I’m done with math. I’m simply not teaching it.
I am teaching what my kids ask to learn. Right now we are mastering jumping on the bed.
Here is why I don’t think I need to teach math.
1. Learning fundamental math is like reading – kids will take the lead.
My son asked to learn addition, subtraction and multiplication before age seven. So obviously he knows how to ask for what he wants in regard to learning math. He learned it pretty quickly. He is not great at multiplying two digits by two digits, but honestly, neither am I.
It’s clear to me that rudimentary math is like reading. Sooner or later kids get curious so they ask.
My older son learned math basics in school. Both sons liked math and then lost interest at long division. This is not a surprising: long division is largely useless.
2. It’s like science. You can learn on the job.
The idea that there is some set science curriculum for the planet is delusional. What we teach in science is cultural, and test-based, and effectively random. If you live on a farm, you know tons of science. If you get a childhood disease you know tons of science. The same is true with math. You learn what you need to learn in order to do your life. Each person’s life demands different pieces of knowledge.
I was in special ed math and then, as an adult, I taught myself the math I needed to run three startups. I have never met someone who was stuck in their career because they didn’t know algebra. If you are good at your job, you learn the math you need to know to succeed. It’s never too late. If a high schooler can learn to solve for x in one year, an adult can learn it in a month.
For the most part, the New York Times reports, you won’t need the math kids learn in school. You will never need to know when two trains going at different speeds will meet. We have train schedules.
Math is a time-consuming, linear process of learning. You need to learn one thing before you learn another in order to advance. And during that process, you learn new ways to think and see the world. This is true of learning a second language if one is not spoken at home. This is true of learning to play music. There are many ways to expand one’s thinking. There is no reason why everyone should choose math and some people choose to add music or a language. Why not have everyone learn music and some people choose to learn math?
4. Teaching math beyond the basics is useless. You have to teach to curiosity instead.
This is a description of a math teacher’s experience teaching math at the college level:
“People come into really basic math classes in college and flounder because their foundations are laid so poorly, and what little they do know is in the form of memorized formulas and ad hoc processes. So they aren’t able to apply logical processes in any way, which is supposedly the entire point of learning math.
“It makes me think of the birth of science during the Middle Ages, where minds were so burdened with dogma that people weren’t able to see obvious facts even when presented with the simplest, most straightforward evidence—the earth goes around the sun, a bowling ball will fall to the ground as quickly as a marble, etc. (I’m simplifying a complex historical process, of course, but you get the idea.) A tiny bit of curiosity and logic would go much further.”
So math is not a path to learn curiosity. It’s the other way around. You have to be born with a certain sense of curiosity. The math whiz is not curious about what shade of lipstick looks best against African-American skin, but do we fret that the person needs to learn curiosity? No. We accept that someone is curious about what they are passionate about. You cannot teach that. Which is why you cannot teach math effectively without curiosity about math in the first place.
It’s clear that kids who are great at math can teach themselves with very little guidance. Look at this kid who is sixteen and solving 350-year-old math problems. Believe me, there was no adult teaching him what to do. Maybe he had someone teaching him when he was nine, but surely he was driving that education plan and not the other way around.
And this is not anomalous for math. Most huge math breakthroughs stem from a man (it’s almost always a man) in his twenties. Because if you are good at math, you can teach yourself what you need to know relatively quickly. Surely this is an argument for the idea that you do not need to teach math to kids who aren’t great at it. We don’t need to know differential equations for anything but the AP Test.
If you think your kid is great at math, instead of teaching your kid, just send your kid to the Math Olympiad. Parents who do this focus on learning for the love of learning rather than for passing a test. And a huge percentage of math Olympiad students go on to get math Phd’s.