A Word of Caution About Math

by:  Carolyn Forte

You may be aware that the teaching of “Math” has changed dramatically in the last 50 years.  Algebra and other forms of higher math have been inserted in our nation’s schoolbooks from kindergarten forward.  This experiment with America’s children has not turned out well.  Our nation’s math scores have declined steadily since the first “New Math” was introduced with much fanfare close to 50 years ago.  However, every time it is noticed that our children are not doing well in math, the situation is altered for the worse.  We have reached the point where abstract concepts formerly reserved for high school students are sprinkled liberally throughout elementary school math books, causing great confusion for students, parents and even teachers.

 A thorough understanding of arithmetic, an essential prerequisite for algebra, Cartesian geometry, calculus and statistics is no longer a priority in our nation’s schools. Children as young as kindergarten, are burdened with abstract problems in “probability” and “algebraic thinking.”  The resulting frustration leads to avoidance, burnout and worst of all, the conviction that one “isn’t good at math.”  Even those who escape those problems are not safe, because their immature minds cannot always understand the concepts presented.  They may be able to perform the tasks assigned to the satisfaction of the teacher, while developing inappropriate brain pathways that will cause blocks to deeper understanding later. (Read Endangered Minds by Jane Healy, Ph.D.)

In reviewing sample worksheets for the Common Core Math Standards, it is obvious that those writing the nation’s new math program are either ignorant of the normal cognitive development of young children or they are actively trying to sabotage math understanding in our nation’s schools.  Homeschooled children don’t have to fall into this tragic trap, but the only way is to avoid most current math texts.  We highly recommend R.J. Toftness’ excellent resource, Unlocking the Mystery to Math to use as a guide and diagnostic tool.  Mr. Toftness, a talented and experienced math tutor, explains the differences between Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry and Calculus and provides diagnostic tests to help you determine where your child needs help or what to learn next.

The only current texts I am comfortable recommending are in the Life of Fred series by Stanley F. Schmidt, Ph.D.  Although Mr. Schmidt follows the current standards by inserting algebra and other higher math into elementary school, he does it with such creativity, humor and depth of understanding, that the possible harm is minimized.  If you wish to give your children a firm foundation in real concrete arithmetic without the insanity of higher math to muddy the intellectual waters, the Ray’s Arithmetic Series from Mott Media (originally published ca. 1880) is easily the best math program available today.  Students who master Ray’s through Ray’s Higher Arithmetic, will easily out think and out calculate any student who slogged through a current “standards-based” text series to the pre-algebra level.  It is doubtful that most college graduates could do the problems in Ray’s Higher Arithmetic even with the help of a calculator, which of course hadn’t been invented when Ray’s was published!  Dr. Ruth Beechick has written a Parent-Teacher Guide for Ray’s New Arithmetics, which is most helpful.  The Ray’s Arithmetic Series has been reprinted by Mott Media and is also available free on-line through a Google search.

We also recommend Math-It and Pre-Math-It and have included it in The Game Curriculum because it is part solitaire game, part parent guide to teaching math facts and calculation.  It contains and teaches many of the amazing math “tricks” our ancestors learned from Ray’s Arithmetic, which have been forgotten by the modern textbook publishers.  It is also possible to use Math-It alone with a cheap workbook or downloaded worksheets for practicing the concepts.  Math-It includes the higher math concepts (national standards) of our modern texts, but these are all in the parent guide and are not used in the solitaire games.

Whether you use one of the programs above or a modern text, The Game Curriculum offers a way to learn basic arithmetic facts and concepts easily and painlessly without boring worksheets and fruitless flash-card drill.  When children (or adults) are bored, learning is minimized, while flash-cards are the most inefficient way to learn something new.  They can be good for some learning styles for review but they are agonizingly slow for initial learning unless they include mnemonics utilizing several learning modalities (such as the Bornstein Multiplication Memorizer cards).  Choose a few games that emphasize the concept(s) your child is learning and play them frequently.  Keep it fun and interesting; never let it become a chore.  Switch out games to provide variety.   Remember, you can use ordinary playing cards and dice to practice (drill) many math concepts in a game format.

Cuisenaire Rods can be used with any math book or program to clarify concepts and help students who are very visual and kinesthetic.  They give learners who cannot yet easily understand numbers without a concrete example to work with.  Use them to illustrate a math problem and work the problem with the rods.  Do this for as long as your student needs them.  When they are no longer needed, your student will cease to use them for that type of problem.  Put them away until they are needed for a new concept.

I realize that many of you will be nervous about abandoning modern textbooks and National Standards.  Please take a look at the facts; Americans have to hire tutors and send their children to specialized math tutoring businesses to acquire the skills our grandparents gained in one-room schoolhouses!  Our modern math teaching methods are toxic to children’s brains and no amount of glitz, pomp and show will change that.   If you are math-challenged yourself, don’t despair.  You can learn many things right with your children as you enjoy the games and the stories in Life of Fred or the Sir Cumference booksMath was invented to make life easier for people.  It is logical and easy to understand when taught in a well-reasoned sequence that allows children to learn at their own pace.

©2016 Excellence In Education