Fragments of Experience: Sandra Lynn Manigault

Sandra Lynn Manigault is a mother, wife, artist, dance enthusiast, and math teacher. The experiences she's had in all these roles have led her to record her lessons learned in two books, The Book for Math Empowerment, and Fragments of a Woman's Life.

Manigault teaches math at Northern Virginia Community College. Over the years she noticed trends in her students' various approaches to math, and she noticed which approaches fostered success. In 1995, she attended a conference in Colorado where each attendee was asked to do something for their college, so Manigault decided to write a book recording her experiences as a college math professor.

Her original intention for the book was to target it towards students, particularly those who struggled in math. But she ended up including sections for parents and teachers as well, reminding them of the supporting roles they play in a child's education.

Manigault has a tough philosophy when it comes to studying math that emphasizes individual responsibility. Perhaps her back-to-basics study guidelines are just what today's math-impaired student may need. In a world where students are more increasingly calculator-dependent, a student who really doesn't understand the fundamentals needs to study them instead of trying to find short cuts to get the work done without actually understanding it. Manigault says that if you want to be successful in math, or any subject for that matter, you need to study the material to the point where it becomes trivial.

If you study just enough to pass Unit Test One, and forget that material while studying just enough to pass Unit Test Two, how well do you think you're going to do on the cumulative final that covers material from units one through twelve?

Along with a solid study regimen, Manigault incorporates psychological boosts into her math study routine, because she has learned from years of teaching that many students who claim they "just can't get it" do so because they have convinced themselves it's impossible feat for them to accomplish. Many students have repeatedly told themselves they can't do it, so they believe they can't, and Manigault says they need to tell themselves they can do it. She believes that just as self-doubt can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, so affirmations can help one succeed.

This book contains no "tricks of the trade" to help you find shortcuts to solving equations. The emphasis is on studying, working hard, and ridding oneself of the mental blockages that erode away at one's confidence in math and leave seemingly irreversible scars. Manigault feels that following her guidelines, tough though they may seem, can gently smooth those scars out.

However, there's more to Sandra Manigault than math. While in a creative writing class, she was looking for an idea for a final project. Her teacher suggested doing a collection of personal essays. Upon reading them, a young man in her class said to her, "As I read your essays, I couldn't help but think what would my life have been like if you had been my mother." With that reaction to her essays, Manigault realized she had the makings of a book.

That's why it is called "fragments" of her experiences. It is not a typical autobiography outlining the major experiences throughout the author's life. It's not a book of defining moments so much as it is a book of just moments. Instead of talking about the birth of her first child, she includes a letter she wrote to her daughter before she headed back to college. That is the way many of us look back: specific and unconnected memories pop into our heads, and that's how (with a bit more organization) Manigault's memoir reads.

Manigault says she had an English teacher friend help her organize the essays and polish up the book. Manigault says she likes the structure of a collection of essays rather than a typical autobiography. She says, "You get to see a person from the inside out. You don't get to see everything, but you see everything that's important to see what the person is like." And what can this person's life teach you about your own?

In both books she weaves in her philosophy of faith. While you might be surprised to find a few prayers in a math self-help book, Manigault explains it by saying, "Fear of math is the issue, and fear is a spiritual issue. You need to rethink a lot of things to get over fear. Questions of belief in self have to do with one's essence, and one's beliefs." Basically, re-centering your faith in God can help you re-establish faith in self, and if you believe you can do it, you can. It's all about the affirmations.

In her books, Manigault takes the lessons learned from actual experiences in her life and puts them down on the page for the reader to examine. Through her books she hopes to help others by allowing them inside the experiences she's had during her life as a wife, mother, artist, and teacher.

To learn more about Sandra Manigault, check out her books from your local library, or visit her website at