By my calculations…


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.

150
x.25
____
750
+300
____
10.50

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.”

150
x.25
____
0750
+3000
____
37.50

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?

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About R.J. Keller

R. J. Keller is the author of Waiting For Spring. An avid independent movie enthusiast, she was Managing Editor of The Movie Fanatic website and created episodes of the writer-centric YouTube series, Inside The Writers' Studio, with author Kristen Tsetsi. She co-hosted Book Chatter with Stacey Cochran from 2011-2014. She lives in Central Maine with her family, where she enjoys gardening, collecting geeky memorabilia, and watching other people cook. View all posts by R.J. Keller

7 responses to “By my calculations…

  • Kit Courteney

    That is shocking. It’s the same with students over here. They can leave secondary school with 10 ‘A*’s (said: ‘A star’ – ‘A*’ is the top mark one can get in a GCSE subject – taken at 16 years of age) and STILL are only capable of working things out on a calculator. They are just not taught what we were taught. But why not?!

    And 38 is definitely NOT old (she says looking forward to her 39th birthday next summer!)

  • Crystal Lynn

    My husband retired last June after 38 years of teaching. He has not looked back, nor stepped foot into the school since. Which is too bad as he was a good teacher. He loved his kids and they loved him. The problem is they can’t just teach anymore. Between regulations, agendas, school board members ( who have never set foot in a classroom), the inability to be able to merit out any sort of discipline, it was just becoming impossible to be a teacher. One Johnny Angel in the class was extremely distruptive and the husband tried to correct the situation– while using careful language so as not to insult Johnny Angel–did not use any physical touching and sent so Angel to the office. Johnny Angel said he didn’t have to go and that he would have his job for this!!! (5th grader). Johnny Angel went home and told his father a long list of blatant lies that involved foul language and grabbing and shaking (in front of all the class…which didn’t happened but….) Irate Daddy called husband at work and home threating everything. Next morning the superintendent came into my husband’s room before school… called him by his last name and said “Don’t go pissing off my students” and walked out. 10 days later the husband retired.

    You should have seen the pages of medical issues that he had to deal with. While mainstreaming or inclusion is important to parents of special needs children, you have no idea the impact on the teacher. How a lesson has to taught different ways to the same class, tests have to written to the level of the student. Not all teachers are special ed teachers nor do they have the training. Technology has so over taken the schools, yet the teachers are not really given the time in the day to become proficient. My husband would come home and spend another 6 hours on papers and class prep and also hours over the weekend.

    The bullying issue is totally out of hand. The stories I have heard is enough to make me go grey. My brother’s neighbor 14 year old daughter took her life over Easter because of bullying.

    I told my husbuand that if we had a child, I would be homeschooling them.

    I wish you the best Teacher Mom!!

  • bunnygirl

    If they aren’t teaching this stuff in K-12, how the hell are these kids going to fare in college?

    I took time out from college and went back in the 90s. My final semester of grad school was ’00. I needed one class to graduate, two to stay in loan deferment, so I padded my semester with a calculus class just to see if I could do it. We needed to show ALL our work in that class. NO calculators allowed!

    Granted, that was almost a decade ago and it’s possible that things have changed since, but I doubt it. I may ask around, though. I’m curious now.

  • hoosiertoo

    Congrats on homeschooling. I’ve long been of the opinion that parents who subject their kids to the gummint schools are probably guilty of child abuse, and not only because of the execrable standards.

  • Robin

    Good for you! It is f-ing ridiculous! I make my kids put their stupid calculators away when they do their homework. They think I’m retarded, because they can’t imagine a situation where they wouldn’t have immediate access to a calculator. Ugh! They are always able to use calculators on their math tests. I find this ridiculous.

  • Jen O

    It’s so true. I didn’t graduate college not too long ago (5 years, but no one’s counting), and the last time I had to do math out on paper was fourth grade (the year of the dreaded long division.) Since then, it’s been graphing calculator city… and I was in the “advanced” classes.
    I’m embarrassed to say it, but I don’t feel confident with my math skills in the least. The last time I did feel confident? You guessed it — fourth grade.
    It does make me said to see how much education has changed in the years… but not as much as it makes me laugh at my husband. In his kindergarten, they were only taught time on digital clocks. He still can’t read an analog clock to save his life. 🙂

  • riotimus

    My wife and I are homeschooling our children, though they are still quite young in spite of my being about the same age as you. There are just so many advantages for children and parents when they can make it work.

    R.

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