In K-12 education, often times we parents think our children’s mastery of their coursework must look a certain way, be done by a certain time, and before a certain deadline. The impetus may come from this belief that learning by age 20 is most desirable, as popular research has shown the brain grows most rapidly until this time. I am living proof that real learning does occur after this age!
To give some background, I took pre-algebra in the 7th grade, algebra in the 8th, and geometry in the 9th grade. I did decently well in all these classes. I started a new high school in the 10th grade; due to my A in geometry, I was enrolled in honors algebra II. This was a mistake! Algebra and geometry are very different thought processes, with the latter being a beautiful visual story that made sense to me.
That year of algebra II was a year of struggle for me. I was in a class of college bound students that were acing their tests. I ended my 10th grade year with 2 achievements; a D in algebra II, and a feeling of deep failure in math. I retook algebra II the summer after and got an A. My grade was the more easily solved problem. But, my feeling of failure immobilized me. Reluctantly, I took one more year of math – trigonometry and pre-calculus. I got in and I got out, and like a person in the car driving 100 miles an hour away from Armageddon, I finished high school math and never looked back.
Until I was 29. In my 20’s I grew increasingly interested in economics; I was looking into a graduate program. I found a good one, but I would need to face Math Armageddon to proceed. I decided to give the program a go. My first task – taking a class in basic algebra. To my surprise, I aced it. Then I took algebra II. I aced that as well. Then I took calculus. I aced all my math classes. And, I understood what I was learning. The concept of symbolic math made sense to me!
I am living proof that brains do develop after age 20. This experience points to why I don’t think parents should be anxious about forcing children to master subjects before they are ready. If the student can get simply get as high as they can successfully go, that is a good limit – for now.