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Who’s job is it to teach?

     I volunteer in a second grade classroom at a local elementary school. I had a conversation with the teacher today about why the students were not learning their “math facts”. For those of you that have not been to elementary school in the last few pentades, “math facts” refers to the student’s ability to instantly, by rote, know the answer to any addition or subtraction problem up to 15 +- 15. Kind of like the way some of us learned our multiplication tables. Anyway, this is apparently a critical part of the second grade curriculum.

     Disclaimer: I am adamantly, completely, and fanatically opposed to rote learning. I think people should learn the underlying principles and be able to solve *any* problem in the same category.

     This conversation was preceded by a number of conversations about how to teach math. I have taken an approach that encourages the kids to understand the underlying concepts – my daughter has been able to add and subtract multiple digit numbers since she could write them down, so I’m fairly sure that most of the students can handle the concepts. OK, I know they can, because I teach them. Anyway, the teacher was lamenting the fact that only one of her students had actually mastered the “math facts”. Her biggest complaint: that the parents weren’t doing the 10 minute a day practice drills she had assigned the kids. This brought up one of the tough issues that we face in the classroom today – parents expect that their kids will get everything they need from a public education, and often refuse to allow their kids to do homework (or any other academic activity that would interfere with soccer, girl scouts, piano lessons, or watching spongebob squarepants).

     I explained to the teacher that I wasn’t upset that my daughter hadn’t mastered her “math facts” because I know perfectly well that My Small One (MSO) is perfectly capable of solving any (whole number) addition or subtraction problem with a fair degree of accuracy. The teacher was appalled because MSO’s grade depended on her ability to perform timed math tests – in other words to regurgitate rather than solve. She felt that my casual approach to MSO’s grades was Not Good. I admit that grades do make a difference. But, I have to question how much a second grade rating of “not yet mastered” really matters. The teacher indicated that it was her belief that a student that could not master math facts could not master multiplication tables, to which I responded that MSO already knows her multiplication tables more or less up to 10×10.

So. Who is responsible for teaching? I admit that MSO gets a good bit out of her time at Public School. I also freely admit that I spend a lot of time correcting, de-dumbifying (most of the science, history, and civics taught in elementary school is dumbed down to the point of being just plain wrong), and de-mything a lot of what she “learns” at school (brag: how many second graders do you know that actually read Science? Mine does, and we discuss most of the articles). I also admit that I don’t feel the public schools are responsible for educating my child. Even if they were, they certainly are not capable of doing so – at least not to my standards.

I guess my real feeling is that public schools fall into the same category as many government programs: If you take what they give you, you deserve what you get.

What do you think?

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3 Responses

  1. If it weren’t for the supplementation my kids receive at home, they would be inadequately set up to succeed. In this system of heterogeneous grouping, their natural strengths are not highlighted and encouraged enough. I think as parents, if we absolve oursleves of being at least partially responsible for the education of our children, we deserve the shock that will inevitably come when we’re shocked at the academic shortcomings of our kids.

    I don’t like math facts, although my youngest, Monkeyface, got good at them to please, I think, the teacher she adores. My older one, Boo, could never really be bothered with them because she is a WHY kid and, like her sister, doesn’t like doing things minus some kind of cognitive process.

    Yay for your little one for reading Science. Sounds like her home environment is a rich learning experience. Kudos to you for being this proactive for the intellectual health of your child.

  2. “If you take what they give you, you deserve what you get.”

    I LOVE this sentiment, and it expresses precisely what happens when parents hand over the responsibility of educating their children.

    I’d like to know, though – how DOES one teach math so that the child understands the concepts? Care to play tutor? Punkin’ Pie (10 today – 4th grade) has been chastised because she doesn’t have command over the math facts, and we’re looking for an alternate route.

  3. mrschili – teaching math – or anything else – in a way that encourages understanding of the concepts isn’t really that hard. It can often take a lot longer than plonking a bunch of facts in front of a kid and forcing them to memorize them, and it certainly requires a lot more one on one interaction.
    take a look at how to teach your child to think for my blog on this subject..

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