What if Math is Overrated? (Seriously.)

As my daughter slogs through another fraction problem, I explain it one more time, and she asks me when she’ll use it again. I assure her (read: repeat what other people say) there will be plenty of opportunities to add fractions and she (rightly) reminds me that she will have her calculator/computer/Google to work the problem. And I tell her something about helping with her thinking skills, which I’ve learned is basically a myth, can be learned other ways, and is still something we repeat to our children because we feel obligated.

The truth is, deep down, even though I make her continue her math book, I think there are more valuable ways she could be spending her time. I really do. (And in fact, math (the meaningful kind) is learned, all the time, without an actual book.) And I think again, about how we keep our children from becoming their best, without realizing it.

“Unlike literature, history, politics and music, math has little relevance to everyday life. That courses such as “Quantitative Reasoning” improve critical thinking is an unsubstantiated myth. All the mathematics one needs in real life can be learned in early years without much fuss.” (emphasis mine) From The Washington Post, by G.V. Ramanathan, professor emeritus of mathematics, statistics and computer science at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Like when my younger kids built a fort this afternoon. It’s not just playing. It’s critical thinking–the real kind that helps them see a problem and find a solution–a remarkably important skill that will transfer nicely to life.  It’s Life Algebra (finding the answer to an unknown variable.)

And far more than tedious textbook problems are teaching her, is her side hustle of buying ingredients to make chocolate covered marshmallow sticks with sprinkles and selling them to her fellow gymnasts for $2 bucks each after she figures what her overhead is and how much she’ll profit. She’s saving money for camp and will repeat/hone this life-skill all year. Basic economy will be a lifetime friend.

“No one would argue that pupils should not be able to add, subtract and multiply. But I studied higher maths, from calculus to number theory, and have forgotten the lot. All the maths I have needed… is mostly how to understand proportion and risk, and tell when a statistician is trying to con you.

At the very least, today’s pupils should go into the world with a knowledge of their history and geography, their environment, the working of their bodies, the upbringing of children, law, money, the economy and civil rights.

This is in addition to self-confidence, emotional intelligence and the culture of the English imagination….The reason is depressingly clear. Maths is merely an easy subject to measure, nationally and internationally. It thus facilitates the bureaucratic craving for targetry and control…” –Our Fixation for Math Doesn’t Add Up (<—–This article is so good.)

Honestly, I still make her do her math because of fear–peer pressure you know, but I’m certainly keeping it in its place and am focusing more on real skills that actually make a difference in the quality of life. I certainly do not panic or let it become a source of constant frustration. And articles like the ones cited here, are making me more and more inclined to believe we’ve been duped.

By the way, the math people we need will always be there. Just like there will always be mechanics even though that isn’t a required subject–people gravitate to what they are good at.

Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to stop at basic math, letting them pursue the additional math as the need arrives (that’s the best way to learn anything).

Your thoughts?

“The math that people really need is neither theorem-based nor computational, but an everyday number sense shared by: street traders worldwide (legal and illegal), real-estate negotiators, successful poker players, many with little formal math education. The math and science training that really stays with people and is most useful, now that computation is almost a free good, is seat-of-the-pants, back-of-the-envelope thinking.” –Is Math Overrated, The Atlantic

 

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48 Responses to “What if Math is Overrated? (Seriously.)”

  1. Misty Whitehead says:

    Oh, I agree wholeheartedly! Algebra is despised in this house. My fourteen year old son is an extreme hands-on learner who can fix just about anything mechanical, has a knack for taxidermy, and is an avid hunter and marksman. He has a firm appreciation for financial responsibility and is already saving for his house one day because “i will not get a loan”. What else could I ask for. Yes, we are still going through the motions, but I question it daily. He wants to work with his hands. I am so thankful my boys do not have to be confined to a desk in a classroom everyday!

  2. Amanda Wells says:

    Math is my children’s favorite subject thanks to the Life of Fred curriculum. It’s a story based series of books that integrate the real life uses of math into the adventures of a five year old named Fred who teaches at a university. The curriculum covers the basics all the way through college level math and integrates higher level science as well. My children absolutely love the books and fight over who gets the new one first when our orders come. They read them in the evenings and on Saturdays for fun. It’s taught so well that their 5th and 6th grade knowledge is way beyond mine already (I have a bachelor’s of arts degree) and they never need me to help them with the exercises. When it’s this easy, I just can’t not encourage them to keep going! (Plus my state requires it.)

  3. Amy says:

    I agree whole heartedly! My husband taught all the higher levels of Saxon math and now we are homeschooling our own. Our first born is now 14 & is very artisticly gifted and mathematically challenged. My hubs said “Its ok. She knows the basics and knows how to learn more when & if she needs it. I don’t need to instiutionalize my home for my kids to succeed.” Can I tell you the freedom that we are all enjoying now? Meanwhile l, my 13 yr old really enjoys math and will likely pursue a career in which it is more needed.

  4. Beth says:

    Whenever I read posts/articles on this issue (Not specifically math-but almost anything-higher science etc), I’m so grateful to be a homeschooler. I’m grateful that we don’t have to choose either/or because as homeschoolers, we have time to do both. We have time to pursue real life math and businezz opportunities right alongside those higher math textbooks-even more so now since curriculum to fit nust about any preferred learning style is available.

  5. Melanie says:

    Agreed! The purpose for higher level math is so that students can go to college to learn more of it and then, for most, forget it and never use it in real life. Of course there are the exceptions, the math whizzes among us, but for the rest of us? Higher level math is really a waste of time in my opinion.

    We, too, go through the motions because that is what is expected. My son took Algebra 1, and learned the basics of Geometry and Algebra 2 and we called it done. He was more than prepared to go into the workforce and passed a high school equivalency test that placed him as a graduate with one year of college even though he never attended college. He struggled all the way through higher level maths but is doing great in the real world! He makes enough to support a family and has purchase his own home at the age of 22.

    My daughter is going further with her math only because her plans include college and she is interested in a career in the sciences.

    How many kids flunk out of high school or never attend college because they struggle with higher level math? And to think that the majority of them will never need it in real life. It shouldn’t be required unless students are going into math related fields.

  6. Mary says:

    I never went beyond Agebra 1 as I am not good at Math. Knowing how to do basic math is enough for my job and hobbies. Sewing and cooking are good ways to learn fractions and a lot more enjoyable then a text book!

    My husband, on the other hand, uses more complex math in his field of work, but he enjoys math and is good at it, so it works for him.

    That being said, just becasue a child does not like a subject or is not good at it, does not mean they should not be required to learn it. There is always an aspect of your job you will not like or may not agree with, but you still need to do it.

    • Kelly Crawford says:

      It’s a valid point–“being required to do things you don’t want to do”…but, which things? (My kids are required to do things every day they don’t want to do.) I could require all my children to learn CSS coding. After all, it likely could be useful to some of them. I could require them to learn 3 different languages, plumbing, the Periodic Table, calligraphy…do you see what I mean? Some of them will learn those things because they are interested and if when they are, they will have the tools and ability and motivation to learn them. But to just require subjects of every child, regardless of their gifts, interests or ability, is questionable to me. That’s the point I’m trying to make with this post, it’s just that higher math has been such a bedrock of our education system for so long, we have a hard time thinking outside of that.

      There are even some math teachers who are pushing to have higher math as an optional elective in high school.

  7. Amanda D. says:

    I think we all had the same opinion when we were young scholars, LOL. “What in the world do I need this for???”
    My brother is an aeronautics engineer and pilot, he uses this stuff all the time…But I am not a pilot or an engineer, and so far, neither are my children.
    Good article. Thanks for making me realize I’m not the only parent out there who thinks the same way I do.

  8. Diana says:

    Agreed. I do find algebra useful, but anything past basic algebra/geometry was absolutely useless to me and has been totally forgotten. I also note that our country is drowning in a sea of consumer debt and financial irresponsibility… practical math and financial principles would be much more of a blessing than higher math which has zero purpose for most of us!

  9. Laura says:

    I believe it will depend upon what type of career and education goal a parent has for their child.

    Essentially, the “basic math” is all that is needed for life in general. Think about getting to the level of a good accountant. But for those wanting to go into certain fields, it is good to have the additional math skills.

    I personally like math because it doesn’t “judge” or come up with nonsense.

    • Kelly Crawford says:

      Do you not think higher math can be learned if/when needed, just like most other vocational skills? I’ve learned a certain amount of computer coding the last 10 years. It wasn’t even a thing when I was in school–not the kind we do now. Most specialized subjects are taught at college level. Why can’t other subjects like higher math be treated the same way?

  10. Mrs. D says:

    I agree that most “higher” math is unnecessary, except for some vocations. However, I would argue that there must be something important to be learned from “higher” math since it’s being pushed aside by the WaPo. It is owned by the same person who owns Amazon. Look up how evil the owner is.

    Personally, I think science and history in their present form are almost useless. “Science”, in its present form, has been championed by those who hate God and worship Satan. (Again, look up how evil those people are.) Those people are fools (“The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”.) Likewise, history is written by the winners, as the saying goes. I have always been a history buff and am always learning. (I was homeschooled years ago.) The history that we’ve been taught isn’t adding up to the history that is observable (science, too). There are always new things to learn about history, because so much of it has been hidden from us by those who believe they “can be like God”; these people worship Satan.

    My point is this: Math hasn’t changed. Science has changed and continues to change. History shouldn’t change, because it is the past, but new things are always being discovered from the past. If there is one subject that is over-rated, it would be science. We must learn history, and constantly re-learn it from the new evidences being discovered, so we do not repeat certain things that happened in the past. Math is constant, therefore useful to learn and only necessary to learn once. To learn true science, read the Bible and take it literally. Stop trying to reconcile the Bible to science; instead, reconcile science to the Bible. If the science doesn’t add up to the Bible, the science is wrong. Science has become, if it wasn’t in the past, a religion of those that would like nothing more than to be their own gods.

    Also, how do you know there will always be calculators, computers, google, etc., to take care of complex math problems?

    I know this was long, but I felt that it needed to be said. Many people argue that math is unnecessary, if only because they don’t understand it or don’t like it. However, those same people will also argue that science is very important to understand life. It seems to me to be the other way around.

    I’m not trying to be argumentative; I enjoy your blog and have for a long time. My encouragement to everyone is to read the Bible! You _really_ can learn everything that you’ll ever need to know from God’s Word!

    • Kelly Crawford says:

      I agree with your assessment of science and history (the changing). There will always be calculators the same way we have never lost any advancement of technology. On a side note, I LOVE math, so I have no ulterior motive for dismissing its usefulness.

      I like to think of math has other higher skills–we learn the basics, which equips us to further our knowledge if/when it’s needed. So many higher skills are never introduced until college and of course students have no trouble learning them, especially when they’re motivated by reason and interest.

      Some kids will have a need to learn higher math, and some will not. I am for making it optional. Good working math knowledge is a foundation on which higher math can be learned as needed.

      • LucyL says:

        Ah be we have lost advancements of technology. Do you know Morse Code? Can you use a slide rule? Do your children know how to run a reel-to-reel tape player? Can they tune in a tube radio?

        The correct argument is not that we don’t ever lose technology, but that we need to do less and less things for ourselves as time moves on. Now that may indeed have long lasting effects on our ability to have well-ordered brains. I would argue we are seeing those effects in society all ready.

        I see the learning math as the last ditch effort to be able to re-create the ability to do things for ourselves. Not every person will be able to accomplish that, for sure, but if 1 out of 10 can build a functional refrigerator, humanity will have some hope of preserving independence.

        • Kelly Crawford says:

          I don’t see those as a loss of advancement–we have better technology that replaced Morse code, the reel player, etc.

          And I’m all for a well-ordered brain! But there is no research that proves that math necessarily is the key to that. There are thousands of ways to increase critical thinking (and to see this theory, critical thinking is a declining skill, while higher math is still required in high school–there’s no correlation. Math is not achieving what we all think/hope it does).

          And I’m not against math–I’m against every child being required to do *higher* math before there is a specific need for it, or if they are not bent toward math like some kids are. It doesn’t reduce humanity’s population of inventors or engineers, it just frees up the others to do what they’re best at.

  11. D. says:

    Your articles are very thought provoking. I know my 10 year old would wholeheartedly agree with your conclusions about why fractions may be a bit pointless and (other than baking), when will she really use them? 🙂

    It’s true – maybe we do spend many pointless hours requiring that our children learn to be proficient in writing or higher math, when they may not end up in any sort of career that involves much of either. But we do not know God’s plans and we do not know the path our children will go, so we teach as we sense the Lord’s direction. For some families they will be ever grateful that math was pushed, as they watch their child excel in a career of unintelligible (to us parents) calculations and formulas!!! 🙂

    I believe the Bible focuses more on teaching character to our children and I think requiring them to do work that they may not grasp quickly or easily or love is simply part of building character. That job they have over the summer that turns into something they really hate…..hopefully focusing on character has taught them not to run away from what is difficult, not enjoyable or seemingly pointless.

    This isn’t to say that we don’t attempt different approaches to what our child may be struggling with or give more freedom for them to pursue what they are naturally drawn to….I just sense we can be very easily swayed by opinions and the research by “so and so.” It’s so important to follow the Lord’s leading because He may lead a family to focus more on math, while another will pursue another subject.

  12. Gschuch says:

    I am not naturally inclined to math or science, but I believe in the importance of learning them to the best of one’s ability. I do believe it teaches more than how to add fractions or find variables, both of which still give me a headache. They teach critical thinking, which can be learned other ways like you said, but math and science are still good ways to learn how to think through problems, hand in hand with other subjects.

    Granted, I use google and calculators when I can, but I still have to look at my answer and be able to discern if it looks correct. Tell me you haven’t missed the sign (+/-) and gotten a crazy wrong answer on the calculator. Without a basic understanding of why signs are important and how they affect an answer, I might think I owe more or less than I do or install/build something in the wrong place, etc.

    Same goes for science. Science is an evolving subject as scientists learn more and more about the universe and discover (whether they realize it or not) that it agrees with and supports intelligent design. The study of anatomy, for instance, helps the average person understand how to better care for themselves and their family. The study of botany and agriculture help people, even the backyard gardener, learn better ways to tend their gardens, orchards, land, etc. The study of astronomy inspires awe at the vastness and complexity of God’s creation. I’d also argue that the study of science equips believers to better argue for their faith and to not be led astray by every scientific theory that is espoused. All sciences may not be imperative to live a regular life, but I wouldn’t call any of them completely unnecessary.

    Aside from the educational value of math and science, I use these hard subjects to teach my children the importance of perseverance. Just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean you can’t do it and shouldn’t try to master it. In fact, the more you have to struggle, maybe the more you will value what you learn. Life, in general, will not be easy, and there will be a major portion of it you will not understand. But if you can learn this, then you can handle that. My children often hear me say, “Suck it up. Get it done. Move on.”

    That’s my two cents from a mom who is on round 3 of algebra with a frustrated child who is sure it’s all a waste of time. Her two older sisters had the same feelings for the subject and now encourage her to keep trying. They have come to the realization that cooperating works so much better than resisting the inevitable. Well, that’s something to be thankful for.

    • Kelly Crawford says:

      I don’t disagree with you entirely, but on the note of having them push through, consider this comment I left earlier in the thread:

      “It’s a valid point–“being required to do things you don’t want to do”…but, which things? (My kids are required to do things every day they don’t want to do.) I could require all my children to learn CSS coding. After all, it likely could be useful to some of them. I could require them to learn 3 different languages, plumbing, the Periodic Table, calligraphy…do you see what I mean? Some of them will learn those things because they are interested and if when they are, they will have the tools and ability and motivation to learn them. But to just require subjects of every child, regardless of their gifts, interests or ability, is questionable to me. That’s the point I’m trying to make with this post, it’s just that higher math has been such a bedrock of our education system for so long, we have a hard time thinking outside of that.

      There are even some math teachers who are pushing to have higher math as an optional elective in high school.”

  13. Alexis says:

    I’ll be the voice of dissent. Mathematics is the language of the universe. Constants like e and pi turn up everywhere–the flow of rivers, the growth of populations and cells within our bodies. The facts of the universe can be mathematically described with far more beauty and elegance than we ever manage in words. A quote on my wall by a famous mathematician reads, “God used beautiful mathematics in creating the world.” While I would never assert that a failure to appreciate and understand mathematics is an impediment to a relationship with God, it definitely adds something. If Beethoven had four good friends, would you not agree that the one who knew music most intricately was surely the one who understood Beethoven best, even if he loved all his friends equally? Studying mathematics to the calculus level requires a level of rigor and discipline that is only helpful in a Christian’s life. While scientists are overwhelmingly atheistic, I’ve read several studies reporting that mathematicians are the least atheistic of any scientific discipline. This is not an accident.

    • Kelly Crawford says:

      Alexis,

      Yours is certainly the most compelling opinion and one I can get behind. And still, I think you may be missing my point. I’m not “anti-math.” You are absolutely right, “math is everywhere.” But that doesn’t necessitate laboring over tedious textbooks each day. I’d much prefer to show my children the real, living math God craftily wove into every fiber of the universe. I think they’re more likely to see it in real life as opposed to a page of missing integers.

      My daughter sees it in her music; my son touches it when he builds furniture. They “hear the language” everywhere, even if they aren’t poring over math books; especially if they’re not.

      And I’m not even opposed to students studying math to the calculus level–I did and loved it (useless, still, in my opinion, but loved it). I’m advocating for many who, no matter how hard they are pushed, math will NEVER click for them, but only cause frustration, and worse, a feeling of not measuring up, because we idolize math as a mark of intelligence over other markers just as true.

      My brilliant artist-son literally has a math deficiency. It’s extremely common in creative students, and no amount of pushing him changes that. It only makes him feel more and more like a failure. I’ve witnessed that.

      The very essence of our Creator is that He created such diversity in us–some that will have a propensity for math, and others who won’t. The higher studies should be a choice.

      And my non-mathers–they are experiencing the intense rigors and discipline of being an athlete in gymnastics right now–mentally and physically. A sport that not everyone is built for (and therefore, isn’t a required subject, as it shouldn’t be), while they learn the math they need to thrive and still see God’s intricacies in all of life.

  14. Alexis says:

    I thought about what you’ve said for awhile this afternoon, and I think we have a lot of common ground here. I would argue that the point where math should be a choice should be fairly high (pre-calculus with a fair amount of trig), because literally not one single person I know over age 35 is doing what they went to school for or what they thought they’d do when they were 12-16 years old. Being prepared for higher math, even when it seems unlikely the preparation will ever be necessary, seems wise to me because we never know where we’ll end up or what we’ll end up doing. Our economy has shifted away from living wages being accessible without at least some fluency in the STEM fields (not entirely, of course, nor will it ever, but degrees in the humanities are not as useful monetarily as they used to be). Math is taught in all the most curiosity-killing ways possible in our country, which is tragic. I recently taught trig to some 8-9 year olds when we shot New Year’s fireworks. By knowing the distance between them and me and how to figure tangents (granted, I made a list of the ones we were most likely to use, but they did know how to do it by watching me do it), they were able to figure out exactly how high each of the fireworks went. Math became real and useful, which is not something our education system is good at.

    Your son filled my thoughts the most. I submit the following as fodder for thought–if you had a 7 year old who spoke and read English fluently but had failed so far to get a grasp on adjectives vs adverbs or prepositions vs conjunctions, would you think–or allow a professional to make you think–that they had an English disability? Of course not. Their very use of English would indicate to you that whatever naming and manipulating (for example, diagramming sentences) of English they needed to learn simply hadn’t been presented to them in a way that they could grasp….yet. An artist uses math with great fluency. The golden ratio dictates the center of interest and rules where our eyes go when we look at a painting or drawing. Drawing accurately, both from life and from photographs, is a master class in math. Translating a tree and lake that’s hundreds of feet onto a 10×14 sketch pad requires using proportions, ratios and division/multiplication in a way that is no less real, important, or masterful for being unconscious–very much analogous to the way that most young children and a few lucky adults can learn a second language just by being around people using it. Your son is in fact gifted at math in a way that I, with a master’s degree in it, am not. I had to work very hard to learn to understand the golden ratio, a gift he was born with in his very intuition.

    You are making me give serious thought to a previously discarded plan to become a math teacher. 🙂

    • Alexis,

      You’re a mathematician who is also eloquent as a writer. 🙂

      I think you expressed precisely my point, when you were talking about my son: that education is so varied, children are varied, and even the intricacies of math are so varied, that a text book is limiting. So if my son has this gift, why isn’t that enough for him? He understands the important basics of math, and he understands finance (very important for practical success), and so for him, to spend his time honing his skills toward his profession makes sense to me. I love the way you described how the artist sees math.

      And I enjoyed your story of teaching tangents during fireworks. But the creative side of me chuckled thinking, “Maybe they would have been better enjoyed, without the math, since the height of the fireworks can be observed for pure pleasure.” But I get it. I get your perspective, and have enjoyed the parley.

      • Diane says:

        My cheeky inner voice says….better enjoyed without the math, but by whom? Not the neighbor with the flaming tree because the fireworks were launched at an incorrect angle 😉

        I’m not a math person, stopped with calculus in HS and specifically chose my college bc my scholarship allowed me to skip all general education requirements (ahem, math and science). That being said, one of the classes I found most useful was calculus, because it was the only subject that didn’t come easily and truly required effort on my part. Well, AP Physics didn’t come easily either, but that class was taught so far above where we were, everyone gave up actually trying to master any of it. Calculus, on the other hand, was within the grasp of hard work and there was no faking it (you could fake your way through most of AP Psych, but not Calculus. You were either right or wrong, and that isn’t the case in many subjects at this point). Scraping that A my last semester felt like a much bigger accomplishment than all the other As because my perseverance paid off. Do I remember or use the math? No. I went to grad school for Spanish Literature… which I chose over grad school in Politics precisely because thinking critically about literature in another language was by far more difficult and challenging and made me use my brain in a different way than I was used to. I remembered the accomplishment and achievement of doing something difficult and that informed my career decision.

        That being said, obviously math doesn’t have to be “the hard thing “ to make it worthwhile. My 8 yo mini me isn’t thrilled with long division bc it’s hard and history is fun and easy. Yet despite his complaints, he makes up math challenge problems for his best friend and they mail each other problems and solutions for fun.

        He said the other day, “Mom, math is making me think in a different way. You have to see things differently.” That’s what I want for him. To see things differently and exercise his mind in a different way. That’s why we do Latin and Spanish as well. To have that ah-hah moment of feeling things click when your mind learns this new language of thought.

        Many times the initial struggle is painful, but mastery is beautiful. Learning conjugations is tedious and painful to many people who can’t see how the new language works, but after pushing through to a certain level something clicks and they see how the grammar works, and they’re off and running. The same with music, for many. And math. If I had ended math with trigonometry, I would have hated it and assumed all math was useless and incomprehensible. Algebra and calculus were fascinating, even beautiful, but I’d never have known that if I stopped at pre-calc/trig. Does it matter to my daily life that I once learned that math? No (I would have liked a statistics and probability class, though)…but perhaps another person might glimpse that beauty and want to learn more, to make it a career…which they never would have considered had they stopped earlier.

        Your point about making people do arbitrary things for the sake of doing unpleasant tasks is valid…to a point. Many careers will require fairly high level math (medicine, engineering), and for many students those careers aren’t on their radars until late HS or college, at which point they’ll have to make up the missed math when their time could be put to even better use. Using something like calligraphy as an example really isn’t the same. We’re preparing them as best we can to jump off into their career/field of study, and math is a base for many. Yes they can learn it later, but it’s a prerequisite for many college majors/grad work, so they’d be taking time (and $) to do it later, if they didn’t get discouraged by having to postpone major classes and pay for extra classes.

      • Alexis says:

        I’ve enjoyed it, too. 🙂 Why isn’t it enough for your son? Perhaps it is. I just hate the idea of him limiting himself and ruling out all possible future paths that require mathematics classes because he thinks of himself as disabled. Maybe he will be one of the ones who never needs it, or maybe he’ll marry a woman who adores math and the complement will make it unnecessary, but all the “maybes” mean I’m just guessing (unlike math, LOL!). For your son, if I were his teacher, I would try one more thing before I let him think of himself as disabled with regard to math–having him draw something very big or very small from a photograph that was of a very different size (perhaps draw a portrait of a person onto a large sketch pad from a wallet size photo or something similar) and then, when he was done, doing the math. Measuring the various sizes and angles on the photograph and on his rendering and figuring out what proportions and ratios he unconsciously used, and then showing him that he already had the truly hard part down pat. He just needed to learn to understand consciously what he already had an unconscious mastery of–learn the names of the parts. If he still never considered any path for his life that required a math class, at least it would be a choice made of volition and not a sense of lacking ability. I think that’s all I really mean–that most kids who are raised with work ethic can learn mathematics, and math is part of the path to most really remunerative paths in our economy at present, in addition to all the other benefits I’ve already blathered about. 🙂

        BTW, the kids who learned about triangles from fireworks also now understand that proven properties of triangles are how we knew the earth wasn’t flat thousands of years ago. They’re not falling for the flat earth nonsense making its resurgence on youtube at present, an achievement that some of their classmates’ parents cannot claim. This is opening the door for discussion about how bad ideas spread and how we can learn to tell the difference between good ideas and bad ones–what we can know for certain vs. what we can only say “probably” about. Yeah, I’m definitely re-thinking becoming a math teacher for real. There you go changing my life, ha! 🙂

  15. Molly says:

    One of my favorite books on home education is “Gifted” by Chris Davis. In it he discusses how every child is an individual with very different gifts from God and a very different life task to complete. The largest inherent flaw in the school system is the “common” scope and sequence that EVERY child must learn. We are not computers. We are not products on a school assembly line. We can be in prayer over our children and know from a young age what their giftings are.

    I agree that making every child learn higher math (especially while leaving out pertinent life math as the schools do) is almost a complete waste of time for many students. Just as learning professional photography, the saxophone, or sewing cloth dolls are things I’ve learned at a professional level that I would never force on my children or any others.

  16. Anne says:

    I once read about an unschooler who had decided to go to college and one of his course requirements used long division, which he had never learned. So he spent an afternoon looking up how to do long division and mastered it before his class started. That agrees with your theory that we can learn higher math when we need it. Advances in neuroplasticity have shown that the brain can always adapt and learn new things.

    I’d also like to agree with an earlier commenter who suggested financial literacy was probably more important than advanced math. A huge AMEN to that!

  17. Natalie says:

    I love you Kelly! I push against the idea of teaching something just because someone said it should be taught. Recently I have been analyzing everything I teach to evaluate why I am actually teaching the material. Is there any true benefit to my child or am I simply checking the boxes created for a conveyor belt “education?” It is such an encouragement to see that I am not alone in my refusal to accept the “normal” idea of education. I enjoy engaging the hearts and minds of my children with true learning, which serves a purpose beyond checking off a box!

  18. Sheila says:

    I had intended for my children to do the Singapore math Primary Mathematics series AND Miquon math, and then at least three years of New Elementary Mathematics. My oldest daughter did do all of the Primary Mathematics and Miquon (because she was begging to), but only two years of NEM. She moved to the U.S. two years ago and had to take the GED and some other tests to be able to go to college. She aced everything.

    My second child, considerably more mathematically inclined, but also considerably LESS inclined to do ANYTHING at all that he didn’t see a purpose in, did maybe half of Miquon, all of PM, and one NEM. He is currently running a carpentry business, very successfully.

    My third child did maybe two pages of Miquon, all of PM with a lot of sweat and tears, and is now in the first NEM book and I’m seriously considering dropping it. He is creative, active, and is working with his older brother more and more in the carpentry business.

    My fourth child is about to finish the sixth PM level and never did any Miquon. I think we may finish after this.

    Fifth child is extremely similar to second, very mathematically inclined and not the slightest bit busy-work inclined. I’ll be pleased to get her through Primary Mathematics and call it done.

    Sixth (and last) child is only 7 and much like her oldest sister, flying through Primary Mathematics and Miquon both…which is nice, because I still have all the Miquon books left that the second never finished! LOL But ask me again in four or five years…Although having JUST last month purchased all of the rest of the Singapore Math 3rd edition books I could get (all the way from Australia, the only place in the world I could find them), I’m inclined to use that as a very bad reason to make her finish! LOL

  19. Mrs. Jackson says:

    If your kids are “pouring over textbooks” or “slogging throuh problems” then may I suggest that your teaching techique may be part of the problem? Gifted math teachers can make math come alive for kids, even those who dont have a natural
    abilityfor it. Dont just decide it isnt important—you rule out many careers by doing so. Find a tutor that can help them. Learning algebra or calc as an adult with a busy life is much harder than learning it as a kid, but its a shame to rule out a fine field like engineering.

    • Having taught as many children as I have, I can confidently say that all of them don’t “slog.” Some thrive, some don’t. Some are bent toward math, some aren’t. The educational system has for so long, and so archaically put our kids in a box, that we can’t think outside of it (I submit your comment for evidence.)

  20. Mrs. Jackson says:

    LOL, I think the educational system is well aware that some kids like math and some don’t.

    I simply was responding to your description of “tedious textbooks” and thought perhaps your kids were picking up on your feelings about math.

    By the way, adding fractions IS basic math, so don’t stop yet! Perhaps you have a future engineer among your kids! It’s not always immediately apparent.

    • Kelly Crawford says:

      You’re right, it is basic. But I’m more interested in helping them learn math through real life usage, where it makes sense to them; but we are still slogging through the book, even though I think they could learn it without the book.

      I think we underestimate children. I think children are naturally bent toward things. I’ve always loved to write, whether I was asked to do it or not. I know children who literally love numbers, and it shows up even before compulsory education. I think what children need is a HUGE freedom to go toward those things, given a cursory exposure to everything, but then allowed to flourish where they’re gifted.

      The educational system has such a narrow view of what it means to be educated, that we require the same things from all students, thereby crushing most of their natural curiosity and desire to learn. In truth, a tiny percent of the population will pursue a STEM career. Yet everyone is required to follow a similar path in high school. I think it’s a travesty. So while some look at my view as “hindering” I see it as liberating.

      I’ve been looking for a Ted Talk I saw by a math teacher who holds my opinion–that higher math should be an option only for those who want to pursue it, and that there are a myriad of other ways we can learn problem-solving, etc. But I can’t find it. 😛

    • Kelly Crawford says:

      Mrs. Jackson,

      I did find this article today, not looking for an answer to this conversation, but found it relevant and BEAUTIFULLY interesting. I’d love your opinion: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/15/01/whats-worth-learning-school

  21. Mrs. Jackson says:

    I guess my first thought is amusement. I know you dislike schools. Why are you linking an article from a university website? Harvard is sn extremely liberal institution, but most importantly, it is a school.

    • Kelly says:

      Because they are acknowledging something important. I’m not a child who refuses to give credence to anything spoken just because I don’t agree with everything.

      • Mrs. Jackson says:

        I see, lol.

        I do agree that kids have “bents” in one direction or another. However, they’ll never have a bent for geometry if they’ve never studied it. And some bents cannot be relied upon to support a family. I’m guessing your artistic son (who is very talented btw) doesn’t support himself with his art, right? Few people can. That’s why it’s important to master the academic subjects.

        Do your kids read your blog? If they so, wouldn’t they know that you—their teacher—don’t believe in the importance of their math education? Maybe that is part of the reason they aren’t interested. Best of luck in either case!

        • One of my passions here is to educate in the box thinkers, namely, educators, on the vastness of what it means to be educated, and help you see outside the narrow-minded approach taken by the conventional school system. Our kids are too precious to short-change them.

          I’m not one homeschooling, lone ranger mom with these ideas. There are brilliant men and women fighting hard to knock through the deeply-ingrained ideas that there is only one way to educate. And possibly, the way we do it (conventionally) is the worst.

          I’m guessing you didn’t read much of the JTG article I referenced. Here is a short excerpt of his view, having been a part of the system for 30 years, yet wise enough to see how harmful it can be for kids:

          “The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers do care and do work very hard, the institution is psychopathic – it has no conscience….It is absurd and anti-life to be part of a system that compels you to listen to a stranger reading poetry when you want to learn to construct buildings, or to sit with a stranger discussing the construction of buildings when you want to read poetry.

          It is absurd and anti-life to move from cell to cell at the sound of a gong for every day of your natural youth in an institution that allows you no privacy and even follows you into the sanctuary of your home demanding that you do its “homework.” From his article, Why Schools Don’t Educate

          I encourage you to read the rest, it’s very thought-provoking.

          Another interesting article that showed up on my feed today, where homeschooling this mom of Olympic Gold Medalist says “I didn’t push my kids to read or write, but instead…”: https://www.today.com/news/gold-medalist-jamie-andersons-mom-i-didnt-push-my-kids-2D12092209

          • Mrs. Jackson says:

            In the end, articles are just articles. I prefer results—by that I mean someone supporting themselves financially in their”passion.” I haven’t seen that NOT knowing math helps anyone in that regard. Do you have adult kids who are successfully supporting themselves by pursuing their passion? If so, please share.

            • Well, let’s clear up one miscommunication: no one said anything about “not knowing math.” We’re talking about the difference in knowing enough math–life math, basic math, how numbers work, being numerate in general, understanding the important concepts that make a difference–a good grasp of finance, for example, etc. I am for that.

              To answer you question, they’re leaning that way. My adults kids are still young. But my son, who is 18, (he struggled with math the most) was just offered a contract-type graphic design position (with no college) from the CEO of a technical staffing company, based solely on his giftedness as an artist. That, of course, could open the doors to a full time career in graphic design. So he’s in the middle of submitting a portfolio for that.

              My married daughter told me just yesterday, that she’s applying for a job as a nutritionist–a part-time, flexible job, perfect for her season as a mother. It is her passion. Right after high school, she became certified as a holistic nutritionist and she would love to pursue that in a way that still lets her be at mostly at home. (As a side note, she enrolled in college last year, before she was expecting, to pursue a degree in nursing. She passed the entrance exams with no trouble, no remedial classes, etc. and attended for a while and made A’s in her classes. But once she became pregnant, decided that wasn’t a great track.)

              Most people, actually, successfully support themselves, whether they had higher math or not.

              • tereza says:

                Kelly, congratulations on your children’s accomplisments! 🙂 I am looking into becoming certified as a holistic nutritionist coach. Would you mind sharing which school online did your daughter use? thanks.

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