5 reasons why you don’t need to teach math

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. And if you do find some reason to learn what the kids learned in school, you can go where they go to get math homework help.

3. Math is learning a way to think. There are many ways to do this.
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.

5. If your kid is good at math, you don’t need to teach them.
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.

186 replies
  1. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    I stopped caring about math in the fifth grade (which, coincidentally or not, was when they really started to hammer long division). For the rest of my life I’ve been telling people I suck at math, but that’s not really true. I’m pretty fast at it in my head. I just hate it because it hasn’t ever seemed essential to anything I care about, and thus it always just feels like busywork. Language, on the other hand…I’m passionate about language. Language was definitely what taught me to see the world in different ways–like, “red car,” in other languages, is sometimes “car red.” Linguistics taught me that it was my mind that was closed because until I started learning about how different languages work, “red car” was the only way it sounded “right” to me. And you don’t even necessarily have to learn or know a second language to study linguistics, although it will make language learning much easier. I always tell my students that I love linguistics because it’s like a math I can understand. While teaching college students linguistics, I saw more lightbulbs go on behind eyes than I ever saw when I was sitting in a college math classroom (or any math classroom at all, honestly). I think kids (or at least, kids like me) should be learning linguistics, not math. If we’re going to stick to the “subject” format (which is outdated and useless, of course), I think linguistics should be a subject in schools. For some kids, it would forge the same brain paths that math does (or can) for the kids who really love math.

  2. amy (mamascout)
    amy (mamascout) says:

    i agree. i hated math in school. when i was applying for graduate school (in a subject i loved) i had to take the gre. i was motivated and studied for a month and aced the math section. i did have the basics, but the (re)learning was fast and easy.

  3. Margaret M.
    Margaret M. says:

    My parents used to scream at me for not being interested in math. My dad would say “You don’t try hard at anything you aren’t interested in.” He was so frustrated with me. Now I think back on it and realize that of course I don’t. I still don’t. I work hard at the things that matter to me. I am intrinsically motivated to learn more about certain subjects, and not others. Math was not one of the things that drove my curiosity.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I was told that I don’t try hard at math either. When, in fact, I was trying so hard that I still, to this day, have nightmares about not doing well in math.

      Isn’t it amazing that it’s a valid criticism to tell someone they only try hard when they are interested in something? Because in the corporate world, where people actually study productivity, it’s taken as a given that people will not perform well when they are not interested. So why bother forcing kids to learn this supposed real world skill?

      In fact, now that I write this, I don’t actually think that our society believes that people should try hard when they aren’t interested. Our society just believes in protecting the idea of sending kids away for the day, for free, so we tell kids that trying hard for stuff they don’t care about is a good skill to learn in order to not feel guilty about forcing the kids to get cookie-cutter curriculum.


      • Margaret
        Margaret says:

        Well, your point about cookie-cutter curriculum is because you’re looking at this through a homeschool advocacy lens, I think. I think the thing about science and math is that science and math My parents were boomers who lived through the space race. Sputnik was a watershed moment in their lives. My grandfather pioneered New Math (yeesh) but outside of family history, there is a prevailing attitude that STEM subjects are vitally important. And if you aren’t interested, either schools or parents or you are doing something wrong.

        My favorite person in my teen years was an English teacher who showed me that literature was an important thing. She helped me justify my love of books and reading and helped me understand why the arts are important (because they teach you about people). I think I loved her so much because she taught me that if my passion lay elsewhere, that would be okay and I could still be useful in society.

      • lyy
        lyy says:

        As an adult, I have different things that interest me. I am interested in being able to do things because I enjoy them; but I am also interested in making money to support my family at a certain level, being able to move up in my career, being able to to have access to activities I enjoy, etc. I often do things that don’t particularly interest me in themselves, but they interest me as an ends to another interest (e.g. I’m not particularly interested in washing dishes, but I’m interested in staying healthy and not getting food poisoning). There are also parts of my job that I don’t particularly care for, but I still do them well because I’m paid to do so; because I would like to keep a job that I mostly enjoy; because even if the task itself isn’t enthralling, accomplishing something that took effort is; and because if they aren’t done well, I can’t do the parts I enjoy.)

        I also think in the work world, there is frequently the assumption that the ability to continue to have a paying job/possibly move up is sufficient reason for you to do your job to an adequate or better level for your employers’ purposes. You may have mentors and workfriends, but a lot of co-workers/management are not going to be that concerned with how interested you are, but rather what you produce. I am not a proponent of being miserable, by all means based on your life interests and opportunities available, strive for and do what makes you happiest/most fulfilled. However, I think your happiness/fufillment is not going to be a priority for very many folks or the world at large. It is important to recognize that, in the interest of larger goals, sometimes it is in your best interests to do something well, even if you dislike it. I think this is why criticism gets leveled at statements about only being able to do something well, if I am interested in it.

        • Margaret
          Margaret says:

          I have known since I was 17 that I was responsible for my own happiness/fulfillment in life. I try to to fit into the world and provide value for the world (and in return, receive a paycheck) in ways that don’t destroy my happiness. I have realistic expectations for my job and of course it isn’t always interesting, but most of the time it is. I definitely work hard when I’m curious/excited/interested in what I’m doing and my employers appreciate that. I pay a penalty in salary because there are lots of women who like to do what I do, but I also have a husband in IT. His work is often interesting to him and it pays twice what mine does. I am his career coach, personal cheer leader and pseudo-therapist. I help him do work that is more economically valuable in exchange for not having to be the breadwinner. But I make life better for him, I hope!

      • Kristin
        Kristin says:

        That’s funny. At my son’s last 3rd grade parent-teacher conference his (Montessori) teacher told me with a snear that he only works hard at things that he likes to do. I was thinking, “isn’t that what Montessori is all about?” I am homeschooling now.

      • Good
        Good says:

        “sending them away for the day for free”. How apt. My mother used to say “you’ve got to get rid of kids for the day” except my school was a fee-paying school. I never bother to see her or communicate with her these days.

  4. jill
    jill says:

    i loved math. I loved its rules. but in school it was too easy. then I went to MIT.

    I’m a software engineer now, and a few years ago I tried to help highschoolers with their math: I had forgotten it all because I don’t use it.

    the only math I use today is:
    2)discrete math and probability: which I learned at MIT.

    civil and/or electrical engineers and/or physicists may actually still use that higher math; but most people don’t need it.

    (I also use algebra to scale recipes in the kitchen)

  5. patricia
    patricia says:

    Totally agree with you. My kids hated the algorithms, like how to do long division, so I gave up teaching them. We did do a fair amount of problem solving, games and logic-type stuff because they liked that. When my older two decided to go from homeschooling to high school, they transitioned into good grades in math just fine, because they wanted to do well. (It was all about having their own grand college plans; I had nothing to do with that.)

    Here’s a TED talk of a guy who teaches middle school math and is a homeschooling father who also agrees with you:

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yeah. Good point. Thanks, Leon.

      Side note: This is a great example of how impossible it is to proofread posts. The guy sent the email and he didn’t catch the error. I read the guy’s email and didn’t catch the error. I put it in my post and my editor read it and didn’t catch it. When I think about how much it must cost newspapers to make sure they are error-free, I think: this is why newspapers can’t turn a profit.

      Okay. So anyway, thank you for stepping in as the proofreader. It’s a pretty egregious error, I have to say. Luckily, it’s the Internet, so I can just go fix it right now.


  6. MichaelG
    MichaelG says:

    People hate math and make up these excuses for why it’s useless because they find it hard. But it’s not hard — the K-12 math is simple procedures that anyone can learn. It might be boring, but it’s not hard.

    What it does require is some minimal amount of understanding, beyond pure memorization. Unfortunately, it’s one of the few subjects in a K-12 classroom where that’s true. We teach our kids to just memorize and regurgitate material on tests, then forget it all. Since they can’t do that with math, the schools have responded by dumbing down math. And kids still can’t do it and hate it and tell themselves they don’t need it.

    I think this just shows how worthless and shallow the rest of their education is, not how useless math is.

    You are right that you can get through life without knowing anything more than the most basic arithmetic. And most of science and technology, finance and economics will be a closed book to you.

    You are also right that brilliant self-motivated kids will pick it up sometime. Very few kids will go back as adults and learn real math.

    Like it or not, they are shutting themselves out of a huge range of careers, and closing off large areas of knowledge by skipping math. It’s no different than if you didn’t expose them to any art or music or literature. Worse really, because art is all around us. It’s easy to never be exposed to any real math and not even know it exists if you aren’t.

    • Margaret M.
      Margaret M. says:

      What’s the problem, though? I accept the fact that my educational choices closed doors to me. I will never be a scientist, an engineer, or a CFO. But I strongly suspect I would have been miserable as those things. Thankfully, I have discovered that I have different talents and skills, and I do my best to find my niche in the world. Our job as adults is to make the best use of the gifts we have while working around our shortcomings.

      • MichaelG
        MichaelG says:

        It’s hard to come up with an analogy that isn’t trivial or condescending, so forgive me if this comes off that way.

        People confuse arithmetic with math. Arithmetic is like handwriting or typing. High school math is (at best) like writing sentences out of context. Really learning math would be like writing essays. A science/technology/finance career is like writing novels.

        Real math starts with algebra and geometry. In algebra, you are basically given a toolkit of techniques you can apply to problems. Learning algebra means knowing when to use those tools. And it teaches you to take apart problems and use your tools to move from what you have to what you want to know. It also exposes you to the idea that various variables have a fixed relationship to one another, and you can learn things by exploring those relationships.

        Geometry is the first time kids are exposed to the idea of formal proof. That’s not just a mathematical concept — it’s fundamental to all kinds of logical reasoning.

        I tutored a bit back when I was in college, and I was amazed at how many otherwise bright kids just couldn’t understand the basics of “a variable” or “a proof.” Their K-12 education had just taught them to memorize everything, and that the answers were in the material somewhere if you just read it carefully enough. They had no ability to analyze problems at all.

        So on the one hand, I sympathize with people who say “I’ll never use math and who cares?” The way math and science are taught in school, it’s no wonder people hate it.

        On the other hand, what some people are saying here is equivalent (to me) to saying “I taught the kids their ABC’s, so now they can read and write, OK? And after all, how many people make a living as authors?”

        • MoniqueWS
          MoniqueWS says:

          I am a civil engineer. After learning my times tables I finally started to like math because it seemed to have right and wrong answers (of course later in life I realized theoretical math wasn’t this way). I liked math but did have struggles with it.

          I grew to LOVE math when I took my applied engineering coursework in college. Ahhhh! This is the how and why it works. It was the context I needed to feel (literally) good in my skin while learning math. The learning it for learning sake just never felt good (in my head and in my physical body) to me. Learning it with context made all the pieces fall into place in a satisfying and calming way.

          In our homeshcooling I do teach arithmetic and mathematics (it is the one thing we two engineer parents have insisted on) but have always tried to keep it in context. I try to keep the how and why in it so my kids could understand not just memorize stuff.

          My kids have enjoyed and relished their understanding of mathematics when we do Destination Imagination or LEGO FIRST Robotics or Backyard Ballistics or similar projects/programs. My eldest son is happily working on his own Eagle project and it requires a good deal of engineering and mathematics as well as welding and machining.

          I agree teaching mathematics in school/homeschool is not a good idea. I agree following a child’s lead on interest is a good idea. I believe the way mathematics is taught in America is counterproductive and damaging to the idea that *I am good at maths* for most people.

          I believe it is the WAY we teach mathematics that makes it so wrong for so many people.

    • Laura Brooks, B.S., M.A.T.
      Laura Brooks, B.S., M.A.T. says:

      Wow. I hated math in part because the teachers wanted us to memorize without reasoning, and I have a very analytic mind that HAS to reason, to figure out WHY i am doing what you are telling me to do. Since that was stunted, I never developed a lifelong toolkit for learning higher math. The doors that were shut, however, I managed to kick down–I have sucked it up and taken college level math, with great difficulty, yet I got through and am now earning a Doctorate. Advanced statistics was more understandable to me than long division was in 4th grade. Math involves different parts of the brain–if one part is negated by some sort of learning disability, attention deficit, etc then you must figure out a way around that and press on. Those high-falutin’ ‘doors’ of grandiosity of which you claim we allowed to close never once were of any interest to me at all. I ignored that whole building and went for something I had a passion for–special needs individuals. That requires an open heart. ns as for doing your child a ‘disservice’, Amber, trust me–treating your kids miserably and forcing them to memorize facts that are difficult makes them feel stupid and frustrated, and some kids will just shut down. Math will come in time, there is nothing wrong with moving at a child’s pace. Pre-algebra used to be in 8th grade, now it has been shoved up to 5th. TOO early to enjoy. Math should be taught like an art–a beautiful, enjoyable thing that always has an answer. If your kid falls behind what is being shoved down public schoolkids’ throat, who ares? I wish someone had taken time to teach me instead of going at breakneck speed, I’d be less anxious about math. Maybe would be a more streamlined, organized person! Instead, it’s forced upon our kids in a HURRYHURRYHURRY-and-pass-so-your-teacher-doesn’t-get-fired way. Now THAT is a disservice!

    • Kimberly
      Kimberly says:

      You are giving homeschoolers a bad name by promoting poor education. My four sibling and I were all homeschooled by our mother, who believes basic math and English are the foundations of literacy and success. I agree completely with her. Two of my sibling went on to become successful engineers, and another works in the nuclear industry. We have all gone to a 4-year university. I chose to be a stay-at-home mom and will someday homeschool my little ones. They will be taught all BASIC math – which is what long division is considered.

  7. Steven Davis
    Steven Davis says:

    (Caveat – I was a math major and do love math).

    I understand the frustration with how math is taught in typical school.

    However, math is more than arithmetic. It is also more than algebra. It is a huge toolbox that can be used to help you visualize and solve a wide range of problems.

    Yes, slide rules and long division are probably of little use, but understanding linear algebra is key to really understanding and using spreadsheets. Statistics actually pretty useful for a lot of business planning (at least at a basic level).

    I found mathematics a very powerful tool for learning to think in different ways. But that was partially in spite of how I was taught.

    If you don’t have exposure to the tools, you don’t even know what you don’t know and can’t learn “just in time”.

    I don’t have a curriculum to offer, but I think no math instruction, is not a great answer.

    Computer games and programming may be a way to open up this world for children that was not available to you and I… and programming is another skill that is probably actually almost necessary today that was not in “my day” (not so long ago).

    (Thank you for your blog on homeschooling, while I sometimes disagree with your points, you raise great questions for a Dad considering homeschooling).


    • Rayzel lam
      Rayzel lam says:

      This was such an interesting post and I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments as well. I must say, I went to public school for all my education, got good grades (A’s and B’s) in all my math courses which i took through trigonometry and then took algebra a 2nd time later at community collage and I honestly can’t remember anything outside of the basic adding/multiplication/division. I remember working quite hard with a teacher who I felt was excellent in my trig class – he came up with these crazy rabid rabbit stories to explain the concepts and problems we worked I and I got an A in that class. I’m 32 now and I don’t remember any of it for the excel spreadsheets to make sense – I find them confusing – I have a very successful online business that I support my family with doing something that I have an aptitude for that makes sense in my brain to me but it is more creative in nature which I have always been. But to this day I find anything involving complex numbers or organization like taxes or accounting incredibly confusing. I guess what I’m trying to say is I think as the author of this article pointed out, it really has more to do with the natural aptitude and leanings of the individual child. I learned all those skills at the time in public school and I understood them enough to do well of the testing etc but it’s simply not the way in which my brain works best and definitely not something I would choose a career involving. And if I did, I agree with the author that I would be able to learn it when motivated by the thing I wanted to accomplish. I have always liked writing right from the get go when it was introduced to me in 4th grade – I was writing stories and poems pretty from that age consistently for years once shown how because I loved it so much. I never knew then that it would be something I later used to make an income – in my business now what I write is non-fiction for an online niche but it’s a topic I’m passionate about and I do so much writing now in my business. I also discovered I’m good at conveying information through video which I do a lot of online and have learned all sorts of stuff with video editing and what not in order to create the content for me site that my viewers love and find so helpful to them. I learn and remember so much better skills that I need to have in order to do something I want and enjoy doing and there are certainly enough different career paths out there to allow for this narrowing of focus. I recently suggested to y 4 year old son that we try to learn Spanish together because I feel it will be a really useful skill for the type of life I see him possibly pursuing based on what I observe about his personality – he LOVES it and takes the initiative every night to pull out the little book we’re using and say, “mommy, let’s work on our Spanish!” I love the idea of introducing just about everything, but I am planning on only sticking with the skills that he is really taking to and enjoying outside of the basics. But I do think it’s good to introduce a variety of things to see if the aptitude and interest is there – I was so mad my dad made me take typing in school I didn’t want to do it with a vengeance, and not only is it of course almost the most useful thing to learn, I actually ended up loving to learn to type! that happened In The first week of the class. So trying stuff is def. good.

  8. redrock
    redrock says:

    I simply don’t understand why Math is considered useless – maybe because I am biased – I love math and could never get into enough depth in school, which deeply disappointed me. Part of it was the general consensus that girls don’t need math, it was rather frustrating. The long division is not math – it is a tool like the ability to sharpen a pencil or sort things in alphabetical order, which is also not considered writing. But math and science is not absorbed by learning a few snippets here and there – the snippets are interesting but don’t allow to form a thorough understanding of the subject. As was pointed out in previous emails: learning an instrument required decades of dedication to master it, the same is true for math and science.

    And as a sidenote: yes, there are timetables and GPS and planes, and they do not just function by magic; they all require a large investment in understanding math (the timetable), physics (theory of relativity is essential to keep the GPS correct), and hydrodynamics (the Bernoulli equation keeps the plane up and in the air and the sailboat sailing). Many people make their living building those things, and fortunately they have a good grasp of the math and science, not useless at all.

  9. Jason
    Jason says:

    The problem with the attitude of not needing math in everyday life and/or career is this: if you don’t learn about math, then you don’t understand when you need it and when you don’t.

    I recently had a long and frustrating conversation with an autism behavioral therapist who was trying to use data to support a particular result. But when analyzed statistically, the data didn’t support the result. She insisted that she didn’t need to use statistical reasoning, because the data “obviously” supported the result. The problem was that she didn’t know enough about statistics to know that she needed to use statistics.

    P.S. When ever somebody tells you something is “obvious”, you should become very suspicious.

  10. redrock
    redrock says:

    nice statement about the “obvious”. And, one last comment on the cultural aspect of science: you might use different parts of a science curriculum (or book or lecture or…), but the science itself is independent of culture. An apple falls towards the ground due to the force of gravity no matter where you are.

  11. Kathryn
    Kathryn says:

    I love this TEDx talk – “Why Math Instruction is Unnecessary,” from a math teacher who homeschools his own kids – and thought it was perfectly relevant to your post. If what we’re really trying to teach kids with math is inductive and deductive reasoning, there are other ways of doing that. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyowJZxrtbg

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      not sure about this one: we should teach math as math. Why should math only be a vehicle to teach reasoning? Maybe we should learn the art of reasoning in order to understand math.

  12. BA
    BA says:

    School math doesn’t apply to my job. But now that I think about it, NOTHING I learned up through high school directly applies to my job, except reading, writing and typing. Oh, and washing my hands after going to the bathroom. Everything else I learned later. So I guess school was an epic waste of time. Jeez, now I’m depressed.

  13. Cristen H
    Cristen H says:

    I’m not sure how anyone got “math is useless” from this post. I like the distinction made in the comments between arithmetic and math. It looks like PT is referring to arithmetic in point #1, not math. Further points made in the post show that people learn when motivated, like PT starting businesses, or a kid who wants to be an engineer. Because this is a homeschooloing blog, I’ll continue in those terms. An unschooling parent observes kids and their passions, supports and guides the pursuit of those passions to as far as the kids want to go, sometimes beyond. “I won’t teach math”, as a curriculum or daily forced exercise, leaves plenty of room to encourage a mechanical kid to Legos, or a musical kid to an instrument, building and creating, then discussions of what’s needed to make a life of that interest, including learning math, one way or another. PT’s kids are classically trained in music. Their minds are being prepped for math, should they choose it. I am not immune to the comment about not knowing math means you don’t know when you need it. I am a nature and music lover who never learned math or musicianship. I wonder all the time about how math describes the world around us, I wish I could make music with my kids. The most compelling of PT’s points to me is #4, about curiosity. How do you engage curiosity, introduce concepts that are hard to grasp, require practice,concentration and persistence, and not turn it into a giant, neverending power struggle?

  14. P Flooers
    P Flooers says:

    I’ve said it a bajillion times (that’s a math term!) The time line of institutional elementary education is arbitrary as is the curriculum. None of the facts make children smarter. They are simply some facts one might teach some children. No better nor more necessary than anything else a child could be learning.

    Anyone interested in learning math can do so. Its not hard. Its just another language one might choose to learn.

  15. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Hated math in school — I would get lost and embarrassed to ask (yet again) for an explanation. Went to community college and had to start from the beginning with Basic Math. The textbooks were “self taught” and guided me through each section, step-by-step. There was a “lab” where I could ask questions if I got irreversibly stuck. I met my future husband there: a math guy.

    Meanwhile, as a homeschooling mom, I’m drawn back to math in teaching my kids. The book “Why Pi” combines history (a love) with math. It’s remarkable how people figured things out by trial/error. Humans are amazing! Math is amazing!

    I’ll always be slow at math–I have to think hard about it, draw it out, etc–but I appreciate it now.

  16. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Last link on the text “… for the love of learning rather than for passing a test.” doesn’t work … from another one of your editors/proofreaders.

  17. Rachel D.
    Rachel D. says:

    I was terrible at math in school. One of the things that attracted me to court reporting was no math, except to calculate my pay and figure out percentages for commissions, which is easy to figure out anyway. It seems you figure out what kind of math you’re going to need along the way, regardless of what you learned in school.

  18. Serena
    Serena says:

    Unfortunately, unless you have a decent math foundation you will never be able to manage your own money. The less control you have over your money, the less control you have over your life. Likewise, a parent who has the attitude that math is unimportant will pass that feeling along to their child. I worry that we will have a generation of children who are unable to understand their own finances or even the math behind the electoral college.

    • P Flooers
      P Flooers says:

      I’m glad you mentioned this, Serena. Because your concern illustrates an important point. Math is a representational language. Math is not a real thing. Its a system of symbols that represents real things.

      So, if I want to scale a recipe up or down, I don’t need algebra. What I really need is a good working understanding of food and the chemistry of food.

      If I want to understand time, I don’t need math. I need experience with how minutes and hours combine and flow.

      If I want to understand money, I don’t need math. I need to hold coins and paper and trade them. And think about where to put them and how to get more of them.

      Math can be helpful in all of these situations. And every one of these situations can be used to teach the language of math. But there is nothing holy about the language of math itself, nor the industrial academic curricula for teaching it. It is possible to become a great cook and adept with time and money without being institutionalized in school nor memorizing their formulas for the language of math.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        I think you underestimate the power of math by calling it a “representational language”. Sure, to calculate how much money you make, you will use it as a simple translation and summary of money flow, but math itself is far more powerful. Saying math is only a representational language is like saying you only use language to ask for food and drink.

        • P Flooers
          P Flooers says:

          Redrock—well, duh. Of course, there is hyperbole. Of course math is more. But anyone who thinks institutional curricula conveys the power, majesty, or magic of math is mistaken. And anyone who thinks learning to function well in society requires 13 years of drill and kill is guilty of the system’s own hyperbole. Don’t believe the hype!

          And while we’re at it: FREE PUSSY RIOT!

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            functioning well in society and having knowledge and understanding of math are unrelated. You can be a shopkeeper in a country store and could function perfectly in your community without any knowledge of more then addition and subtraction. But our world today is highly organized and technical – so, many professions do require math, and I personally think that at least a basic level of math knowledge is a good thing. The same with a basic knowledge of a second language, and music, or the ability to cook a simple meal and clean your house. I also don’t think all students need to learn math in a practical context – many students will prefer this approach, but not all. Some prefer an abstract view and teaching of the subject (I know that I did).

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        anything beyond basic math is for engineers or people who have to deal with statistics, etc.

        For balancing check book, cooking, selling/buying, etc. we just need basic math.

      • Kathy W.
        Kathy W. says:

        What mumbo-jumbo. Are you communing with these things’ spirit essences or what?

        No, you don’t need algebra to change a recipe. But a basic knowledge of how ratios work would help in a lot of cases. Also, chemistry requires *a lot* of math.

  19. karelys
    karelys says:

    I had the chance to chat with my brother this morning while he played an online multiplayer videogame. I wanted to tell him about how I want to unschool my kids. I wanted to talk about this with someone other than my husband. So I started by telling him that research shows how video games can do wonders for kids’ brains.

    Then I told him about unschooling and told him the story of your son learning to type out of need. He thought it was a wonderful idea.

    I like sharing my thoughts with people who will accept them and like them because I am tired of the naysayers. By the way they look all the same.

    My brother is artistic and very smart but always sucked at school. He is a great problem solver but he’s not driven. Hardly anyone would take him seriously. But I know how he survived through the school years and always mourned the fact that he didn’t have a good environment to thrive. Something that would make the best of his awesome abilities.

    I told him about math and your story of your young son with the eggs. And how they live in a farm and how they reacted to unlimited video games.

    Then my brother goes on to tell me a very detailed and intelligent explanation of why he believes unschooling would prepare my child so much better for life and how he wishes he had had such an opportunity.

    Such a happy morning.

    • Joan
      Joan says:

      I learnt to touch type because of msn. In highschool, if you weren’t fast enough on msn you got left out of the conversation.

      born 1984

  20. Marcel
    Marcel says:

    Seems like, the people who find math easy, are getting other subject without difficulties as well. I don’t know how to explain this but from what Ive seen that’s the case.

  21. Dropout
    Dropout says:

    The problem is a sort of education inflation. Long ago, only those few people who were going to college went to high school. Only those few people would study math from algebra up. Now it’s assumed or claimed (i.e. my kid’s kindergarten made a big deal proclaiming it) that every kid should go to college. And so every kid has to get squeezed through a college prep curriculum, which includes algebra, geometry, trig, etc. (And, conversely, college education has been dumbed down to where even Harvard needs remedial classes).

    Why? The most common jobs in the country are retail food service. You don’t need college for that. You certainly don’t need algebra. The cash registers don’t even have numbers on the buttons, just pictures.

    What this country needs is more dropouts. And those dropouts should be learning more useful things.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I have to say that I agree with this in many ways. Learning is genetic. Kids who are math geniuses generally have a parent who is in a math-oriented field. Kids who get 800 on their SAT generally have a parent who also tests very well.

      So there are exceptions, sure. First-generation immigrant families who did not have opportunities do not have parents who got 800 on the SAT. But the parents probably knew their whole life that they were book smart.

      What really gets me is parents who were not good at school thinking that they are going to have kids who are good at school. It’s genetic. You make kids with DNA from you.

      Here’s another thing that drives me nuts, while I’m at it: Parents who have a ton of money so they put their kids in a really academically tough school. As if because you made a lot of money you also made kids who are good at school: they don’t go together. If you were not good academically you are not likely to have kids who are academic geniuses.

      They will be geniuses in something else. Just like, presumably, you are. So you need to find that. And dropping out of school does not seem like a crazy idea when you do not come from a family of people who is great at school.

      Some of you will hate the idea that you are how you are born. But there is good argument that your academic abilities are what you are born with. And they are genetic. Here’s a great book on that by Bryan Caplan:


      • James
        James says:

        I will never understand this point of view.

        When you see a person with “bad genetics”, how do you have any clue about their actual genetic content? You are actually just seeing the effect they have on their environment. And doesn’t it make sense that a negative environment could be what’s actually detrimental to children’s academic performance? As in, its not the hereditary genes, but the hereditary behaviors that impact a child the most?

        We’re all human. We all have an innate ability to learn some really incredible things…with a lot of effort. Emphasis on the “effort.” Have you ever heard of the 10000 hour rule? (Supposedly, about how long it takes to become an expert at something.)

        Honestly, the genetic argument is just a thinly veiled excuse, and it needs to stop getting so much support. It’s unhealthy and damaging, and excuses poor work ethic as “being normal.” [I wish an adult would have told me this when I was growing up.]

  22. cris
    cris says:

    Dropout’s point speaks to my own question: What to do when you have a child who is a very APPLIED math thinker, but doesn’t really like Math as a subject to study (i.e., curriculum, standards, etc.) As much as I agree with all the commenters about the general use of math as it applies to real life, what about EXAM Math, that is, SAT, ACT, etc. , that would allow or disallow entrance into a college program that may or may not be related to math? How do we balance applied math with that which shows up on tests (because you have to admit, it’s almost its own beast!)

  23. Joan
    Joan says:

    My Maths experience at school was so dreadful as a 28 adult I still have low Maths self esteem. When I use it at work and I get it right and I am quick I surprise my self. The little voice says ‘wait, you did remedial Maths and needed extra help, you shouldn’t be good at that’.

    Again Ms Trunk you have challenged me that it may be negligent to send my children to school, even in Australia (where we call it Maths not Math).


  24. James M
    James M says:

    As a math major in college (now a photographer) I kind of agree with this. Any math you learn in school is largely useless and can easily be learned as an adult when you put it in a practical situation like underwriting real estate etc.

    I do think however that everyone should take a ‘basics of math class’ at a fairly young age, which I don’t think exists. This class would teach everyone what math is, why it is important, what each type of math does, i.e. how calculus is used in the real world, what type of math finance professionals use, etc. We teach high school students calculus, but don’t ever focus it practically in a real world situation. We should start with the end career and then work backwards to show kids what math they would need to become proficient at to be successful in this career vs. teaching them every type of math but neglecting how they might be useful to these children longterm.

    For instance, instead of teaching young kids every little details of calculus, we should teach them that calculus is how NASA engineers can calculate how to launch a spaceshuttle and have it intersect with the moon’s orbit.

    Also, math phobia is a huge thing that stops people from learning really simple rules.

    And I think the process of learning math concepts is important, but can probably be substituted with other critical learning exercises.

  25. Math fetishist
    Math fetishist says:

    Obviously math is being taught in high school as a fetish. The vast majority of even the best math students aren’t going to use any of it in their careers. Good grades in math and good scores on math tests are important not to show that someone has learned anything useful (by and large, it’s not), but as a proxy for intelligence. This intelligence test proxy is used in undergraduate and graduate admissions and by future employers (whether or not math is part of the program or part of the career).

    The question is not whether it’s useful for careers – if it ends up being useful, you can always learn it later. I didn’t take a single math class past 10th grade. But when I needed to, I taught myself enough stats to work as a senior statistician, programming complicated databases and running ANOVAs on huge (million+) data sets.

    The question is whether, in an educational system based from day one on competition, we can ever back off on it.

  26. Steven Davis
    Steven Davis says:

    The anti-math education commentary here is really sad.

    It is a sad reflection of our math education system.

    It is a sad reflection on the people who claim to be “doing better” than our public education system. Yet making their math education decisions based on that same environment.

    Math is an amazingly powerful tool to give you (and your child) a competitive advantage in the world. You cannot consider being a doctor, engineer, programmer, or any natural or social scientist without it.

    If you run a business, you really benefit from being able to model (mathematically) what your business is, what your cash flows are, what kind of margin you want to make, your growth, etc.

    Too many businesses fail because they did not “run the numbers” (build a good mathematical model) of what they were doing and how it would could work out, what parts of their business are critical to their success.

    If you aren’t in business, you still need to be smart about math to make intelligent decisions on loans, investments, insurance, retirement planning, and mortgages.

    Good, hard analytic skills are more critical today than they ever were before. You are closing off your kids’ future opportunities by neglecting math (yours too). And its not just math, you really need to understand programming as well.

    • Deborah Hymes
      Deborah Hymes says:

      I actually agree with your point of view, but not for the reasons you give. ;)

      I know for a fact that you don’t need to be able to run mathematical models to run a business. But studying higher math — even though my talents lie solidly in the verbal realm — actually taught me that I could indeed do anything I set my mind to, even though the process might be incredibly painful. In that respect, the time and effort proved invaluable.

      And even elementary geometry proofs definitely opened my mind to a more rigorous way of thinking, which was very interesting and satisfying in itself!

  27. Hibryd
    Hibryd says:

    I did pretty well in math in high school, but burned out at Pre-Calc. Even though I didn’t know a ton, when I got to art college I was a friggin math genius by comparison, because my peers had decided at some point they they were *visual*, they were *artists*, so they weren’t going to be natural at math.

    Because they were never forced to learn something, they didn’t think they COULD. I’ve also heard from “unschooled” kids (which is what you seem to be leaning towards) that they had a very hard time learning new topics and skills they weren’t interested in, because they never had to.

    My takeaway? I’m glad I learned math not because it was useful, but because I was taught that I COULD learn anything, even if it wasn’t my thing, even if I wasn’t interested, and even if I didn’t see the point at the time.

  28. P Flooers
    P Flooers says:

    “I’ve also heard from “unschooled” kids (which is what you seem to be leaning towards) that they had a very hard time learning new topics and skills they weren’t interested in, because they never had to.”

    The unschooled kids I’ve known have had no trouble learning what they need to accomplish their goals–including math. Often walking onto college campuses to make As and Bs in their first rigorous academic experiences.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      wasn’t the point made by hibryd that sometimes it is good to learn something where you do not see the immediate benefit to your goals and interests? Something which serves no purpose at the time?

  29. Math fetishist
    Math fetishist says:

    Steve, what you’re missing here is that this isn’t about hating math or finding it useless. It’s about the inefficiency of forced, programmatic teaching methods, which may do more to prevent people from learning and liking math than to support it.

    My math instruction in school really sucked. I didn’t find any part of it useful, and it went painfully slowly. That’s why I never wanted to take any more math classes after I dropped out of high school at 16.

    And yet I ended up supporting myself and my family through math skills I learned independently because it turns out I’m pretty good at math (750 GRE).

    So it’s not about whether math ultimately may be useful. For some (in truth, a minority) it will be. And those people can learn it any time they want to. It’s about whether forcing it on kids who aren’t enjoying it, per your schedule not theirs, is a waste of time. And (though my 8 year old is studying algebra this year, because if there’s one subject he loves it’s math) I believe it is.

  30. CPR in Kansas
    CPR in Kansas says:

    Your children are learning math every day playing the cello and violin. Measures are divided into beats divided into notes – all of which are fractions of the whole. Phrases, sections, movements are combinations of sound patterns which have mathematical relationships. This is why the <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500164_162-266871.html&quot; NSA hires musicians. They can hear, see and understand mathematical patterns better than anyone else because they are not bound by the constraints of traditional mathematics.

  31. Deborah Hymes
    Deborah Hymes says:

    I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the TV show “Numb3rs,” which aired from 2005 – 2010. It was a fascinating show about a mathematician who uses math to help the FBI solve crimes.

    Speaking of teaching to curiosity, the show is available to stream on Netflix and on Amazon Instant. I officially suck at math, but I was continually riveted by how math can inform your world in very specific ways, if that’s how your mind works.

  32. Opal Whitcomb
    Opal Whitcomb says:

    How can you possibly avoid teaching your children math, and post such selfish excuses. If you’re not good at it, so what! I was homeschooled and my mom could not do math very well at all, but my brother and I knew that it would help us gain logic skills, so we pushed ourselves through mid-level algebra. We finally did our senior years at public highschool where we had the opportunity to both pursue trigonometry, pre-calculus, etc., etc. And you know what? It really helps improve our thinking! I used to debate with the lazy classmates in highschool who used the same excuses as you. It’s terrible to teach your children to have a bad, loser attitude towards anything. Shame on you! I feel bad for them!

    • Rayzel lam
      Rayzel lam says:

      I had such a different experience from you – did well through trig in public school, and I don’t feel it has helped me in a practical way or my ability to reason or use logic at all. It really was wasted energy to me. I love the hard work I put into it as I was always a good student, but looking back at my many years of public school and homework, I wish I could have used a LOT more of those hours of labor and thinking learning something I was actually interested in and would have used. Something I hope to achieve with my son. I regret a lot of the things I was forced to learn, both in and out of school (music lessons – hated piano and I still can care less about playing music). I now do what I love and make a great living doing it and spend hour upon hour learning new things that help me achieve and do what I feel passionate about, which I feel is how it should have been for the start. I should have been taking ballet, tap and jazz dance when I was a kid, not piano and singing. I feel the things we love as adults are there inside us as children and to me more joy and satisfaction for a larger percentage of our lives can come from doing more of what you find fascinating from a young age. I am another person who will not be having my son learning something simply for the sake of learning.

  33. Sheila
    Sheila says:

    I am pondering…… Sadly, if my child wants to go to college he must take the SAT and/or ACT….or he can go to the local Community College and take remedial courses if needed. But, if he wants to earn a scholarship to the local State College, he’ll have to score higher on his SAT then a public or private schooled student (in our state they have to score higher) So, he’ll need the higher math to compete for college. Yes, he can cram at the last moment, but it could be too much too late if he doesn’t have a good background in math. I went through the public school system and my math scores didn’t allow me into the local state college. I took remedial math at the community college. Then started classes working towards a major which I had to change 2nd year because I couldn’t pass the required math courses. Sadly, it was too much for me to learn…too little understood….I couldn’t catch up. I tell my child that now is the time to do the ground work so that doors will be open for him when he is ready. For me many doors were closed. I don’t want that for my child. So, it is hard for me to “let go” of math as part of our home education. Still struggling with it

    • D. A.
      D. A. says:

      This is the crux of the issue. Teaching children enough skills to keep all of their options open so they can choose what interests them when they are older.
      Most small children don’t want to eat vegetables so do we just allow them to make that decision? I don’t. I made my children keep eating their vegetables because they are good for them.And guess what? My children love vegetables now.
      Being a parent (and particularly a homeschooling one) means opening the world for your children, giving them opportunities to find who they are, to follow their own paths. Sometimes, the children are incredibly motivated and love the subjects, other times, you have to be the adult and make them do it because it is good for them.
      Like it or not, Math is an integral part of our society. You must give your children these tools —just in case they find themselves in need of them later in life.
      I was a math major and math teacher and now a homeschooling mother. My son (like many in my family) wants to be an engineer. Since that is a math focused career, should we skip learning about literature and history?
      I am sure that sounds as insane to you as not teaching your child math sounds to me.

  34. Sarah Griffith
    Sarah Griffith says:

    Huge. Eye. Opener. I literally just used the phrase “you don’t try to be good at the things you aren’t interested in” to my 13 year old son last night, regarding….drum roll……math. So, I shared this entry of your blog with our state office of public instruction with a plea that they at least read the article and consider the wisdom contained therein. I am saddened that my life does not allow for homeschooling right now. I am considering having my boys do high through home however. Also, if they show the ambition and desire, I would fully support them seeking their GED and skipping HS. It is clear that public school is failing, but I have to make the best of a bad situation right now. Thank you for thinking and living outside the box. You are helping people live better lives through what you do and say through your blog. <3

  35. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I fortunately caught the following while skipping through the channels last night on TV (C-Span, Q & A – http://www.q-and-a.org/Transcript/?ProgramID=1411 ) and thought about math and homeschooling –

    LAMB (C-Span interviewer): What about mom?

    SLOAN (Fortune magazine, senior editor at large): She worked before they were married and after my father – and she worked – she did business out of her home, or out of our home when the kids were there. And that’s, by the way, when I learned how to count and learned to do all sorts of things because I helped her.
    It was very heavy clerical stuff. And I got to the point where I did everything in my head because that was so much faster because there were no calculators. And, that’s been of great help to me journalistically because I can do numbers in my head. It’s my secret weapon.”

    So how can you possibly separate parenting and education?

  36. Alyson
    Alyson says:

    I refuse to force my children to memorize times tables, what a waste of time! They can multiply and are starting to divide just fine without them and if they get stuck they can do what I’d do, get a calculator. Whoever said that they will be unable to carry on with science was mistaken, I was a professional scientist and I forgot all the maths I was ever taught in schools long ago. Including times tables. So no, I’m not forcing maths , unless they want, or need, me to help them on that journey.

  37. dcline1701
    dcline1701 says:

    I was at the grocery store late one night. The cashier rang up the woman on front of me and the woman replied, “no, that’s wrong”.
    The cashier looked annoyed. The woman asked to see the receipt then went on to point out that she hadn’t been given he sale price on one item. She stated the correct sales price and gave what the total should be.
    The cashier fixed the mistake and sure enough, the total came out to what the woman had said. The flabbergasted cashier asked how the woman had done that. I’ll never forget her reply.
    “When you never graduated high school you have to actually learn how to do things.”

  38. Loki
    Loki says:

    This is terrible. I didn’t care about math when I was a kid and now as an adult I’m paying for it and am having to start from square 1 so I can finally do grade 12 level math to get into university.

    Don’t ruin your kids future by not teaching them math. What if they want to become doctors or something science related? They’ll need everything up to calculus for that.

  39. Todd
    Todd says:

    Learning Shakespeare is useless. If your kid loves Shakespeare, you don’t need to teach them. If you’re an actor, you can learn Shakespeare on the job. Kids will take the lead on learning basic Shakespeare (they will certainly hear “To be or not to be” a million times on their own). There are many other ways to teach how to think. You should teach curiosity instead.
    Your arguments can be applied to ANY form of scholarship. Why are you still teaching history, science, grammar, or literature?

  40. Al
    Al says:

    Sure, they’ll learn algebra and differential equations on the job. Not on jobs that use them.

    Reminds me of a political commentator that was criticizing Bill Clinton’s economic policies. It wasn’t actually the policy that was being criticized. No, it was that the Clinton White House spoke of rates of rates. This commentator said no such thing existed. Never mind things like acceleration, products of rational numbers, and second derivatives.

    Don’t teach your kids math. They’ll thank you if they ever want to go into the sciences. Particularly for not helping them learn it when their brains are best suited to picking it up.

  41. Al
    Al says:

    Part of the problem is most of us got a crap deal when it comes to how we were taught math as kids . The goal should be to show the math in the world, not just teach the basics and how to balance a check book (important, but that is accounting, not math).

    Watch this: http://youtu.be/NWUFjb8w9Ps

  42. Nikki
    Nikki says:

    I started homeschooling my 7 year old this year. He’s a bright kid, but just doesn’t seem to “get” math. I think this is mainly because he doesn’t like it. He taught himself to read by age 4. Last year, when he was in public school,they tested his reading and said he was already on a 4th-5th grade level. However, he is not an avid reader and doesn’t read other than when we do his school work. He’s also a technology buff. He loves science and tolerates social studies. I have been worried about him not understanding math and after reading this, I think it’s pretty much because he doesn’t want to do it. It doesn’t interest him so he doesn’t care to learn it. He also has ADHD and so it’s extra difficult to get him to pay attention to something he doesn’t like….

    • MoniqueWS
      MoniqueWS says:

      Math is in our everyday world. It is much harder to learn to recognize it and share it in the every day world than it is to put them in front of a workbook.

      Look for it yourself and share it with your son. Look for it in the things he enjoys. Show and share it with him there.

      One of my boys needed some carpentry projects – sawing, hammering, trying to put stuff together – before he wanted to get on with some math. Baking helped too. First LEGO Robotics was another place my kids discovered a need/interest in math.

      It doesn’t have to come from a text or workbook.

  43. MensaFloyd
    MensaFloyd says:

    Actually, after reading the article and comments (especially by the ones who claim to have been math majors), the fundamentals of the above conjecture(s) are simply wrong. Why? because they lack a definition of what is “mathematics”. Empirically there are three branches of academic mathematics: pure, applied, an educational. What is taught in high school is a small portion of mathematics called computational science, which utilizes operators on elements of sets of real, phase and sometimes complex space. AP AB/BC calculus is deceiving. None of those classes deal with what makes up mathematics, which are proofs. In practice and in theory, mathematics is 99% proofs and 1% counterexamples. That is the reason why I went into mathematics, so I don’t have to deal with numbers. However, the only time a high school student in the US is exposed to proofs is in Geometry. Even undergraduate engineers at MIT are not mandatorily exposed to General Topology, Measure Theory, etc. So even they don’t have an inkling to what constitutes mathematics. The irony is everything is driven by the rigorous notions of mathematics which are set theory and logic. Those two elements are the foundation to everything except religion and/or faith (one can debate that). So teaching basic mathematics (set theory and logic) are essential to understand the world (in all its form) that surrounds us.

  44. Tyler
    Tyler says:

    Wow. Most of what was said on here is BS. Why do people HATE math? It’s the only thing in this world that actually makes sense and doesn’t contradict itself. Find a counterexample to prove me wrong.

    • janine
      janine says:

      I don’t understand this line of thinking because Math to me, is the only thing that makes sense. all the rest of school is based on opinion and is subject to so much mess. Math is the only thing that made sense. It was precise, unchanging, and gorgeous. Why not teach something so gorgeous?

      • Rayzel lam
        Rayzel lam says:

        Just goes to show every individual is a unique being with different input that creates in them a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, and for me math is the farthest thing from that. What matters is not the topics themselves so much as the level of happiness or unhappiness a person can live by doing one thing or another. We should all rejoice that there is such a variety of internal makeup inside each of us!

  45. Dave
    Dave says:

    I went to public school. I find that the problem with math is how it’s taught. I was taught HOW to solve equations. They never taught us WHY we’re solving these problems, WHY we use certain formulas, why why why. They taught us how to solve math problems, but not why we structure certain problems in way that actually helps us solve the issue!

  46. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    The problem with only teaching what math children ask to learn is that sometimes we don’t know what we want to learn. I *am* interested in math. I like doing math, I have all the good 2-to-3-hundred-page textbooks (Rudin, Kisileiv (I have no idea how to spell that in English)), I do MathCounts and the AMC 8 and AMC 10, my dad has a math degree (kind of, it’s mathematical logic or something, when I last asked he said I didn’t know enough math to understand it yet) but I still don’t know what math I’m going to do after I finish calculus (Rudin! RUDIN! Proving stuff, not arccosine-of-bla-bla-bla) in a few semesters.

    I went to kindergarten in a public school, where I was annoyed at how easy the arithmetic was, but what people around my age tell me of middle and high school math is just terrifying. Also, the vast majority of people I asked who go to public school (I live by an elementary school, so I went there around 3:30 and asked random people ‘what is your opinion on math?’ Not exactly ideal scientific method, but whatever) said they ‘hated math’. It’s sad that what they think math is is really not even a significant fraction of arithmetic, and that, despite everything, I think if I spent more than a few years in that program I’d ‘hate math’ too, if only out of ignorance.

  47. Ed
    Ed says:

    I totally agree. I remember that I knew a lot about physics and chemistry when I left school, which to this day I have never used. I was also forced to learn French, which is brilliant because Australians often decide to take day trips to the Alps.

    What is the point in teaching school kids advanced things like trigonometry and physics when they don’t even know simple life skills? When I am walking and come to a hill, I look at it and if its too steep I don’t walk up it. I don’t need to do math to work out the angle of incline to tell me that it is too much for my lazy ass.

    Read full blog post on why we should teach kids some practical skills in school here http://irkitated.blogspot.com.au/2013/01/teach-kids-practical-skills-in-school.html

  48. John
    John says:

    I don’t think there’s much point in teaching it to kids who don’t want to learn it. Just have the basics. I always found it extremely easy and got a double major, one in mathematics, with minimal effort. However, I only used this to bolster my resume… In fact, I only use it in my everyday life in calculating the shortest driving times, when I’m paying just the right amount to get back the coins that I want for change, when I am analyzing any sort of situation… well, that actually sounds kind of useful but… the only thing it’s ever done for me is help me to get an entry-level job in investment banking that pays $80000 a year. OH WAIT, MATH IS INDISPENSABLE. And if you don’t want your kids to be poor and/or uneducated, then I recommend having them master middle- and high-school mathematics because 1. it is easy and 2. it pays. Why would you want to shoot your own children in the foot? I think that is sadistic.

  49. Mathteacher
    Mathteacher says:

    Based on the statements:
    “He is not great at multiplying two digits by two digits, but honestly, neither am I.”

    “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.”

    It seems as though the reason you do not think that teaching your children math at home is really because it is not something you yourself truly understand.
    If you and your son had a deeper understanding of why you execute the rote procedures that you follow when calculating multi-digit multiplication facts (these are not “problems” to be solved as they are not contextual in nature) or better yet, if you could look at those quantities more flexibly, you wouldn’t even need to do the rote procedures like long division.

    Your children may pick up on what you call “basic math” quickly…but unless you dig a little deeper, that’s all they will ever be able to do.

  50. Omgpeople-_-
    Omgpeople-_- says:

    Math isn’t taught beyond long division so people can memorize long formulas, or retain any of the information. you’re taught math as a practice for your problem solving skills. No one expects you to remember to do regression 20 years from when you learned it, but the skills you gained from practicing it still remain. Even if you dont “get” it, the brain still works and fires nurons like a mad man trying to understand making it “work out.” Saying we dont need to learn anything after basic math, is just like saying people dont need to exorcise if they’re good enough to live untill tomarrow.

    • Rayzel lam
      Rayzel lam says:

      I feel problem solving skills can be learned from various subjects of interest – I don’t see how math is the only way to do this. I regret the time wasted on my math classes in school. I am naturally gifted at problem solving in day to day life scenarios by coming up with creative solutions to problems or perceived barriers in and this is definitely not taught through math problems that have only one right answer. It’s my creative side and the creative things I learned like writing poetry that taught me this. It’s what allowed me to come up up with ideas in my business that no one else has and is why I’m successful in my business today. For those mathematically inclined, yes I do believe they will find this very pertinent to the career and life path they will most likely end up choosing- but that is simply not everyone. There is great success both in personal development and business to be found, in many avenues.

  51. Olivia burgin
    Olivia burgin says:

    I think maths is stupid and our kids need to be taught what they want to taught not what is mandatory to be taught my oldest hates math and the teachers think she is stupid for not knowing trigonometry I don’t even know how to myself I think they should consider it be a subject they want to learn not what they need to learn

  52. Jason
    Jason says:

    I’ve been a computer systems administrator since 1998 and my 4th grader has been crying over 60-90 minutes of homework almost every night. The other night I tried helping her and had no idea to do her fraction homework. I suddenly realized that if I could not do it and was happy and successful, why should she? She hates it as much as I did at her age. Furthermore, I had never seen those problems since grade school. So I started Googling “why teach math” and eventually landed upon Penelope’s blog. Prior to finding her blog I found various feeble attempts by math geeks to justify the teaching of math. It’s great that some of you enjoy this sort of mental exercise, but to many of us it is entirely pointless except in very specific applications in our work or hobbies, in which case we pick it up rapidly and move on with our lives. I’m sick of how math has dominated society’s focus in education, and I won’t let it ruin another child’s chances at achieving greatness in something other than a numbers-dominated field.

  53. Penelope (Not Trunk)
    Penelope (Not Trunk) says:

    Math is fundamentally the language of our universe. Math explains how the whole thing works – scientists are still working on it too and using math. Obviously, the amazing patterns in nature that are directly connected to math have not caught your eye (e.g. the spiral of a fern frond; the span of a butterfly’s wings compared to its body, etc). I cannot imagine not teaching these things to kids. And, by the way, my son is an A-student in math and it doesn’t come from teaching himself. We work together on his homework, sometimes by utilizing the Kahn Academy website, and things are made clear to him that are not naturally clear. Sometimes that is necessary.

    This blog post really finalized my gut feeling that Penelope Trunk is a BS’er. And that’s not short for Bachelor of Science!

  54. Will F
    Will F says:

    Math is the language with which every important scientific discovery has been described. Not only is understanding it required to fully appreciate past discoveries, but it’s also required in order to make future ones.

    Furthermore, you can’t predict one’s adulthood preferences by their childhood dislikes. Your kid may not like math now, but what if he/she decides down the road to be an engineer? It’s going to be pretty hard to enter any STEM field if mom/dad instilled the opinion that math is just a time-waster.

  55. Pauline
    Pauline says:

    Based on this reasoning, we don’t need to teach our kids science, or social studies or history or composition or anything they don’t like. Hell, why teach them anything at all? After all, they’ll learn what they need themselves … right? It’s this type of thinking that is turning the US into the second tier nation we are sadly becoming.

    • Sheila
      Sheila says:

      actually, yes. Sadly, most people just don’t get this type of learning/parenting/schooling. Believe it or not, when education is not pushed, most kids will learn just fine. Learning is natural. We just smash it out of them by pushing too much on them. In time most kids will learn all they need to head out into the adult world…including college. Do the research, educate yourself, and realize that the school systems are not ideal for learning..

  56. Jayne
    Jayne says:

    Another totally right-on post, Penelope. I home school my kids using an online curriculum approved by the state, because my state doesn’t legally allow home-schooling. My younger son, in 8th grade, it a whiz at science and history and had finished 80% of the curriculum by December. He reads at a 12th grade level (at least) by the school’s own testing standard, so I don’t make him do vocabulary and grammar. To hear him speak, no one would ever imagine that he would benefit from diagramming a sentence. He absolutely hates math. So what does the school do? They lock him out of history and science, where he is excelling, to force him to do math and language arts. Is this working? No. Can I physically force him to learn what he doesn’t want to learn? No. No one can physically force anyone else to learn what they don’t want to learn.

    Further, I have looked at the 8th grade algebra curriculum. Where I left off there were lessons about graphing absolute values. I personally have found algebra useful as a critical thinking and problem solving tool (even though I too hated and failed math in school on a regular basis) but I cannot find a practical use for graphing absolute values. If a child is interested in learning how to graph absolute values, go for it. If not, oh well. Move on.

    When you first started writing about home schooling I made a comment that if kids learn to love reading, and if they are in an environment that encourages their curiosity, that’s all they need. I was excoriated for that comment because it ignored math. But guess what. If you’re interested in math, you can actually learn it by reading, and you’ll have a hard time learning it if you don’t read.

    But that’s an aside. Human beings learn because that’s what we’re made of. Given the chance, pursuing what we want to learn leads us to what we need to learn. It only looks like we’re not learning if we’re institutionally forced to learn things that don’t interest us.

    So – I’m with you. I’m not teaching math, either. (And P.S. my older son, a junior in high school, is learning math just fine in spite of my attitude, BECAUSE HE WANTS TO.)

  57. Karla Valenti
    Karla Valenti says:

    I agree with where this article is going, but I think that framing it as a “math” concern misses the point and prevents a meaningful discussion on the larger, and relatively more important issue.

    The problem isn’t that we shouldn’t teach our children math. In fact, the problem isn’t math at all. The problem is that we aren’t teaching our children how to think logically and mathematically.

    Think about it this way: learning division (or any math concept) is not about memorizing a series of number and formulas, it’s about understanding a relationship between certain groups of things. Unfortunately, math tends to be viewed as the former more so than the latter and so when we struggle with the memorization of this data, we tend to think that we are not good at math… and that it’s ok to give up.

    The thing is, math is a part of everything we do. It’s not just numbers and data, but processes, patterns, operations, problems, ideas, solutions, relationships, the list goes on. We cannot escape math and it’s misleading to suggest that we can.

    I suggest that the problem is not math in itself, but how we teach math (we don’t teach kids how to think logically and mathematically, we just ask them to memorize information and abstract concepts).

    Sure, some kids are born knowing how to think logically and mathematically and for those kids, memorizing data is not a problem. They will be good at math and they will go through life thinking that they are very smart (and perhaps they are).

    This article though, is not for those kids, and that is why it’s important to make this distinction between math and mathematical thinking. Because here’s the thing –> the kids who are not naturally logical and mathematical thinkers can still learn math. How?

    (a) by finding ways of teaching mathematical concepts in ways that resonate your child’s particular way of thinking (e.g. http://bit.ly/XSVOSA), and

    (b) by helping develop your child’s logical-mathematical thinking (e.g. http://bit.ly/SLYwDw).

    I think it’s a mistake to vilify math (and this comes from someone who has never been “good at math”). Rather, I think we should steer the conversation towards ways of enhancing children’s mathematical intelligence and help our children appreciate that not only is math more than just some numbers on a board but it is most certainly something within their grasp.

    k (www.totthoughts.com)

  58. Amber
    Amber says:

    This article is a disappointment. Just because you are good at math or perhaps you can learn on the job, wouldn’t you want your child to be as prepared for the world as possible? It sounds to me like you are performing a great disservice to your child! How very sad.

  59. kris costello
    kris costello says:

    Thanks, loved this, and great timing! Just today my son said to me…after I’d given him ‘map workbooks’…to work on…”mom, why are you having me do this!? I won’t be using this in the future..I will be using my I phone and mapping things….smart kid.

  60. Gregory Jaros
    Gregory Jaros says:

    Very true, they will learn math on their own whether by school or just from picking it up as they move through life. I agree that the skill itself does not require additional attention then what will be given anyways. However you should take into consideration the principles set in your actions.

    With teaching or not teaching your child math or really anything for that matter you are sending an unsaid message; this essentially boils down to “how does this demonstrate how much I care about about you?” Children always want to be involved in everything. They want us to be proud of them and will take measures to be like you that ensure they learn virtues that are important to you. If you don’t take the time to show them life skills (even math) they will dismiss them as unnecessary and that will be reflected in their attitude towards similar endeavors.

    With that said we need to be careful to be intentional with our children so they grow up to be better than us. If we lower the standard it will have the opposite effect. Therefore, to not teach a child difficult subjects is selfish. You are elevating responsibility from yourself and charging your child to take that burden upon them. The child should not be its own parent, you are and It is up to us to set the direction or else our children will find their own.

    Lastly, don’t think of it as a curse. Like I mentioned before, this is your chance to instill integrity in your child. Through the way you handle their well-being in difficult situations speaks to your character and they will likely adopt that. This is a joyful thing to see and should be the reason why you wanted a child in the first place.

    Be intentional now so you aren’t regretful later.

    • Monique Schaefers
      Monique Schaefers says:

      Being intentional with your children is very important. You can absolutely be intentional with unschooled children. You can absolutely be intentional with your children without forcing math on them too.

      My now 16 year old is in community college rocking his College Algebra course without having math crammed down his throat. My other two younger children have an interest in math because it supports other things they want to be doing … LEGO robotics, Minecraft, entrepreneurship, etc.

  61. Desi
    Desi says:

    I was homeschooled and was not taught math. At 18 I started college and am now at the point where I can not finish classes to transfer into pharmacy school. I am now 26 years old and my life is on hold because I am in a gray area trying to find someone to help tutor me until I learn enough math to take basic math classes at my community college. I would be finished with my degree, as it has been 9 years, if my parents would have chosen to teach me math. Do not ever believe it is okay to not teach your child math, as it will only effect them negatively in their future as it has in mine. Please do not choose to avoid teaching math while homeschooling. It will make it difficult for your child to finish college in the long run, and in the big picture it effects ultimately being able to support oneself with a high paying job. It has made my life extremely difficult, and although one doesn’t use algebra at work every day, you still need to know it in order to get through college!

    • Monique Schaefers
      Monique Schaefers says:

      Desi –

      26-18 = 8 not 9. You have had 8 years as an adult to go to community college to learn the math you needed to transfer into university and into pharmacy school. This is not your parent’s fault. This is you being an adult for 8 years and not taking care of it yourself.

      80% of young people entering community college are NOT prepared for college level work. You were not alone as an 18 year old. You are however responsible for your own outcomes.

      You can NOT force someone to learn math. If you wanted to learn math and asked to learn math and your parents failed to teach or get you connected with someone to teach you, I am sorry. That really does suck and is wrong. Now I (without knowing all the circumstances of your life) think you are whining about what is your responsibility.

  62. Rachael
    Rachael says:

    I was homeschooled all the way through gradeschool and high school (other than kindergarten, first, and fifth grade), and went on to major in math in college. I know my life would be very different if my parents hadn’t put in so much time and energy helping me learn math. I just wanted to share my perspective as a grown homeschooler who DID study math.

    In my mind, a homeschooling parent has the unique opportunity to both teach math, and a desire in children to pursue mathematical understanding on their own. Have you listened to the Radiolab podcast “Numbers” (http://www.radiolab.org/story/91697-numbers/)? Our mathematical system is not the way human beings naturally learn to think about counting, numbers, etc. (we naturally think logarithmically), but it does open the door to understanding the world in ways we never could otherwise – think science!

    One concern I have with this article is the idea that adequate mathematical understanding will “just happen” or will happen through pursuit of other subjects such as music (though music is important, too).

    In fact, learning math takes an unbelievable, focused time commitment, but is worth the investment. Dad looked at many math books with me before we chose one together that we both liked, and we sat down together every day after breakfast to go over a concept and work some examples. Then I’d be on my own to finish the assignment.

    Believe it or not, my family bordered on unschooling most of the time! My brothers and I didn’t receive grades in any subject, never worked out of one curriculum (often we didn’t have workbooks for a subject), and usually worked independently – checking in with Mom and Dad as needed. The only two subjects we sat down with workbooks to learn were math and English, and we chose books that piqued our interest and allowed for some individual ideas and exploration.

    I am so thankful for my education to this day. The mixture of form and freedom I was raised with helped me get into college, but still have the self-awareness to choose paths that would lead me to a happy, fulfilled career and life. Not all of learning math was fun or easy for me (in fact it was often my biggest challenge), but it has also been the piece of homeschooling that I regularly look back on as the most worthwhile.

    Well, there’s my two cents on this issue! Huge amounts of respect to all of you who are educating your children at home with courage and integrity, even if you don’t agree with me about math!

  63. CommonSense
    CommonSense says:

    I used to hate math. My parents would spend all day trying to help me understand a concept….I just didn’t care.

    Now math is the only thing in life that makes perfect sense to me. After much despairing over the fact that nothing ever came to a perfect conclusion I realized that math does and ever since I have loved it and can pick up on a concept extremely quickly because I am interested in it.

    • Rayzel lam
      Rayzel lam says:

      Do you think if your parents had tried to discuss first with you why math matters – the reasoning behind it, that you would have taken am interest earlier in life? Just curious about this as I really try to observe my son closely to see what type of person he is and what moves and motivates him. I’m so interested when I hear stories of kids who hated something that their parents ,see them do and later they loved it – whereas for me, I guess I feel I always had a very strong sense of myself in that to this day I hate the things I was forced to learn that I didn’t want to learn – I never did grow to love it. So wondering if people are just different in this way. For instance, my mom hated her piano lessons but her dad never let her stop taking and the she went on to be a music major and now runs a successful music school and music is her life. I STILL don’t care a wit about learning or playing music as a 32 year old adult now and I have other passions today that could have been easily seen in me as a child if anyone had paid attention to it.

  64. Marcella McConnell
    Marcella McConnell says:

    A society that does not know mathematics can be manipulated and controlled by those who do. Read a newspaper and/or watch the news, the statistics that are thrown around to manipulate the audiences’ view are most of the time mathematically incorrect. Banks and other money makers are out to manipulate the numbers in their favor. Knowing the difference between a compounded continuously or monthly rate, between 0.07% or 0.7%, between squared yds and yds, between a fraction of something over 100% or less than 100%,… If you do not know mathematics, you are going to be manipulated for the other person’s benefit. People in society are making decisions based on mathematical statements that they have no idea if they are valid. If you do not learn mathematics or how to read, you are limiting your life opportunities. Mathematics is not solely arithmetic (adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing). Mathematics is being able to problem solve and analyze situations to determine a solution. If you never got past fraction operations, you never really experienced mathematics.

    • Cathy Goodwin
      Cathy Goodwin says:

      Marcella is right. As a society we are manipulated by those who use statistics incorrectly or don’t bother to check statistics. For instance, flu shots save very few lives, many medical tests are worthless and CPR leaves most people permanently damaged, physically and/or mentally. People who don’t understand statistics say, “Well, I want to be sure,” which is nonsense. That’s why we as a society are forced to get useless, harmful medical treatment and why medicine is more like religion than science.

      • Rayzel lam
        Rayzel lam says:

        This is true BUT I feel you can easily find this type of information out by doing two things : not believing any website backed by big pharma, or at least being very wary of what they say, then researching 20 articles from independent sites on the subject to get a fairly good feel on the matter.

  65. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    I am fourteen and the only time i ever here an adult say they’re good at math is when they’re a math teacher. None of my other teachers seem to like math or are good at math. They teach what math we need to know for that class. They don’t spend time teaching us irrelevant equations that we really only see in a Math class.

  66. Al
    Al says:

    This is exactly the reason why Americans are so bad at math. Our educational system can’t get this simple fact it seems. The simple fact is each step in math is easy to do, one thing that must be developed is the endurance, stamina, and drive to continue working through each step – like running a marathon. Furthermore, one’s ability to connect a particular mathematical process or concept to other ideas is also critical. When you are able to readily connect an abstract concept to the world around you is when you are a mathematical genius. As intimidating as this sounds, it can come about simply by musing over a simple idea until new applications and perspectives are found. Surely, we are in danger of a modern dark-age if we remain ignorant of these facts.

  67. Katie
    Katie says:


    I came across your blog homeschooling today and I read a few of your posts and really enjoyed them. I love how family centered and motivated of a person you are. You are inspiring. I wanted to write a response to you on your post titled 5 reasons why you don’t need to teach math. I am a math educator and I just wanted to share with you my perspective on why teaching math is actually important.
    I want to make sure I understand you correctly on why you think it is not necessary to teach math. Here are the ideas I understood from your post: Learning fundamental math is like reading—kids will take the lead. Math is like science; you can learn on the job. Math is learning a way to think, and there are other ways to do this. Teaching math beyond the basics is useless. You have to teach to curiosity instead. Lastly, if your kid is good at math, you don’t need to teach them.

    I just wanted to put some of my views out there for you to consider along with your own. You said, “learning fundamental math is like reading – kids will take the lead”. I think you have an amazing kid with your son asking to learn addition, subtraction and multiplication before age seven. It makes sense that from that experience you would think that, “sooner or later kids get curious so they ask [about math].” I just wanted to suggest that not all children are self-motivated to learn basic math. There are many children that could care less about addition, subtraction ad multiplication and would never ask to learn. This is why I believe math should not be optional, because I think we both agree that it is important all kids learn basic math.

    Math is like science; you can learn on the job. I think we’d agree that we as humans adapt to our surroundings and what is expected, but the lack of teaching basic mathematical skills, I believe, will lead to a great hole in our society. Some math can be learned on the job if the underlying principles are already attained, but if basic math fundamentals are lacking, more advanced math will be very difficult for adults to teach themselves. Unlike science, in math you cannot open a math book and read and suddenly acquire the knowledge you seek like you can in science. With math you must learn basic concepts before intermediate concepts and intermediate concepts before hard concepts and so forth. Math must be taken a step at a time, so really, math is very unlike science.

    You said that math is learning a way to think, I consider this problem solving skills, and I agree with you. I think there are many ways to help your brain learn to problem solve beyond just learning and doing mathematics. Like you said you can learn a second language or learn to play music. Both of these things help to develop problem solving skills and allow the brain to make deeper connections. I think math is a fundamental part of a child’s education, but I agree with you in that, “there are many ways to expand one’s thinking”. In fact, I would encourage anyone who likes math or who is remotely interested in it to expand their thinking capacities with doing things like learning a new instrument, polishing up an old one, or learning a language.

    Teaching math beyond the basics is useless. You have to teach to curiosity instead. I agree with you, as a math educator, it is really hard to, “teach math effectively without curiosity about math in the first place”. I also agree with you that there are many people who learn, “memorized formulas and ad hoc processes” and even by the time they get to college they still don’t really know how to apply logical processes. If by logical processes you mean problem solving skills I think we agree here, it is, “the entire point of learning math”. One uses problem solving every day, for instance, a mother trying to figure out the right consequences that will have lasting benefits for her child.

    You’re right, in traditional math students are taught by repetition and by the teacher giving the students formulas and telling them the way to do things. Through this method however, math is sadly left undiscovered by students. The way I teach math and the way many math educators are beginning to teach math is by using the reformed method of teaching. We are trying to help students to discover math for themselves and further to help them make connections within mathematics. Teaching math beyond the basics is very important in our rapidly advancing society, and a good math student will naturally be driven by curiosity.

    If your kid is good at math, you don’t need to teach them. If a child is good at math they still need to be taught so they know how to do math, but I think we’d agree that they won’t need as much help as other children.

    We agree that math is hard, even as a math educator I have experienced my own struggles with teaching and learning math. I know how hard it is and I understand, really I do. Math is simply not easy, but that does not mean that math should be disregarded in our society. I think both you and I want our own children to develop in every good way they possibly can, then teaching math cannot be replaced by learning a musical instrument or another language. Children need to know and be taught basic mathematical concepts so they will have full advantage of all opportunities available to them in this advancing society.


  68. S. H.
    S. H. says:

    The ignorance is in the minds of folks who don’t know that kids are interested in learning and can find a way to learn most anything they want to know. They will learn math, when they want or when it is relevant to their lives or when they need it. It happens, whether you want to believe it or not. When you see it in action, then you understand.

  69. Ddrhl
    Ddrhl says:

    It amazes me when people decide what we do and don’t need to learn in school based on what they did or didn’t learn in school.
    If we have no foundation, there is no building.
    If you only learn a shortcut, you’ll never know what to do if the shortcut is not available to you.
    If we must rely solely on what has been invented without ever learning what was behind it, we will never move forward.
    And, if we continue on the path we’re on, we will undoubtedly be the dumbest, most self-absorbed generation of all time.

  70. Fred
    Fred says:

    SAT math is not hard. It’s a mathematical reasoning test that requires no trignometry, no formal geometric proofs and doesn’t even require a calculator. In fact it’s faster without one.

    And regarding math, you’re just wrong about being able to learn it “later.” So many people lack proper grounding in the basics of proportion, geometry, powers and roots, interpretation of graphs and tables. You’re providing excuses for your kids to procrastinate and avoid thinking.

    One commenter was spot on. If you don’t learn math you don’t know when you need it.

    I urge you to rethink your philosophy. Math is just part of being educated. You and your kids don’t have to become physicists but come on. As for formulas and routines, often one understands the logic behind a formula after successfully applying it. If explanations and derivations are needed, they’re as close as google. You do need math and you need to stop using others’ bad experiences or poor teaching techniques as excuses to say it’s not meaningful, fun or useful.

    • S. H.
      S. H. says:

      well, this falls under the category of “when you see it happening, you’ll understand”. I have seen it happen several times. I know many kids who went to college and did great there despite their lack of formal math learning. One young man studied math for 3 months before taking and passing the ACT and said it was easy to learn everything he hadn’t learned throughout his younger years. Is this the path for all? Of course not. I also believe that people are misreading the article. Kids do math, they just do. We don’t always have to teach it to them. Kids can self learn.

  71. Cathy Goodwin
    Cathy Goodwin says:

    First off, if you don’t learn algebra (and hopefully calculus) you’re blocked off from many careers that require graduate work. Maybe you don’t care but you might later. Math is harder to learn as you get older. Not impossible, but harder.

    Second, you need to know enough statistics so you won’t fall for those reports of new drugs from Big Pharma promising 50% improvement, when it’s really more like 1% or 2%.

    Finally, when taught and learned properly, math is an elegant intellectual exercise and a delight.

  72. linda lou
    linda lou says:

    My 9 yo unschools in most subjects. But for math we use Singapore Math. It has a major emphasis on conceptual understanding and mental math. He spends less than an hour a day doing 9 worksheets of Singapore Math. Mental math with the operations is something I use several times a day. So we can debate whether geometry proofs are a useful skill but the basic operations are required for daily life.

  73. Anonymous homeschooler
    Anonymous homeschooler says:

    I was home schooled throughout my entire childhood. I have always been a sort of “lop-sided” student; very good at humanities/english/anything I could read out of a book, but almost totally uninterested and completely puzzled by math. My mom used a similar approach to the one you are suggesting, with me. In some ways, it was good. Taking a break from math allowed me to learn things I wanted to, and I understood it a bit better when I started it again. However, once I had mastered basic arithmetic, I again struggled and lost interest in math. I find myself sitting here, with a 3.7 college gpa (all english/humanities classes), trying to transfer to a larger university; and still stuck on pre-algebra. The thing is, everyone has to learn things that they hate, or aren’t good at. It’s a part of life. Pushing it aside and hoping that your student will ask to go back to learning something they detest later, is not much more than wishful thinking. The ONLY reason I’m doing math right now, is because I feel like an idiot for not knowing it, and because saying that I’ve “finished high school” feels like a lie if I can’t even work my way through basic algebra. Obviously, I am not planning on choosing a major that includes lots of math, but even so, I’m not going to be able to just walk through college or life without ever having to look at math again. Please, please, PLEASE make your kids do math. They’ll probably scream and pout and curse your name, but they will thank you in the end for sparing them the head and heart ache of reaching adulthood and finding themselves dragged down by poor math skills.

  74. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    This is ridiculous and is what I believe is a major problem with our country. Maths and sciences should be emphasized in public or homeschool educational systems. Pretty much what I am hearing is it is difficult so Im not going to require my children to learn it. The public school I attended decided to take a similar approach and without proper guidance from my parents it has forced me to attend high school level courses at my local community college and has added 2 years onto what should be a four year degree. Children should be taught a blanket curriculum so when they decide what field they would like to go into they are not discouraged and end up working a career that they do not enjoy all because their parents didn’t want to teach them properly. If you can’t teach your children the subjects maybe you should find someone who can.

  75. s
    s says:

    the author didnt say that the kids aren’t learning math just that she is not teaching it to them. Also, I get that your school didn’t teach math but did they do you from learning it?? See, in homeschool we don’t have to teach our kids in order for them to learn. often they are curious enough to learn on their own, especially when the skill is needed.

  76. S
    S says:

    Exactly why many of us allow our children to learn math as a part of life. So that they understand when and how to apply concepts and not just how to pass tests. Our (those that let the learning happen) kids learn math that they will use and they learn it when it is needed, when it makes sense, when the learning of it comes quicker. I dont teach my10yr old math but this week he has spent many hours on Khan Academy because he wanted to learn about a particular math concept. He uses Khan quite a bit and I took a look recently and saw that he has accomplished a lot, all the way through 8th grade level, without my teaching him and of his own interest. He also studies programing on several sites, something i know nothing about in the least. We need to drop the notion that kids mus tbe taught in order for them to learn. Also, to understand there is no window that closes on learning. The learning will happen.

  77. SDes
    SDes says:

    This reads like a desperate justification for not teaching a topic you’re bad at. I’m glad for all of you people that feel that giving in on maths hasn’t affected your life in any way. I too was always disinterested in maths (I thought I was bad at it just because it didn’t come totally naturally to me) and was never pushed at it. Once in my 20’s I decided to train as a biologist, and guess what? I was always the moron in class that didn’t know even the most basic maths (how to rearrange an equation for example). Students from far east Asia, the middle east and most of Europe would look at me like I was a particularly simple 4 year old when it transpired that I was incapable of solving the most basic of equations. In fact, the only reason I found this piece was when, at the age of 28 years old, I was researching a simple maths problem to help me with my studies. So let’s hope your children never want to be an engineer or a scientist, because if they do they’ll likely find themselves hopelessly out of their depth like I did and they may resent you for it.

  78. Violet
    Violet says:

    I started learning violin at ripe old age of 28. After 4 years of taking lessons and practice, I have advanced barely beyond beginner level. I look at kids with 4 years worth of lessons under their belt doing very complicated pieces than me. Why? Muscle memory, brain development and simple “life” issues are different at different ages.

    Math is like violin. Even basic arithmetic, when practiced enough, suddenly makes sense and you can do two-digit number multiplications in your head because you realize what exactly you are doing.

    Can you learn math as an adult? Of course, as much as you can learn violin as an adult. Don’t expect to master beyond basic concepts in a year or two though. It has steep learning curve and needs constant practice before you can attempt any of the neat things you like about it.

    However, unlike classical violin music, calculus and statistics are fast becoming basic necessities to make sense of current world.

    OTOH, one can live a decent life without caring anything about a bigger world at all, e.g., Sherlock Holmes doesn’t want to know about planets in solar system even though he plays violin to clear his mind.

    • CathyG
      CathyG says:

      Violet’s post is right on. It’s harder to learn math as an adult and you need the basics to make sense of the world, as she says. The reason Big Pharma, insurance companies and medical services are charging more and making us sicker is that most people don’t know how to interpret statistics. Most journalism articles contain misleading and even distorted interpretations of research. The suggestion that we abandon math is just plain irresponsible.

    • Rayzel lam
      Rayzel lam says:

      I took all the regular math courses in public school and learned it well at the time but I cannot today as an adult multiply double digits in my head. I don’t think it has to do with when you learn it so much as people’s brains are just different. I have always had difficulty making sense of math and I still do and my passion lies elsewhere so that’s what I do.

  79. Sheila Roberts
    Sheila Roberts says:

    I teach my sons math, and encourage them to learn higher math, because, I believe it opens doors for them. My older son is now in college and eventually wants a master’s degree in ag science of some sort. My younger son will soon be on a similar path. Without the math we did at home, they would be at a disadvantage in their college classes for the paths they have chosen. While higher math may not be on everyone’s to-do list it is certainly not useless. I also use long division on an almost daily basis as a wife, mom and small farm owner.
    One of the great things about homeschooling is the diversity and being able to create your own path. While I think our path is great for us, I try not to make blanket statements about others skills being useless.

  80. Shelly
    Shelly says:

    How will our children react and solve the complex problems in life if they only have to do, or deal with, things they enjoy or things that don’t frustrate them? That’s just not REAL life! I hated/hate math! I hated school but I did learn how to accept and deal with things, subjects, people which frustrate me. I think you’ll be doing your children a disservice

    • Rayzel lam
      Rayzel lam says:

      This does not make sense to me – make life difficult on purpose so that they can deal with difficult real life later. I believe In preparing for difficulty and cultivating fortitude certainly – even learning something you are fascinated with will be very difficult to actually master so still requires hard work and learning when you don’t feel like it – may as well have it be something they are actually interested in and have an affinity for though in my mind. My regrets in my personal learning actually prevented me for a number of years from living a better life because no one helped me learn who I really was – i handle difficulties much better now that I accept the type of person I am, and I’m much happier and more successful now because of working with my strengths.

  81. Tressa Nunez
    Tressa Nunez says:

    My husband was never a very good student. He struggled in many areas, including math. Surprisingly, he’s a master carpenter and can build just about anything from a picture, using math that I can’t even understand. I agree, you learn what you need when you need it.

  82. Maddie
    Maddie says:

    It felt really really good to read this article today.
    My son is so bored with math and I feel sad and overwhelmed that he struggles in this subject. And then I think back to his teachers, and my daughter’s teachers, before homeschooling and the entire push for memorization. I now realize I blindly adopted their frenzy to memorize facts by a certain grade. I’m fairly new at homeschooling, and a part-time English professor, now taking time off.
    I remember my freshman students, MANY of them, starting over again in basic math skills classes, equivalent to 5th/6th grade. I would think…what have you been learning this whole time in high school? And now…I have to change my entire mentality to teach my son that learning is fun. School for both my kids, has often been stress and crying and failing.

    Anyhow, just happy to read this as a reminder. I will still keep up the math, but I have to remember to ease up and have fun.

    Now, I will read all these comments! haha

  83. Gayle
    Gayle says:

    I think it is important to teach math. My son isn’t good at it and it’s a struggle but everyday I am reminded of how much I use math and how important it is. Other things he’s interested in requires math. Computers, building and designing things, cooking. And to not teach something to your children because they don’t like it is teaching them they don’t have to do things they don’t like in life. Everyone has to do things they don’t like to do. Every job I’ve had has some aspect of it that I didn’t like. Even the ones I’ve loved. My son didn’t like classic literature when we first started reading it, but now he loves it. If I had given in, last year, and stopped reading it with him, he would not have known that. I didn’t like math that much at his age either. Learning the basics was hard for me but once I got them, the rest was easy. I began to love it at about age 9. Pushing our children a little is not a bad thing. Yes, try to make it fun and get them to enjoy it, but their minds should be challenged in many different directions, including math.

  84. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I didn’t read all the comments so forgive me if this has been covered.

    As a HS mom of 6th graders, I’m thinking about needing those standardized test scores to win scholarships and get accepted into college. Do you worry about this at all?

    I’ve wondered how long it would actually take to learn the math we really need.

  85. Maria
    Maria says:

    Well, I was hoping this article would address some of the concerns about math I have with my son, but it doesn’t. He attended public school up through 2nd grade since I worked at his school, but when I was downsized due to budget cuts (I’m a librarian…or was, I’m now a freelance writer and tutor) I began homeschooling him. For the first year (3rd grade) we struggled through an online program (Time4Learning) that he absolutely hated, and he already couldn’t stand math. He struggled with it during his school years, and he pretty much skipped through most of the online lessons and failed all of the quizzes. I’m not too bad at math myself although I never liked it much myself, but I just can’t seem to teach it to him, and I must also work from home full-time as a single parent, so I admit I don’t sit on him to force him to do any type of lessons on a regular basis.

    For the past 2 years we’ve been unschooling, and he’s self-taught to the level where I think he could do ok in at least a community-college level history class at age 10. He loves history, he can read and write pretty well, although most of what reading and writing he does is online. Math and science, though…these are pretty much nonexistent, as any attempts I’ve made at teaching these are a) pretty ineffective, as I have no love for either subject and b) so incredibly painful for both of us that we seem to be moving backwards if anything. For the most part we’ve just mutually agreed to ignore these areas, and yet I’m constantly worrying about his future. How will he ever find employment if he can’t even get a GED? College is right out, even if we could afford it, but even most trade schools and apprenticeship programs are going to want a hs diploma or GED. I think he may eventually be able to pick up some basic (very basic) money math to the point of being able to buy a candy bar with a $20 bill and realize that he should get more than 3 dimes and a nickel back in change, but right now he’s just so averse to anything involving numbers that I’m not even sure he could do that much so I pretty much handle all shopping and purchasing arrangements.

    I wish I could just go along with the happy sentiments expressed here and in similar articles, but they all seem to be written by people whose children come naturally to a love of math all on their own. I could write a similar article about kids who fall in love with history and can give you a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the Battle of Stalingrad or analyze the impact of World War I on Eastern Europe, but unfortunately I’m well aware that knowledge of history isn’t the kind of skill that’s worth all that much in today’s (or yesterday’s) economy. If anyone can reassure me with some anecdotal evidence about how young adults with zero math skills/knowledge apart from some rudimentary awareness of how to work a calculator can still gain whatever credential is necessary to find some sort of employment, I’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief, since for right now my only game plan is to live forever and work forever (should I be so lucky) so I can keep taking care of my unemployable son forever. Since yes, I do know that his math phobia/lack of math education is entirely my fault, and not knowing how to address this in any other way, I should at least have to pay the price.

    • SDes
      SDes says:

      Hi Maria,

      If he’s only 10 I really wouldn’t lose heart just yet, there’s still plenty of time for him to catch up. I’m guessing you don’t have money lying about to get him extra tutoring, but I would persevere looking online for ways to make teaching maths interesting. I’ve found that maths feels the least painful when you’re working out real life problems, rather than (for example) just sitting down to do algebra for the sake of it. Perhaps see if you can find ways that maths relates to history and try to incorporate it into his lessons that way?

      This is a bit random, but it just came into my head as I was typing. I always found maths hideously boring (I now need it for my job so I’m being forced to learn it), but I became genuinely interested in it when I read a novel called PopCo by Scarlett Thomas. I thought of it when you said your son enjoys history as it talks about code breakers in WWII. The book won’t be suitable for him, but you might enjoy it, and it might help inject some enthusiasm into your lessons.

      I also enjoyed Hans Roslin’s ‘the joy of stats’ and Marcus Du Sautoy’s ‘The story of Maths’, which are TV programs and will be suitable for your son to watch. I think you just need to make him understand in a fun way how important and interesting maths is.

    • Sheila
      Sheila says:

      All will be fine. Please don’t pass your fears of being a failure onto him. Build him up. Hell him see his successes. He is only ten. Plenty of kids are just starting math at this age or even older. He has plenty of time. Not going to college is not falure, in fact, it isnt needed, depending on what he wants to do in his adult life. Build him uo now. Discover his strenghths and fly with those skills! If his strengths are writing then make sure he excells in that area. Push him to be great within his own strenghts. Dont focus on what he doesnt do well. I wasnt good in math and science, makes no difference since i would never choose to seek a job within those disciplines. Help him find his way. Dont look at college as the gateway to success, because it isnt. Most successful and happy poeple i know do jobs they enjoy and most are entrepreneurs Diplomas and GEDs are fast becoming unimportant. Colleges look at transcripts, which you can make for homschooled kids. They look at SAT/ACT too. No diploma or GED needed. So no worries. It will all come together. Just focus on what he can do.

    • Rayzel lam
      Rayzel lam says:

      Hey Maria – I don’t know if it helps, but to maps anyone who becomes passionate about something they want to do in life, they will then be willing to do some intermediary steps to achieve this – so IF he needed to get his GED in order to say, be a history professor if that’s what he wants to do so e day, it seems like he will be willing to buckle down and cram for it. I realize children’s personalities vary immensely but I also just want to throw out there that with the advent of the internet there are SO many other awesome opportunities out there now to create your own living – to be an entrepreneur that has nothing to do with college whatsoever. I never even picked up my high school diploma – that was 15 years ago now – I have a great online business doing something I love – listen to some business podcasts – it will get you excited about the possibilities for your sons future – entrepreneuronfire is one and the smartpassiveincome podcast is another excellent one. Here is so much freedom to actually LIVE your life when you can. There are so many ways now to make your income online while helping people across the entire globe. Yes I use a calculator on occasion but that is the extent of the math i use. I google everything else. :) if that means I get something wrong now and then, so be it, I’m doing what I love.

  86. Ddrhl
    Ddrhl says:

    I applaud you for recognizing your shortcomings with regard to teaching math. That’s an uncommon position for most individuals (though many will attest to “hating” math).
    After teaching a course called Math for Elementary Teachers, I saw just how ill-prepared these college students were to teach the next generation. It made me sick at heart. There are so many non-painful and non-trivial and non-“gotta entertain” ways to teach the fundamental concepts of arithmetic operations to young children. BUT, you have to truly understand the fundamentals to do that.
    If I could match your son up with someone who did, I would. All children should have someone who understands, truly knows, the subject matter.

  87. Maria
    Maria says:

    Thanks for the suggestions…code breaking, hmmm, might be worth a try. Although not if the actual m-a-t-h word is mentioned. I think I might try a bit more grocery store/money stuff too, give him $5 he can spend on whatever as long as he does the figuring and presents me with $5 worth of stuff. Of course we do a lot of shopping in the $1 section of our local store, so that won’t really stretch his abilities any; even I can’t figure out the local sales tax rate other than to know that there is one, so we’re not even going there.

    And I hope, too, to be able to connect someday with someone who can explain math concepts to him in a way he can understand, although at this point I can’t really afford to go out and look for a tutor. If I can just get him to use numbers in any way without pitching a fit, that will be a victory of sorts, and I’ll keep the tutor idea for later.

    I did find it heartening to learn that apparently kids can be taught fundamental math, such as what you’d need to get a GED, in a fairly short time once they quit fighting the whole concept and see an actual need for it. Still, I don’t want to succumb to the “magical thinking” that somehow he’ll automatically just absorb all the math he needs from the atmosphere and one day he’ll wake up able to perform complex calculus operations. Heck, if he could even grasp the basic idea behind multiplication (beyond adding up stick bundles), this would be a major breakthrough, but I don’t think it’s going to happen all by itself.

  88. Shana
    Shana says:

    I have read most of the comments and understand both sides. I believe that math is important and must be taught just not the way public school does it. Even though I teach math at home I am still on the fence as to what age instruction should begin because some places around the world have children begin school about age 7 or 8. My daughter was/is a late bloomer and when I decided to work with her on her time table she blossomed. This is not to say I backed offed totally but I do think there has to be a balance.

    One thing I would like to say to everyone talking or posting links to mathematical or science jobs are you saying everyone needs to learn all these higher maths not to be considered failures who may not want to go that route? Not everyone want to go into these fields. I guess my music minded, artsy, english-humanities-linguistics minded child is going to be in a world of trouble. And before anyone decides to pick up a pitchfork I do believe children should learn math. Yes, I do have my children learning the required courses my state mapped out along with consumer or financial literacy math which is not required but I feel is a must more so than trig or precalc which they are welcome to learn, if they wish. I will not hold them back.

    • SDes
      SDes says:

      Hi, I don’t particularly disagree with anything you say, but I would like to point out that I too was the artsy, literary, humanities girl when I was in school. I was terrified of maths and did everything I could to avoid it. I didn’t decide to pursue a science career until I was in my early twenties, having never shown any interest in it whatsoever, and I’ve really struggled with the maths. I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s not for parents to try and preempt what career path their child will follow. At the end of the day, maths is second only to learning how to read and write, and I find it alarming that so many people are so quick to give up on it.

      • Rayzel lam
        Rayzel lam says:

        The problem is there can be regrets either way – I do regret many wasted years of time spent on subjects I did not have interest in and being made to feel like I should be interested in them – took me so much longer to find my calling as a result. That’s why this is so sticky. You can be wrong either way in this case if we’re talking missed opportunities or regrets our children may have based on our choices we make for them now.

  89. Nanette Fynan
    Nanette Fynan says:

    Math is a skill, not an interest. It is something we learn so that we can communicate concrete quantities in abstract terms. It is not something that should be hard, certainly not any harder than learning to read. If the subject is introduced to children properly, it won’t cause so much grief to so many people. It should be part of everyday life, as is so much of homeschooling. I beg you, don’t transmit your learned antipathy to math to your homeschooled children. Join them in the excitement of discovering the joy of learning all things, including math.

  90. Kathy Donchak
    Kathy Donchak says:

    I think people are very confused about what unschooling looks like. My example is personal.

    The boys just turned 5 (2 weeks ago) and MIL was asking how I know they are learning. I have access to lots of curriculum, cutting edge stuff. I don’t use any of it to teach them. I do read the research articles that are interesting in how kids learn, and get to listen to educational speakers and researches often. They use big words to explain small things.

    As a way to prove they understand math, I showed them an accellerated online math software program (game based). Baby A made it through 1st grade math and into 2nd before he got bored….took about 45 minutes.

    I watched – he uses his Lego skills to see patterns and geometry. He uses his unlimited video game time with counting – points, bad guys, numbers to the next level etc.

    Unschooling works, but perhaps we have labeled it wrong.

  91. Cody
    Cody says:

    I used to play video games and I was always depressed and I couldn’t focus at ALL during school. It was scientifically proven that video games cause this. Anxiety, attention problems, and obesity is caused by this. My mother took away my video games and I feel less depressed, I can focus even better, and I also get more exercise. You might learn things from games, but on the bad side, there are a lot of negative affects. You can learn how to count from video games but you can also get obese from it OR you can teach your child how to count and they can get more physical activity. I am 12 and I believe that “screen time” should be limited for children and teenagers. Too many bad things that can happen but you can also learn VS. you can learn and still get a lot of exercise, and you won’t have attention problems, and other side affects caused by this. I hope this helps but I have been researching this and I have found proof on multiple websites.

  92. wrong
    wrong says:

    Screw you, science they cant teach you on the job all of math and science are connected. YOU ARE A TERRIBLE PARENT. I garuntee your kids are going to grow up and do nothing just like you. You use earth science when making a road. Another thing is your kids wont learn about effort because of you.

    • MoniqueWS
      MoniqueWS says:

      WOW! Project much?

      She did not say math was worthless. She said there are other ways to learn math than a canned curriculum from a teacher who hates or doesn’t understand it themselves. Curiosity and critical thinking may be way more important in the grand scheme of things because they can (and do) lead to lots of learning including math.

      Not so much on the earth science for building a road. Civil engineer here and it really doesn’t factor into it much.

      There are MANY ways to learn about effort. Math is not the only way … by a long shot.

  93. tomila
    tomila says:

    For me math is boring. It’s like heavy labour, carrying rocks from one place to another. I find that I am not interested to count things in which I am not interested. I am not interested to count somebody else’s money – I don’t care, I don’t care about coefficients. I hate that I just have to memorise things without knowing where they came from. It is just boring. But psychology is nice, go out and it’s there. Language – go out and it’s there. Math for me is hard to apply because math is not language, Law or psychology. How can I survive counting people, counting cars… So people are: the first person I ‘ve met today her name was Bella, so I will memorise her as 1….she was angry today, so angry has a code 7&. The sun temperature was 34 C at 1pm and by 3 pm it declined by 2C….Do people who are good at maths different from others? Do this people have different view of the world and themselves? What makes them count? Something makes them count.

  94. tomila
    tomila says:

    may be Constant Counting Disorder makes people keen at math? Sort of moderate constant counting?

    …I am now 42, and have been counting patterns like 4 sides of a square, 12 lines in the capital letter E. This since I was at least 6.
    Been annoyed, even asked my doctor while mom in room, but back then, this disorder was not known, nor was ADHD, which was tagged as the disordered kid running around uncontrollably.
    Yes that could be some of my behaviour, but doctor didn’t pursue my symptom and sent me home with a clean bill of health. Mon very happy!
    Wait, problem is still I keep counting shapes, sides, contours, letters, numbers, you get the point. Always in patterns of 4 8 12 16. Funny thing, this may have helped me in mixing music, since pattern are linked to music beat patterns, who would of know, great outcome, I can mashup some dance tunes till you drop.
    Different person:
    …I am 37 and I have been counting since I was 9. I started out counting sides and corners of objects and images. I couldn\\\’t stand the outcome so I also started counting the interior sides and corners of images also.

    No number I came to as a final would put me at ease. So I started to take all images or objects and give them an added dimension or indent to create more counts. Adding more and more.
    One day I started the same thing with Letters and Numbers. The shapes, corners, and curves. I would also give them all added dimensions and depth to keep counting.

    I just realized one day that no matter what I do or who I am talking to that I will always be counting. And I am able to hold conversations and hold jobs while always counting.

  95. Gabriel
    Gabriel says:

    Instead of teaching math to children, foreign languages must be taught to children. Kids can easily learn a foreign language.

  96. Gabriel
    Gabriel says:

    Instead of teaching math to children, foreign languages must be taught to them. Learning foreign languages will help them a lot especially if they are planning to move out of their native country or secure a job. Children are fast language learners. Math is not necessary unless your children is a math prodigy and because calculators and computers are available.

    • Stephen
      Stephen says:

      One or the other?? Tell that to the rest of the world where most school kids speak two or more languages, while they are simultaneously far surpassing us in, not only Math, but nearly every other discipline.
      It is not an accident. We are being intentionally dumbed down. But we have been deprived of the thinking tools to even figure that out.
      It would be ironic if it wasn’t planned.

  97. kelley england
    kelley england says:

    Math skills are perishable. If they are not practiced, they are weak. If skills at a certain level are weak, it is harder to understand the next concept. This is why so many students do not excel in math. It isn’t fun to be required to do something you aren’t good at. For instance, if a kid were to take up, let’s say golf, and they didn’t know how to stand or hold the club properly, they probably won’t do well. If said child does poorly, they will ultimately lose interest, and not pursue a spot in the high school golf club, much lessa spot on The Masters. Of course we should teach our kids math! Mathematics has such a daunting stigma attached to it, if we let our kids approach it “blind”, we are setting them up to fail, or at least not take interest. And Hello!!! A career involving mathematics can mean big money. As for the comment about a math whiz not caring about “what shade of lipstick looks best against African-American skin”; all I have to say is “What shade? Because there are many, and it will make a difference.” I am a licensed cosmetologist and when I am not at the salon, I am on the computer taking an accelerated online Pre-Calculus class, which is required for a degree in actuary sciences. And a career in actuary science can easily yield a six-figure salary. Well, back to graphing logarithmic functions! But first, I can’t stand looking at them any longer, I need to paint these nails!!

  98. Stephen
    Stephen says:

    Math requires logical thinking and reasoning.
    It is thinking in its purest form.
    The ‘ignorant and proud of it’ attitude in this article meshes beautifully with the orchestrated and intentional dumbing down of the American population.

    Mathematical logic is the foundation of all serious reasoning, and is the primary tool of all intellectual disciplines.

    Lazy bodies plus lazy minds yield a lazy nation – with one of the world’s poorest education systems (soon to be made even worse by Common Core).
    Thus, “You’ll never need math” , “I hated math too”… Yes, son, be like me, belittle Math… play your video games instead. Strengthen your opposable thumbs.

  99. Hater
    Hater says:

    This is really a big joke. I mean you’ve got people on here talking about how they’re good at math because they can divide in their head… lol how about you solve a nonlinear second order differential equation if you’ve really got a good comprehension of the subject. Whenever I hear that sort of thing it just absolutely makes me laugh. People with low math aptitude such as yourself never make it far enough in the subject to understand what it can ultimately be used for. For instance some of the trigonometry concepts or pre-calc concepts seem random and not useful but if you are to go on to learn higher end math such as calculus and differential equations then these concepts are absolutely required to do those branches of mathematics and it’s math courses like those which finally start putting all of your math skills to work in order to solve real world problems…
    Oh I forgot that math has no use… Yeah, no use other than being applicable to literally every natural phenomenon haha… the entire universe can be described in terms of mathematics. Do you realize that every piece of technology you use relies on the language of mathematics? I absolutely hate people like this. It’s just dumb kids having kids…

  100. x1101011x
    x1101011x says:

    You are doing absolutely everything wrong.

    1. Kids do not take the lead.

    Kids are powered by brains, which are feedback systems that constantly apply Bayes’ theorem in what amounts to a particle filter to create a low-dimensional model of their environment for the purpose of maximizing rewards. You can (and should) steer your child’s interests by making certain paths more rewarding.

    Encourage interest in mathematics. Reinforce curiosity and praise problem solving. You shouldn’t be shoving information down their throats; you’ve got to have more horse sense than that.

    No matter what you do, your child is constantly being conditioned by his or her environment. If you do nothing, you are letting the chaotic background noise determine the child’s fate, which is reckless and irresponsible.

    Use positive reinforcement and the basic principles of behavior modification to steer your child in the right direction.

    2. Mathematics is nothing like science.

    Science is a collection of observations about the physical world at various levels. What scientific facts are important to a given person are very context dependent.

    Mathematics, on the other hand, is the abstract connections that underly EVERYTHING. There are few choices in mathematics because it is the collection of fundamental facts about the very nature of existence. All of society’s progess is directly related to mathematical progress. If your child doesn’t understand mathematics, he doesn’t understand the world.

    Counting, adding, subtracting, elementary algebraic equations, trig functions, calculus — you can live without these just as someone in a coma can live without consciousness. Existing in the world without even the most basic, first order understanding of its operation can hardly be called living at all.

    Mathematics is fundamental precisely because it has been stripped of all the inessential baggage through abstraction, making it applicable to every facet of life.

    3. Mathematics is fundamental to existence. See (2).

    Also, learning how to play an instrument or speak another language does NOT provide the same learning experience as mathematics. Mathematics is the application of pure reason and rigorous logic. No other activity can teach you to be a rational person, which is essential to understanding and mastering your environment.

    Only mathematics (the axiomatic process of logically deducing truth) can teach a child how to think, instead of stumbling in the dark.

    4. Teaching mathematics is not useless.

    Your complaints with students’ “memorizing formulas and ad hoc processes” is the exact opposite of support for your argument. The problem is not that children are being taught mathematics; it’s that children are being taught the wrong way.

    Every parent should be required to train a chicken before raising a kid.

    Once you have a solid understanding of positive reinforcement, operant conditioning, and the principles of training, you will see why these traditional techniques fail and why you need to be teaching your own child the right way.

    You absolutely can teach curiosity and passion. These are behaviors like any other than can be strengthened through the properly timed application of reinforcers.

    Your not knowing how to teach does not show that teaching is intrinsically ineffective (because it is not).

    5. If your child is good at math, you absolutely need to teach them.

    Just because some people happen to do well teaching themselves mathematics does not mean you shouldn’t bother teaching your child. It is simply the law of large numbers. Some people are bound to do well in spite of the odds just because there are so many people, but the organized and appropriately planned education of anyone will always increase their chances of acquiring a solid understanding.

    Personally, I was a bright young kid. I enjoyed mathematics and learning, and I sought it out. But, without guidance, I had no idea where to look. I read books that sounded interesting and seemed rewarding, but, as a graduate student studying mathematics, I now realize how poor my choices were. I resent my parents and teachers for having not provided greater direction in the past because, had I had proper nurturing, I would be so far ahead of where I am.

    Some people get lucky and stumble onto the right course. Some people figure out how to teach themselves how to learn and excel at a very young age, but leaving it up to chance is irresponsible.

    You owe it to your child to give him or her the best chances you can. You must teach them what you know as well as how to discover what you don’t know for themselves.

    P.S. The division algorithm is a basic but very important concept. It is used in numerous algebraic proofs involving objects far more abstract than numbers. It is the principle that is important, and knowing that principle is valuable whether or not you use it to divide numbers.

  101. Sanders
    Sanders says:

    x1101011x is absolutely right. The author’s ignorance of math actually makes her unable to appreciate what she doesn’t know. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.

    The notion that kids will self-choose is as silly as expecting a dog to learn how to sit, stay, not jump etc. simply because it eventually learns by itself how to sit, stay, not jump. It never will unless it is taught & told. To dismiss the forced direction of learning in children is essentially to dismiss the essence of parenting.

    • MoniqueWS
      MoniqueWS says:

      Well then let me gently suggest YOUR ignorance of parenting, learning and psychology makes you unable to appreciate what you do not know.

      The point Penelope makes is NOT to leave your kids in a learning/parenting vacuum. The point is we do NOT need to recreate school at home for kids to learn. Children are not dogs.

      I am a civil engineer and business owner. The Dunning-Kruger effect doesn’t work here. My eldest child is 17 (no my kids are not exceptionally bright) and starting his second year of university studying engineering. His interest is aerospace engineering. He got himself there as a 16 year old by self-directed learning and his love of figuring out how things work. He was given the time and support to follow his bliss – figuring out how things work – including the math. He tested out of College Algebra/Trig and into Calculus. He wanted to know things so we as his parents helped him find the resources he needed to learn including math. We did NOT force him to sit in a chair for 6-8 hours a day, five days a week force feeding him information to be regurgitated.

      Children may not know everything or exactly where to get the information. Others (including friends, family, the community) do know what children do not know and where to get it. IMO learning how to get to that is a very important skill which is widely ignored by the schooling set who use educational banking and intimidation to operate.

      My 14 year old child has owned a business since May 2014. It is a business she has worked in for several years but now she is the owner and the buck starts/stops with her. She is doing this with the emotional support of her parents not in a vacuum. We do not tell what to do or how to do it nor do it for her. She is learning because it is what she wants to be doing.

      Just because YOU learned by sitting in a school being intimidated and force fed does not mean EVERYONE should nor that it is the only way to learn. It is true my kids may miss out on some things other kids learn in school but so will school taught children miss out on things my kids have learned or are able to learn. How many 11 year olds can weld a beautiful bead? Mine can.

      There is information out there (Peter Grey, Sudbury School, etc) about self-directed learning in children which shows it can and is VERY successful. Please spend some time learning about it before you spout about it.

  102. Sanders
    Sanders says:

    “Just because YOU learned by sitting in a school being intimidated and force fed”

    You are fabricating things I neither said or implied.

    I actually hated school for the most part and found it to be a profoundly inefficient way to educate children. I spent much of it day dreaming and resenting the entire process. The things I’ve learned best are those I wanted to learn.

    Nonetheless children at times need to be forced to learn certain things and one cannot have curiosity about things one doesn’t even know exist. In other cases, just as you don’t let your kids eat junk all day, you need to force them into areas they may not want to go.

    I suspect that the average kid with a competent parent who is educating them properly could learn in two hours what a school spends all day to learn (and possibly more). I think there should be far more self-directed learning. Modern schools are not fashioned in a way to allow it, though.

    • MoniqueWS
      MoniqueWS says:

      You are making my point for me.

      You can mean you – Sanders and it can mean you – anyone who experienced this.

      I don’t SUSPECT. I have actually experienced child led learning for myself and with my three children. I know many, many, many homeschooling families who do not recreate schooling at home nor bank information/force feed information to their children. They support child led learning (which does NOT happen in a vacuum). They are doing just fine, continue to love learning and are successful at university/work/life.

      And FYI … my children eat what they want and go to bed when they want as well. I provide healthy foods and they can chose to make/purchase/eat whatever they want to make/purchase/eat. They have all had junk food binges. They come back to the healthy eating and choices. They go to bed and get up as they need to for their body/life/commitments. My kids participate in household work too because we all work together to make the house run. We do not FORCE them. They chose what is important to them at the time. They do not do this in a vacuum. We as parents support them and discuss with them.

      My husband and I do not force or train one another. We do not do this with our children. For our family the point to parenting is NOT to force/train/intimidate a child to adulthood but rather to support them and discuss with them while they learn how to become an adult – making choices for themselves and experiencing the consequences of their choices and actions. Children do not flip a switch at 18 or 21 and become an adult. THIS is real learning.

      • x1101011x
        x1101011x says:

        Your child is constantly being trained whether you realize it or not. It’s how brains work.

        You can either make a concerted effort to shape your child’s development, or you can sit back and let “nature” do it.

        One is being a responsible parent; the other is what you chose.

        Making a concerted effort means training, which is not the same as force or intimidation. You can train a dog by choking it for not performing (this is school), or you can train a dog by giving it a treat for performing (this is recommended), but they are both training.

        Instead of letting your child decide what it is they want to do, decide for them. This is better because children are dumb. Then encourage them to do this thing by making that path more rewarding.

        You don’t have to let your children do whatever they want to not force/intimidate them.

        For instance, say you set up a system of currency as a conditioned reinforcer: for behaving well, they receive points that can be exchanged for some tangible reward. Then, you can allow your kid to eat whatever he or she wants but offer points for satisfying the recommended daily intake for essential nutrients.

        You’re not forcing your kid to eat healthy food, but you are rewarding the behavior, which is still training your child.

        That you only associate training with force and intimidation coupled with the fact that you are raising children is very disconcerting. Perhaps you should read more on behavior modification.

        I particularly like Karen Pryor’s “Don’t Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training.” Don’t let the title fool you; it’s not about dogs.

  103. Brandon Jin
    Brandon Jin says:

    I know that this is a post for parents, and I don’t actually remember how I came across this. But to me, reason number five isn’t a reason. It’s more of an excuse to be lazy. If your kid is good at anything, it’s important to make sure they get better at it. A well rounded student is okay, but you don’t need to be good at everything. Just think of how many times a scientist needs to use their knowledge of the Civil War in their career. Zero

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