I started home schooling my kids this school year, for reasons I won’t get into on this blog. Suffice it to say there are valid reasons, reasons that became even more apparent to me yesterday morning.
My daughter is in seventh grade and quite bright for her age. On last year’s MEA (Maine Educational Assessment) test she scored in the top 1% in the state for her grade in reading, and in the top 5% in math. Imagine my horror, then, when I discovered she was struggling with the following math problem:
What is 25% of $150.00
“[Daughter],” I said, “you know how to do percentages,” and I said it with confidence. Just last week she approached Hubby and I with tales of High School Musical 3 soundtrack CDs that were 25% off the original price. She knew exactly how much said CD would be, to the penny, minus the discount, plus the Maine 5% sales tax. Later that day, at a cash register in a store near me, I discovered that her math had been spot on. To the penny.
She didn’t answer me. She just tapped a moody pencil on the table and scowled at her math paper. I looked more closely at it and discovered the trouble. Take a gander yourself, and see if you spot the problem.
The correct answer, of course, is 37.50. She knew that. She obviously knew the formula to use in order to figure it out. It’s even what the calculator she’d snuck to the table, sitting there sweetly beside her worksheet, told her. She just couldn’t figure out how to make it work on paper. And her new teacher–that would be me–is a stickler for Showing Your Work On Paper.
“[Daughter],” I sighed, more than a little frustrated, “you didn’t move the second row of numbers over.”
“What are you talking about?” She sounded even more frustrated than me.
“You have to move the second row of numbers over,” I explained, “to the tens spot. Like this.”
The lightbulb switched on over her head. Yes, I could actually see it light up. “OH!!!! I get it. That makes sense.”
“‘That makes sense’? Don’t you mean, ‘I forgot to account for the tens spot because my brain has atrophied from using this calculator too much’?” (Yes, she knows what the word atrophy means, even when it’s used in past tense.)
Nope. She really meant That makes sense. Because after doing a little bit of research (ie, calling up other moms in the area, some whose kids are now homeschooled, some whose kids aren’t) I discovered that the school really hadn’t taught students how to do this kind of math on paper. After a brief rundown of the multiplication tables in third grade, the kids had been doing all their math work on calculators. Yes, that’s right. Since the world is now computerized, they reason, all our kids actually need to tackle the world of math is a formula and a calculator.
Pardon my French, but what the bloody goddamn fucking hell???? I know this is going to make me sound old, even though I’m not (38 isn’t all that old), but when I was in school, we got in trouble for doing our math homework on calculators. We weren’t even allowed to bring calculators to class until we hit Algebra 2. And now, 20 years later (shit, when I put it that way, I do sound old…and while we’re on the subject, could my daughter have figured out how long I’d been out of school without her frigging calculator?) being “taught” math this way is the norm.
Welcome to the new norm. Intelligent kids–kids who are in the top 5% in their grade for math–who can’t figure out what 25% of $150 is without a calculator. Teenagers working at McDonalds who can’t give you correct change without a cash register spelling it out for them. Grown men who think that a $75 coat that’s 40% off at one store is cheaper than a $50 coat that’s 30% off at a different store; because, naturally, the coat with the highest percentage off is the better deal. (True story…and for the record, not my hubby.)
So I guess my question is this: If the handbasket civilization rides in travels at 65 MPH, how long will it take before we all get to hell?