At a recent criminal justice conference, during a panel called “Communities at Risk,” one panelist said the indicator of how your life may proceed depends on how you did in 8th grade algebra. That got me thinking; what is the relationship between 8th grade algebra and a life of crime or victimization?
As usually happens when I encounter algebra, I was left with more questions than answers. But let me take a run at it. Algebra is a discipline and a whole body of study that many never master, yet many apply themselves to it. More than once has an algebra student challenged a teacher with the statement, “When am I ever going to use this stuff?” It seems esoteric. What is the practical application? It is an area of study where, for some, the easiest thing to do would be to throw up one’s hands and say, “It’s not for me,” and give up and move onto something easier or more fun. It takes discipline. It requires a “stick-to-it-tiveness” that many in our instant gratification world reject as too much trouble.
Maybe, if I’m that 8th grader, I don’t have someone at home who can tutor me, or at least encourage me to give it my best effort. If the messages I get at home and in the community second my adolescent thoughts on algebra, it is an easy path to forego it. And if I don’t pass it, maybe I’m held back and begin that downward spiral of underachievement.
But maybe, even more critical, does my school district even offer 8th grade algebra and are there qualified, excellent, and committed teachers to assist me? And hugely significant, what are the expectations my community and my family have for me?
Many profiles of young and old men in prison include a failure to do well academically. The predominant reading level of those in prison is usually a low elementary grade level.
But how does that relate to crime? If at the 8th grade I take the easier path on math, maybe it’s just a short hop and a skip to take a shortcut on a lot of other (important) things— other schoolwork, other responsibilities, law abiding, authority respecting.
“The indicator of how your life may proceed depends on how you did in 8th grade algebra.” As I said, the speaker’s statement left me with a lot of intriguing questions. Got any answers? Post them below and show all work.