We walk into the door of a local medical supplies store with clipboards in hand and backpacks in tow, and before we can say hello, All Smiles beats us to the punch. Many folks are skeptical as we approach. They often want to know what we have to sell, or of what we want to convince them. However, All Smiles wants to know what we need and what she can do to help.
I call her All Smiles because her personality is warm and her face wears a smile from the moment of our arrival to that of our departure. She dresses conservatively in a women’s business suit, wears her hair short just below the ears, and frames her eyes with gold glasses. She sits behind a desk that lies right in the middle of organized chaos. A radio, just loud enough to provide some background noise, plays behind her. With one glance around the room, it becomes immediately clear that she is a busy lady. A stack of papers lies on the desk and a pile of newspapers occupies the corner while pictures and knick knacks wrap the desk. The office, small but cozy, appears as if one could touch opposite walls at the same time.
We begin with the open-ended question, “Would you please describe your feelings about math?” Her answer, a common one, seems to be the theme of the research project up to this point. “I’m not good at math,” she says. “It’s important in life. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that I’m not good at it,” she chuckles. She continues to laugh as she explains that algebra was fun when she started, but she got lost somewhere along the way. She then went on to explain that once she was lost, she was too shy to ask for help.
She uses math in her day-to-day dealings at work, but most of the math is done for her by a computer. She prints out a report that tracks the monthly sales of the office. The math that is involved mostly involves some addition and subtraction.
She believes that students should be taught the basics which she considers to be addition and subtraction. “They need the basics just for living, doing your checkbook, whatever...They need to get the basics first, and then move on.”
All Smiles has a very practical math education. From what she tells us, her education consists mostly of the knowledge of operations that she needs in order to complete her daily tasks at work. She attended a local business college and she says that prepared her for her current job. She is a clerical worker who prints reports, tracks sales, and reports them to the next party in the chain of command. She realizes the importance of math education and understands that math can open doors, but she is content with the math education that she has. It gets her where she needs to be and that is enough for her.