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The Book for Math Empowerment: Rethinking the Subject of Mathematics. – Review – book reviews

The Book for Math Empowerment: Rethinking the Subject of Mathematics

by Sandra Manigault Godosan Publications, 1997, Stafford, Virginia 112 pages, Soft cover: $12.95

A student once told me, “Mathematics is something you do, not
something you understand.” Sadly, among secondary as well as
post-secondary students, this perception of mathematics is rather

Over the past thirty years, and more intensively since the 1980s,
mathematics educators have developed innovations to reform pedagogical
practices that contribute to this perception. These reform efforts have
mainly focused on changing curriculum materials and teaching methods.
In efforts to address student perception of performance in mathematics,
few educators have directly addressed students around issues that they
can indeed influence. Only three books come to mind: Marilyn
Frankenstein’s 1989, Relearning Mathematics: A Different Third
R-Radical Maths; Claudia Zaslavsky’s Fear of Math: How to Get Over It
and Get On with Your Life, published in 1994; and the subject of this
review, The Book for Math Empowerment: Rethinking the Subject of
Mathematics, by Sandra Manigault.

In a clearly original approach, Professor Sandra Manigault helps
students work on their own psychology so that their attitudes about
themselves and mathematics are positive.

Divided into two parts, the book is for, according to the author’s
introduction, “those with a history of negative math experiences who
wish to experience math recovery and math empowerment; and those who
wish to provide positive math experiences for their children or their
students.” Manigault takes a decidedly therapeutic and spiritual
approach to helping individuals recognize, and then eliminate, their
learned dislike of mathematics.

The book’s first part contains three chapters, each presenting
tools for personal empowerment. Here is where the originality of
Manigault’s approach is most evident. She challenges conventional and
received — even trendy — ideas about mathematics learning. For many
educators and students, Part One may be uncomfortable at first because
the approach is novel. However, read it with an open mind and suspend
judgement until you have tried the approach.

The author begins by presenting affirmations for reprogramming the
mind. She recommends to those who do not love mathematics that they say
the various affirmations daily to “clear blockages from past
turbulence” and to chip away at one’s own resistance to achieving in

She then goes on to outline the “dos and don’ts” of study and uses
anecdotes to illustrate them. Here, and elsewhere in the book, she
provides exercises so that readers further reflect on themselves.

Interestingly, she emphasizes the need for students to have time
for themselves for renewal and to align themselves with a “Higher Self”
or “Creator.” And, she encourages students to take responsibility for
their actions and to realize that success, rather than being something
that just happens, is “conceived, visualized, planned, executed, and

Furthermore, Manigault addresses topics such as “mistakes in
thinking,” studying in the midst of pain, and befriending the rules.

The second part of the book contains five chapters which extend the
tools presented in the first part. One chapter addresses parents
specifically, while the audience of another chapter is the teachers.
Using her own experience as a teacher, the author provides advice which
can easily be implemented.

With the use of research and her own experience, Manigault suggests
important connections between musical education and mathematical
learning. As a student of the piano from the age of seven, she
maintains that through music education, individuals develop “thinking
patterns and study skills academics long to see in their math and
science students: patience, willingness to practice, persistence,
organization, ability to adapt to new situations, problem solving
techniques, and so forth.” She also informs us of research studies
demonstrating the positive influence of musical education on brain
development and for children’s spatial reasoning.

Here the author proposes useful and important questions on which
teachers should reflect. From among her questions, I was particularly
struck by two: “Does knowing the nature of [students’] problems make
you empathetic or cynical?”; and, “As your students exit the classroom,
do you ever hear a `thank you’?” As I reflect on these questions, I
realize that I am gently being prodded into action. Manigault is asking
me not only to think about my attitude toward students, but also to
transform my pedagogical acts into one that — in the face of poor
student performance — clearly demonstrate empathy and offer effective

Manigault has injected into the discussion of post-secondary
mathematics education a most critical variable — the student. She does
so by helping students, parents, and teachers recognize the
responsibility of the individual to change what only they can truly
change — their affective relation to mathematics and their view of
themselves as a mathematics learner.

The Book for Math Empowerment is as important as it is original.
Manigault brings to her work more than twenty-five years of teaching in
varied contexts. Currently, she teaches mathematics at Northern
Virginia Community College, where she developed this book as a response
to her students’ needs — which are not unlike the needs of the
students I and others teach.

Dr. Arthur B. Powell is an associate professor of mathematics in
the Academic Foundations Department at Rutgers University-Newark, New
Jersey. His latest book Ethnomathematics: Challenging Eurocentrism in
Mathematics Education, a coedited collection was released in 1997 by
the State University of New York Press.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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