Monday, December 03, 2007

School Days

My kids go to school. Do your kids go to school, or did they go to school between the ages of 5 and 18 (more or less)? If so, you may have encountered an interesting phenomenon that I have noticed around schools. It's called "teaching."

Maybe it's better called "educating." I have taught some classes in the past, and I certainly think of my activity as "teaching" regardless of whether the students understood any of it. I think they did, but that is what "educating" connotes for me. Teachers teach, and when the students learn, then we have what is whimsically called "education."

Now, take my kids. No! I mean don't take my kids--they are old enough to be fit to live with, so I'll keep 'em, thanks so much. Instead, let's use my kids as examples. They are smart. They are responsible. They pay attention in class and turn in their homework.

They both are frustrated beyond belief by math.

Now math, in our house, is not a bogeyman--we like math, Mr. Sweetie and I. I took math up through calculus, and Mr. Sweetie went so far that his math stopped using numbers at all. Sometimes--geeks that we are--we will race each other to figure out the solution to a math question that arises. Math holds no terrors to us.

And yet our girlies have each stated authoritatively that "my brain just doesn't do math." Now, I have some sympathy, in that they are both such voracious readers, and as a result they have found language arts, and selling, and such activities to come easily to them. Math, however, does not come so easily.

This is not really a surprise--there are very few activities in which you could pick up, say, the multiplication tables as a side benefit. At least not since they stopped running "Schoolhouse Rock" on Saturday morning television.

So, I have sat with the girls and talked them through their homework, and we do pretty well, even with the potentially fraught mother-daughter dynamic. So, I started looking for a math tutor.

Do you even know how many different businesses there are which exist solely to teach your kids what their school can't? Which makes one wonder: if there are this many people making a living teaching kids who aren't learning in school, then what is going on in school?

Mind you, my kids are in a school with kids who are all fluent in English, who largely are from intact families, with a teacher-student ratio that's as good as you will find anywhere. And my girls are just not getting their heads around math.

Me, I of course assume that it's our problem to solve, and start looking for a tutor. I called a friend of mine, whose daughter had been going to a math tutor, to ask for advice, and she raised their radical idea: shouldn't the school actually teach our kids?

And it makes me wonder, why are my kids having such trouble with math? Pony is learning Chinese, where every word has a different character, plus she's learning all her vocabulary in pinyin (which uses the same alphabet we do), plus she's having to learn all the different tones, because one word will mean up to four different things, depending on how it is pronounced. Does she ever get fed up and frustrated? No!

Bunny is studying German, in which "die" is pronounced "dee," and learning to read music (finally!). . .does she say her brain just doesn't get German? Of course not!

But math! Why is math so hard? Why are my girls, who soak up learning like Bounty absorbs spills, having trouble with math? And why do girls generally have trouble with math? Why do we worry about Reviving Ophelia in the middle school years--what is wrong with how we teach math?

I don't know, and I have gotten them into a program for now (which is a whole different post), but I still puzzle over this. Of course, if I had the answer, I think I'd be rich beyond my dreams, so maybe this bears thinking about.

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