It’s guys night out, and dinner is coming to an end. We’ve given our credit cards to the server, who returns and drops the stack of bills in the center of the table. As per usual, one of my oldest friends scoops them up and thrusts them to my side of the table.

“Lance can calculate the tips, he’s a math guy.”

The line elicits a huge laugh, as if my title as the group’s “math guy” is a comical one. We have our “movie guy,” our “soccer guy” and of course me, the one who can quickly compute reasonable tips because I’m “good at math.”

I’ve taught high school math in Texas for the last 16 years, and I wear the epithet of “math guy” proudly. What troubles me is the notion that being “good at math” is unique to those in my vocation. Often, when people find out that I teach Algebra, they quickly recite a plethora of bad experiences with math in all forms, without indicating that they could (or should) have gone down differently.

Equally troubling is the fixed idea among many of my friends that they are the opposite of me: inherently or irrevocably “bad at math,” and they believe that is totally OK.

In fact, my friends are more loath to admit that they’re bad at cooking than math. By contrast, when was the last time you heard an adult declare at a dinner table that they are bad at reading?

Illiteracy carries a large amount of , whereas most seem to be far less self-conscious about having deficiencies in math. And that’s a problem we must solve as a society.

The solution to creating the next generation of strong “math people” starts early, and it involves families and schools working together to change mindsets.

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Math, along with reading, is one of the fundamental skills we work to teach kids from a very young age. As educators, we focus on math and reading as the twin flames of childhood development, as the two and pave the path to academic success.

Math and reading are frequently linked when we devise legislation, whether it comes or . Last year the Texas Legislature passed , which put in place a plan to help more students attain access to advanced math instruction. Research shows a between students’ postsecondary success and the highest level of math they took in high school. The bill gets the ball rolling by requiring school districts to automatically enroll sixth graders in an advanced math course if they performed in the 60th percentile or better on their fifth-grade state assessment or a similar local measure.

This is because students tend to find success via a cascading effect. To achieve at the postsecondary level, they need to take advanced high school math courses. To be prepared for those courses, they need access to Algebra I in eighth grade, and to be prepared for that, they need to be enrolled in advanced math in sixth grade.

Putting this bill to work will expose many students to the satisfaction of higher math just before middle school.

I was lucky to have had tangible experiences with problem-solving even younger. My mother taught me how to calculate a 20 percent tip as a child, by showing me how to move the decimal over one place to the left and double the result. I delighted in this shared family activity any time we went out to eat. My joy was only further enhanced in the elementary school classroom, where I learned the formal arithmetic that guides this technique of calculating percentages.

Sadly, few students cite a positive formative memory like mine when it comes to their own history with math, especially outside the classroom. In fact, many experience the opposite.

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We must focus on developing an excited for the learning of math, no matter how old we are, so that our children will view the subject with pleasure rather than fear.

And we need to start now. By 2030, it is estimated that will require at least some level of post-high school education. To get students there, we will need even more than innovative legislation.

We can lay a foundation for success in higher levels of math by showing kids the fun of math problem-solving early and often. Some examples: Have your kids sort their Halloween candy into different shapes, count the beats in their favorite songs or guess how many total Legos are in the closet.

Let’s emphasize the ability to develop numeracy with the same fervor and positivity that we emphasize literacy. Let’s stop instilling in our kids that they are either “good” or “bad” at math when they are still in single digits.

Let’s continually promote the narrative that we can all be “math people,” from grade school all the way to adulthood. That way, the next time you need to calculate a tip, or double a recipe or take measurements for a house project, you won’t have to call on the local “math guy.”

You might even take delight in solving the problem yourself.

*Lance Barasch is a high school math teacher at the School of Science and Engineering in Dallas ISD. He is a Teach Plus senior writing fellow.*

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