As long-time readers know, I have homeschooled two of our three daughters all the way through high school. Our youngest, affectionately called “Hatchick” on this blog, is a junior in high school.
I attempted to help her with some math today. Luckily, she figured it out on her own. Because after my own education and years of homeschooling, the truth is this: I still hate math.
My loathe affair with math must have started pretty early, but I think for a long time it was just a negative thing. Math wasn’t reading; I loved reading; therefore I didn’t love math. But I would do the little worksheets and take the little quizzes without much caring.
In second grade we had to do “times tables tests,” where the teacher would hand out mimeographed sheets (remember those?) face down, and when she gave us the signal we had to turn the paper over and fill in all the answers in the space of a couple of minutes. It was terrifying. One day I turned the paper over and it was blank on the other side! I raised my hand in panic--the clock was ticking, people!
The teacher, rather unfairly I thought, blamed me for not checking to see that the paper had printing on it. “But we’re not supposed to turn them over until you say,” I wailed. She let me do the test anyway, but I could tell she’d have rather given me a zero because that was the kind of teacher she was.
Luckily, around that time we moved again. My family moved on an average of once every two to three years when I was growing up (not military; Dad was an early computer professional in days when businesses were still trying to decide if these expensive doohickeys were worth acquiring. Sadly, businesses still hate to pay for I.T. departments and equipment and I.T. people despite the reality that they are indispensable nowadays). Moving frequently did impact my math traumas in various ways.
Sometimes I would arrive at a school and be ahead of the class. This was always nice. I still remember the time when, a week into my newest school, the math teacher entered the class frowning and wrote the students’ test scores on the blackboard--one A, no Bs, no Cs, a handful of Ds, and the rest of the class had failed. While I was praying fervently to be one of the Ds she informed the class that since the only student to get an A on the test had just arrived from a different state--me--it clearly behooved her to repeat the lesson that week, and I got to be her assistant. A week free from math homework! I was going to like this school.
But experiences like that could be offset by other ones, such as the time I came downstairs and found my math teacher in our living room. I was way behind on my homework and falling ever farther behind the class--what was wrong? Now, this math teacher was a nice and lovely person who really cared, but what was wrong was simple: she was assigning her fifth-graders fifty problems of long division of the sort that started out “12,347 divided by 485” and ended up “4,862,369 divided by 17,864.” Fifty of them, every night of the week, due first thing in the morning.
I tried to explain that, but both the teacher and my mom pointed out that the other students were turning in their homework. So I promised to do better.
The next day I grabbed a classmate. “How are you getting all these problems done every day? We can’t work on them in class and we have so much other homework...”
She looked at me like I was crazy. “I use a calculator. We all do.”
“But we’re not supposed to. We’re supposed to show our work.”
Her expression grew a bit scornful. “She never checks,” she said.
It was true, as I may or may not have learned from personal experience.
Eventually we moved again, and I think my next math teacher had sane and reasonable homework expectations; I don’t remember any real trouble after that point. Part of that was because the one lesson I had learned from the homework fiasco was this: you don’t really have to learn math, you just have to know the process well enough to pass the tests at the time. If you forget all about long division or balancing equations or the Pythagorean Theorem when you’re done with that particular class--no one will check. Ever.
Unless you homeschool.
Now, we’ve shopped around for curricula and found a decent math program that mostly worked for us, and I took the sane and reasonable approach as to how many problems the girls actually had to do at any given time, and I made use of DVD lessons and online help and emailing teachers and bugging my former-math-major friends and whatever else worked. The end result is that I have one who struggles with math, one who excels in it but is indifferent to it, and one, like me, who finds it stressful and loathsome whether she grasps a lesson completely and whizzes through it or whether it just plain never makes sense.
The point of all of this is to tell my fellow homeschooling moms a few things:
1. You can homeschool even if you hate math. Especially today when you can pay other people online to teach math to your children (I wish that had been available when mine were young!).
2. Homeschooling will not fix your hatred of math, not if it’s as deeply-rooted as mine apparently is.
3. Not only my own family, but things I’ve heard from other homeschooling moms, tells me that there is little correlation between the homeschooling parent’s love of and/or excellence at math and the kids’ ability to get it and/or love it. There are math-intensive homeschooling families who have at least one math-hater kid; there are math-hating or math-fearful homeschooling families whose kids are natural math geniuses.
So go ahead and admit that you hate math. It’s okay. Some of us will never love it.