Some of us can barely remember anything from third grade, but last night at a restaurant in Dorchester I met someone my age who was truly traumatized for life by a single experience way back in third grade. We’ll call her Laura. When she found out that I’m a math teacher, she had to tell me her story. It went something like this:
A couple of weeks into second grade, Laura’s teacher determined that she was so bright that she should skip a grade, and so Laura was instantly promoted to third grade — with the approval of her mother, but the frowning disapproval of the third-grade teacher, whose plans and groups were all messed up by this unexpected child. The third-graders had been adding two-digit numbers with carrying, but of course Laura didn’t know how to do this, since she had missed all but the first two weeks of second grade, not to mention the beginning of third. When she was unable to do the assigned problems, the teacher called her up in front of the room and said to the class, “Laura thinks she’s so smart because she skipped a grade, but in fact she’s stupid. She can’t even add 28 and 47.”
And to this day — despite success in future math courses, and eventually getting into med school — Laura has a phobia about math.