Math Problems

Everyone agrees that Math is Extremely Difficult and All Children Resist Math (except for those few oddballs who we can’t possibly understand or relate to).

But how true is this, really?  Consider: the proof of simplicity is that 2 + 2 = 4.  Everyone knows this, it is so logical that if 2 + 2 equals something other than 4, that is an invalid system (yes, I am thinking of Common Core here).  So everyone knows that math is extremely difficult, yet everyone uses a math equation to prove simplicity.  Which is it?

Like most paradoxes in education, it comes down to false equivalencies.  Basic math is simple and advanced calculus is not, but that does not mean that both should be avoided.  And we definitely should not teach both in the same way.  The person who is ready for even beginning calculus will be taught with certain expectations about the student’s ability, namely, that the student will understand basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, that the student will understand basic algebra and have the ability to manipulate equations, and that the student will be able to graph equations, especially in a Cartesian system.  If you got lost anywhere during that, I suggest that you are not ready for calculus.  But that doesn’t mean that calculus is hard.

Let’s look at it a different way.  We teach kids how to read, but we do not give them Plato’s Republic to read by themselves for their first book report.  It’s true that some would say that Plato is beyond the understanding of any but college age kids, but that is also manifestly untrue.  See Marva Collin’s work with “unteachable” kids.

But just like reading, math requires guidance from a knowledgeable teacher, one who knows  the material and knows that it is possible and even enjoyable to get from memorizing times tables to solving quadratic equations.  And we have raised a generation of teachers who are both ignorant of math and resistant to it.  And that’s what they are passing on to our children.

How easy is math?  This easy: have children memorize addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division tables from 0 to at least twelve (though 20 would be a better goal).  This is the phonics of math, and the stepping stone to higher concepts.  Math is all about pattern recognition, but it uses a special language, and all that rote memorization gets children speaking in numbers.  And it has the added benefit that 90% of the math they encounter in their daily lives will be understood with just this little bit of training.

But whatever you do, don’t start with the idea that it is too hard.

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