Readers' Stories

I felt the need to send you this email. I'm 23 years old and since graduating high school in 2008 my life has been a complete mess. In high school, I was at best a C student who never failed but also never achieved academic success. I once had a teacher tell me I "wasn't a school person". Fearing school all my life after graduation, I decided to join the working world and never thought of college or university as I thought there was no way I was smart enough to be successful at the post-secondary level. Little did I know the only jobs available to me we're construction laborer or retail associate. After years of working mindless jobs and basically hating my life and living for the weekends, I began consuming alcohol on a regular basis to try and escape the prison I felt I was in. You see, I thought I wasn't smart and any form of school scared the hell out of me. After years of working an unfulfilling job, feeling like I wasn't living up to my potential, and drinking my life away I knew I needed a change. I was depressed and had a negative out look on my future. It wasn't until I stumbled upon the Bryan Callen/Hunter Maats podcast, where I discovered the Straight-A conspiracy. After hearing you and Katie talk about learning I ordered the book immediately. It summed up how I felt my entire life and was exactly what I needed to hear/read. I decided to take charge of my life and realized I would have to return to school to better my life and future. I'm happy to announce that I've quit drinking and applied to college and have started up classes this past fall. After my first semester I have achieved A's in every subject and a GPA of 4.0. I'm pursuing my passion/dream job. I can honestly say your book and podcast have completely changed my life. I wanted to send you this email as a way to say thank you! Words can't describe the transformation my life has taken.

Once upon a time there was a ghost named math. Math was always trying to fool Grace by giving her hard equations that were above her grade level.

Math has 11 kids: addy, sub, multiplication, equation, ratio, rate, unit, inequality, neg, positive, and divide. Math gave grace a question that was way over her grade level. This question took 5 kids to tell me the problem. I felt so mad at Math. He told me the question was basic and I argued back. We argued for the longest time and finally, I told math to go away an I wasn't talking to him. Then I told Math to sleep on the couch because I was in a fight with him. The next morning Math and I made up and we got back to our daily life.

After hearing Hunter Maats and Katie O'Brien on a podcast, I was intrigued by the message they delivered and their powerful approach to the problems facing the modern learner.  This led me to read The Straight-A Conspiracy, which I can only describe in one way-- powerful! It made me realize that we won't find the answers to our systemic problems in education by inventing new methods, but rather by dispelling old ones. This book gave me exactly what I needed: clarity, rejuvenation as an educator, and a new message for my students.  It helped me to give answers and realistic, easy-to-use strategies to students that struggle to find a way to turn around their defeatist attitudes in the classroom.  And even though this book is written for students, I think it would do any teacher a great deal of good to read this book and spread the message.  I can't recommend this book enough.  

Both my parents are writers. I was always “good at English,” and as is generally the case, “bad at math.” I told myself that since I was bad at math, meaning I didn’t get it immediately, then that meant I shouldn’t have to try to hard. I believed this almost my entire life until I read The Straight-A Conspiracy which pointed out that that mindset is ridiculous. I wasn’t “bad at math” I was just comparing myself to people who’d been doing it longer than I had. And that meant I needed to work on that more, not less! Now, as a teacher, I know never to let my students make those same mistakes. There may be things they don’t enjoy, things that are challenging, but there is nothing that they can’t improve on!  Although the main message of the book is tied to academics, the heart of it is hope. You don’t need to be burdened by the thought that some people are just born good at things, or some people are born stupid. Skills can be learned through time and practice. And honestly the same things can be applied outside of school: you can get better at almost anything as long as you invest the time and remember to make the process cake-mix clear!

I hated math and I didn't want to be friends with the kids who liked math. I was a straight-A student...minus math. It all started in junior high when my well-intentioned and good humored math teacher, Mr. Holcomb, wrote on the blackboard every Wednesday, "Pick On Robin Day." In retrospect, I don't remember this as being a negative experience. Still struggling to make math sense, my dad wrote up a few note cards which I kept hidden in the sleeve of my math book, just in case I drew a blank. Towards the end of junior high, he hired a tutor. We sat at the kitchen table and studied fractions and percentages. My dad sat in the family room pretending to read the newspaper, but was really eavesdropping while doing math in his head. He didn't require a #2 pencil and he didn't have to show his work. When I couldnt simplify the fractions, he called out the correct answer as if this was a tiebreaker in his favorite game of Jeopardy.

Enter high school--freshman algebra with Mr. Meyerhoff! I was doomed. One flashcard after another, I was sure I had developed early onset post traumatic math stress. Every single solitary story problem was about a train ride and distance traveled.  "A train leaves the station with twenty passengers traveling north at a rate of..." I wanted to know more about the passengers.  Where were they going?  It's hard to believe they were commuting without a destination in mind?  Did they ever get off the train? This information was never disclosed. To make a long story problem short, Mr. Meyerhoff gave me a D in algebra. I walked home from school that day in tears.  

As a psychology major in college, I was required to take statistics.  I spent hours on end practicing and memorizing but this time I didn't seem to mind.  This math was reasonable--it had words and attached meaning and there weren't any trains. You were allowed to know things from probability or theory--not necessarily fact or experience.  As unbelievable as it may seem, by the end of the semester, I held the third highest grade in the class!  I got an A because I taught myself

I have seen many kids say they don't know what to do and simply give up until someone comes along to lead the way. People are always saying we need more leaders. Immediately missing the point, kids get on twitter to try and find followers. What Katie and Hunter do is teach kids to lead themselves. The Straight-A Conspiracy breaks down how the greats got to be great in a way that allows kids of all ages to see a light at the end of the tunnel. That light, like a seed, allows learning to grow in all aspects of life, not just school. You can't rely on kids finding all the right teachers anymore. They'd be helpful, but the person ultimately responsible for a child's learning is her/himself. Incorporating Hunter and Katie's science-backed concepts into my teaching simply makes more knowledge stick. More importantly, the response not “I got it, are we done yet?”, but more of an excited search for more knowledge.

I took French in high school and do not remember a word of it. I also tried to take college classes in Spanish and really never got far with it. I have heard people say that you have to learn languages young. I accepted this idea as it seemed to fit with my experience.

After listening to Hunter describing his book. I picked it up tried to re-examine my position on learning in general. I earned a college degree in my 40s, so I obviously believed I could learn at this point. I just never considered it any deeper. I was now thinking that what usually happens to me with anything that I do not grasp immediately is that I quickly get frustrated with my lack of progress and decide that whatever I am trying to learn is outside my scope.

The simple idea that I am not predisposed to one subject or another really changed my thoughts; what I try to look at now is how I am trying to learn it. There may be another way to learn it and it is not simply a matter of working harder at it. It may be working differently. I am back to trying to learn Spanish. It is going slowly but I am not giving up on it because I think I am too old or not a language person. I still have some difficulty but I don't quit and assume it is because it is too late. I realize I have to work at it differently.

I can connect this to other things besides learning also. When I think about other things I do, I am more open to trying to accomplish things differently than the standard or recommended ways. I have to devote some time to figuring out what works for me.


  1. In high school, studying was never difficult for me – but only because I didn’t care and deemed myself a strictly arts-only person and allowed myself to neglect the “boring” subjects such as math and science. I excelled in word-centric courses and merely managed C’s in any class that required a calculator. Admittedly, I was okay with this. Understandably, my parents weren’t. Enter Hunter: science and math tutor extraordinaire. Hunter encouraged me to remove emotion and inject reason into my studying practices. He taught me that just because I am good at words didn’t mean I couldn’t conquer equations as well. My teachers taught me what to learn whereas Hunter gave me academic independence and critical thinking skills that emphasized how to learn. My approach towards “boring” subjects changed so dramatically that I was pulling straight A’s by junior year. Hunter’s time and teachings were my secret, good grade-getting’ weapon and I am thrilled that the academic tools which led to me become a recent Emerson College graduate six years later are now available in book form. The Straight-A Conspiracy is such a wonderfully unique approach to not only conquering but also embracing education.

  2. I'm a slow reader and about halfway through the book. During this time my grades went from B's and C's to A's and B's

  3. This book should be mandatory for Hong Kong educational leaders, especially Eddie Ng! He claims that he reads 30 books a month, and suggests that students should be doing the same on top of their already suicidal (literally) workload. Education is monopolized here in Hong Kong, and it is so stuck in the industrial revolution era.