscious logic.

I don't know exactly how to put this, but it's not like she's stupid or mentally disabled. It's a learning disability, she just has a hard time learning this thing. Math with mixed numbers and letters was the worst. The logic of math is easy but doing it and getting the right answer is hard when numbers are hard to remember and the formulas all look the same. Unfortunately math only gets weirder and harder as you get older so she needs help now. It wasn't a recognized learning disability when I was a kid but my 4th and 5th grade teachers seemed to understand something wasn't firing right and put me into a program where I did extra worksheets to help. I guess it did. I didn't fail math in high school. If there's a way to get her the right help now, she might not need it later, after she gets to a place where she's learned how to help herself. There's techniques I had to figure out myself that I still use today.
posted by fiercekitten at 7:02 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've read a lot, but not all, of the above. Goodness, if they can allocate someone 1-1 couldn't they meet in the library or an empty classroom and just have a private math lesson? Is there a way you could homeschool her in math and let her work at her own pace? My sister did something like this (maybe took math at the community college, distance education and asynchronous classes? or something?). We adults work on our weaknesses - but not in public, and not in front of people who are making fun of us. It's important she keep working at math - but why should she have to struggle and be singled out in front of everyone? That's insane.

I totally see how a tutor=bullying fodder but bad grades don't. ALL the cool kids had bad grades when I was that age... they were either dumb and pretty or too cool for school.

My mom let me give up math once I reached the minimum to graduate high school. I still got into good liberal arts schools, got a good education, good GRE scores (high in math!), a good job, etc. Having the pressure off was fantastic - for me, for school, for our relationship. It's an option, and having a light at the end of the tunnel may help her. I know the thought of "endless math for years and years" was pressing at that age.

Learning how to budget and have a good relationship with money has almost nothing to do with passing trig (which I didn't, so...).
posted by jrobin276 at 8:12 PM on May 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

Think about finding a very special tutor this summer, like a young woman college student majoring in music but good at math-- someone who can teach math using music. (I have a friend like this, and she was very much in demand in the school of music!) Is there a college or even a performing-arts high school nearby? It might be worth talking to the department head and asking for a recommendation to a student. It won't be cheap, but it could pay great dividends, introducing her to an older music student who can show her the value of math within music and vice versa.
So much of learning math has to do with contextualizing-- having some frame of reference. (Like I learned what "base" meant-- that is, we operate on base-10-- when my brother explained that an inning in baseball an example of base-3 -- three outs.) For your daughter, music could be the context. But framing that for her will take someone who understands music and math both.
posted by my-sharona at 8:27 PM on May 22, 2016

I can't even fathom how much I would have benefited from an IEP and help with "translation" of the math instead of just being told "you must not be trying" and "look at the examples again." It would have saved me an enormous amount of shame and insecurity in my life. It turns out that I am not bad at understanding mathematical concepts at all, but arithmetic does not get me there. I discovered this very late.

I probably have some degree of dyscalculia, but that was not so much of a recognized thing when I was a kid, and also, IEPs were also not a thing for kids who were considered to be "gifted and talented" academically. No-one put together the pieces that maybe I really needed some special help in math class. Honestly, while I might have been momentarily embarrassed by aide, I actually would've killed for something like this.
posted by desuetude at 10:02 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'll be in the minority here: I think your daughter's emotional health and comfort are far more important than middle school math. Personally, I had severe math problems, went to a tutor after school three times a week all through middle school and high school, had to go over everything three times, etc. I was never remotely good at it. And it did not matter in the least in the long run. I ended up at my dream Ivy League university. In high school it will matter to a degree, and for that I would send her to a math tutor as often as you can afford, just to keep her grades up. But despite my intellectual/academically accomplished family, my parents never gave some weird moral directive, or hyperbolic appeal about the importance of math. I just did what I needed to do after school to keep my grades up, which usually involved having to have the same thing explained to me three times over, and doing many practice problems. If I had been forced into a traumatic situation that did clear and palpable social and emotional harm, just in the name of improving an academic skill that outside forces deemed more important than my actual emotional health, I can confirm that it would have done extreme harm to my relationship with my parents. I already had a problem with the subject and would never be great at it, so why let it cause daily anxiety and humiliation and social harm? And to do that to a young teenage girl? I'm shocked at the consensus I am reading above.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 11:35 PM on May 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I went from being absolute garbage at math (because I can't do arithmetic) to finishing Calc I-III with all As. In your place I would investigate what exactly the school believes the problem is and how the IEP is intended to help. I could have had a an aide sitting on my lap and it would have never made me learn my "math facts" because I have some sort of disability there. (I mix up numbers and need to use fingers and mental tricks in order to add, subtract, multiply, and divide.) The moment calculators became a class requirement, all of my "math problems" disappeared entirely.

Being behind in math did not affect me because I quit high school and went to college instead. However, if your daughter will be going the traditional path, not dealing with the math issues now could lead to long-term pain when it's time to take SATs and apply to universities. If I could do my life over again, I would have tried to get assessed and given accommodations much earlier in my academic career.

So with that in mind, have you discussed the IEP/aide situation in relation to potential bullying? Or the potential for alternative accommodation that might address what they believe to be the foundational issue with math?
posted by xyzzy at 1:00 AM on May 23, 2016

When I was about that age (12, actually), I had a similar issue. I begged and begged and begged my mom not to make me go into the program. She relented. Looking back, I regret it.

Some time ago, I actually asked her why she listened to me, and she said it was because I was so determined not to and so she respected my wishes. Yeah, but why? I was a kid and had no idea what I was talking about! She was the parent!

Ah well.

Just an anecdote.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 1:05 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Our son had special ed assistance in math and it made an amazing difference.

One of the things that you look for in figuring out who needs special assistance, is people who are doing fine in all areas but one or two. That generally indicates an area where they really need, and would benefit greatly from, some extra help and assistance.
posted by flug at 1:18 AM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, I find your framing of "should we give daughter special education or let her be who she is?" to be kind of... troubling. This is not a zero-sum game.

Nothing about the school's attempt to help your daughter pass math class is preventing her from being who she is. It's not as if her school is suggesting that she drop out of all of her beloved activities in order to focus exclusively on math. You are not stifling her creativity or harming her identity by insisting that she learn a foundational subject in school that is difficult for her. She can be who she is, including someone who isn't great at math, and yet still learn enough to pass the class.

And as for providing ammo for bullies, literally anything can be ammo for bullies, but imagine if those mean girls found out that your daughter refused help in class for fear that she'd get made fun of. That's giving them a hell of a lot of power.
posted by desuetude at 7:41 AM on May 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm not an expert in middle-school teaching, but I do find the assumption troubling that it's okay to let a kid (especially a girl) just perpetually fail at math because that's "who she is." I doubt you would be so blase about it if your child were unable to read or write! While advanced math like calculus may not come up on a day-to-day basis, middle school level math really is a basic life skill for things like doing taxes, shopping at the supermarket, adjusting recipes, managing your finances, comparing credit card offers, etc. etc. etc. And regardless of whether your daughter ends up going into a performance profession or something else, failing classes could make it impossible for her to graduate from high school, much less go on to the college of her choice. This is not a question of a parent upset that their B student isn't making straight As since you say your daughter is sometimes actually failing her classes.

And really, you have no idea what career your daughter will eventually go into -- I'm sure some people really know at age 13 what career they will go into, but this is not universally true. It's good to have options, not close them off at such a young age, so that no matter what path she eventually wants to take, her high school grades aren't holding her back. Part of letting your daughter be who she is should be giving her all the options to choose from when the time comes, not just a few. Additionally, if it turns out your daughter does have a learning disability, there will be accommodations available to her both now and as she goes on to college. My sense of working with students at the college level is that it's much easier on them if their accommodations have been settled before they start and they aren't scrambling to get a diagnosis and accommodation plan at the same time that they're adjusting to college life.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:27 PM on May 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

What if you could frame it not that "who she is" is someone who is good at X and bad at Y, but rather that "who she is" is a young girl who has lots of different interests, and who will benefit by being able to see success in a lot of different ways - not just the ones that come most naturally to her? She is too young to decide that she's bad at math and that's just the way it is. What's more, she's a child still, and it's up to you to get her the resources she needs to learn and grow, and again, not just at the stuff she loves the most right now. I highly doubt your daughter won't want a relationship with you when she's older because you did or did not get her extra help in math class.

My experience with IEPs is that there would be a para in the class with her, helping a lot of students during a class, not just your daughter. This could be good, but if a tutor isn't helping, I don't see how this would be so different.

If kids are mean because they're jealous of your daughter's talents, perhaps they will be able to empathize with her need for extra help sometimes. Perhaps they'll just be more mean. Either way, the school needs to be more involved in stopping bullying and encouraging kindness.
posted by violetish at 5:29 PM on May 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ooooh this just showed up on The Blue and it looks like the channel it's from might be an interesting math-encouraging thing to play with... including stuff on music and art!
posted by gusandrews at 8:51 PM on May 23, 2016

« Older Visiting Mom in hospital when she says "no"?   |   What size is the dosing cap on Clorox Control... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.