Remember when 3 was a magic number


I miss the good old days, when 14 minus 6 equaled 8, plain and simple.

I expected to be flummoxed by my children’s homework at some point. I knew my ability to recall the math instruction of my youth would be surpassed by the complexity of what my kids would be asked to achieve with “new math” under the guidelines of the Common Core curriculum.

I did not expect that day to come in the second grade.

But it did, when my daughter's homework asked that she solve 14 minus 6 using a tens fact.

Happily I have multiple math geeks -- and teachers -- among my Facebook friends and family upon whom I could call in just such an emergency. And I did.

Turns out my 7-year-old is learning base 10 theory -- or so I’m told. Sounds cool, anyway.

I was comforted by the knowledge that other parents also have been thrown by the new math. Only half-jokingly we have talked about forming a homework pool -- math-smart parents in one Google Hangout session; grammar, writing and language arts parents in another.

Maybe this will pay off when I daughter is better able to navigate algebra than I was, and at a much younger age.

As a parent, I have to say I feel a little left out when it comes to explaining to me why you can’t just count backward 6 from 14 to get 8.

And here’s the thing: I’m a college-educated parent who is trying hard to take an active part in my child’s education.

What if I weren’t? What if, because of my shift work or my own education level, I want to help, but can’t?

What about the parents who barely got by themselves in school, to whom addends and factors are essentially a foreign language?

Where is the help be for that family?

I used math majors in three other states, teachers from elsewhere in Florida and parents from all over Pensacola online to get help. I can email my child’s teacher for advice and I know she will respond.

I have my own computer, and speedy internet service at home, and the impetus to seek out the answer when I don’t know what it is. I am interested and focused enough on my child’s future to accept my part in her education.

Not every parent has the technological and personal resources that I do. Not every parent has old friends who are math teachers who will answer their pleas for help ASAP or family members and friends who make math their profession or hobby.

Pensacola is the poorest metropolitan area in the state of Florida.

In a community with the generational poverty problems, with an adult illiteracy problem, with an educational attainment problem such as this one, leaving parents out in the cold is not a good precedent.

Why not send home a homework guide for parents? Or invite them to come to weekly or monthly workshops at the school about how to help their children with math, science or whatever else Common Core will be telling our children?

It is true that parents are a child’s the first, best teacher.

But when that is the party line, there needs to be more than an acknowledgement that not all parents are equipped to be good teachers of everything.

They need help, no matter where they fall on the socioeconomic spectrum. That’s why teaching is a profession -- for professionals.  

Most parents will fall all over themselves to help their kids. But when the rules have changed as drastically in education as have in the last 20 years, we need a lifeline from the pros to make sure we are all rowing together.  

Because, as one of my Florida teacher friends points out, the fun is only just beginning.

Or as she wrote: “You should see how we multiply.”