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More on math

My friend Heddi (visit her blog, Hands-on Learning) objected a bit to my blog yesterday. I will point out a couple of things. First of all, the piece that I cited is not, in fact, an article in Psychology Today, nor is it based on research. Heddi pointed out to me that his blog entries are heavy on anecdote and very light on research the contradicts his idea du jour.

Mea culpa. I agree entirely and wanted to clarify that. I was a teacher, but when I was a teacher I taught adults. The funny thing about teaching adults is that unlike teaching kids, all you need to do to teach adults is to be able to do the thing you’re teaching. My degrees are in Linguistics and Creative Writing, so that made me qualified to teach Composition and English to college students. Sorta. I actually was told I was a good teacher, but I know that I did a lot of learning on the job. Yes, we all do. But my point is, I have actually never studied teaching, except since I became a homeschooler. And it wasn’t until this year that I ever dared to permanently scar… eh, teach… anyone else’s children but my own!

However, I do think that there’s a level of the child’s experience that often gets lost in teaching theory. What I liked about the piece was the emphasis on how much of math really does come from life, and it really doesn’t have to be so awful! Heddi is a wonderful teacher (get yourself over to the Educational Resource Center and find out — she’s offering homeschool classes, afterschool classes, preschool classes, summer classes…), but many teachers are not, in fact, wonderful. They have their hearts in the right place when they start, but then they get stuck in a difficult, underappreciated, overbureaucratized (heh, and you thought I was an English teacher), impossible position. Each year that they teach, the beautiful, astonishing aspects of child-led learning can get overshadowed by No Child Left Behind, state standards, proposed federal standards, really dumb textbooks, and all the pressure from people who think they know how it’s done.

Really, the amazing thing is not that we have some bad teachers — the amazing thing is that we have any good teachers left at all!

I just posted the first article I’ll be writing about Salman Khan of Khan Academy, who has left a lucrative career to bring math to the masses. He’s a great person to talk to, because all the time he’s talking you’re thinking, Yeah, that’s the way to do it! Yes, all children can learn this! Wow, this is going to change the way I approach math!

And I do believe that he is making a difference. But it was so ironic that the day before I talked to him, I was sitting at the breakfast table trying to slam math into the head of a little girl who just lives experiential learning. She doesn’t study. She doesn’t start at A and go to Z. She really does learn what she needs to and disregard the rest. Now, it’s true that she “needs” to learn a lot. She got interested in knights so she had to know everything. She got interested in babies so she learned everything about how they are made, birthed, and raised. But she has not needed (as you’ll see if you read yesterday’s blog) to know about adding fractions with different denominators, and darn it, she’s just not going to learn it.

So yes, please do view everything that non-educators write that’s full of feel-good anecdotes with a healthy smidgeon (or is that smidgin?) of skepticism.

But I think that there’s always something worth taking out of these pieces as well: Your child’s teacher doesn’t necessarily have all the answers for your child. Your child’s teacher has the weight of history, government, the school board, the district office, and and the school principal sitting not-so-prettily on her head, and sometimes she just wants your child to do well on tests, period.

But if your child doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world. Play games, go shopping, and do all the other things in life that use math. As Sal Khan says: do freethrows for a half an hour and then calculate the average of the results. Show your child the power of math in real life, and have fun doing it. Yes, the tests are there for the next ten to 20 years of your child’s life, but that’s not the only thing that’s there.

There’s also life.

Posted in Education, Homeschooling.


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  1. More on math – Avant Parenting | YuliaHY linked to this post on April 18, 2010

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