School Doesn't Have to Suck When You Teach Your Own Kids


Thomas Hawk / Foter / CC BY-NC

One of the problems my son ran into when he still attended a brick-and-mortar school is the current mania for turning every damned arithmetic problem into the equivalent of a New York cabbie taking a rube tourist to Rockefeller Center via Staten Island. Why go the direct route when you can run up the meter?

There's widespread agreement in the U.S. that math is being taught badly, though experts disagree over whether it's Common Core's fault or whether the education establishment is blowing the teaching of math without assistance from the controversial new standards. Either way, it's easy to find recent examples of math problems seemingly designed to turn numbers into an incomprehensible mystery (see one delightful example pictured).

Jeff Severt

Fortunately, my son is now homeschooled—or, technically, attends a private online school. He uses online lessons and offline texts and workbooks to learn, coached by his mother and me. The lessons are means to an end; he takes them as needed, and can take as much or little time as necessary, until he demonstrates his mastery of a topic in a unit assessment test. Then he moves on. Find your vocabulary set a breeze? Then skip the review lessons. Stumped by long division? Then spend a few hours working it out.

And when the approach recommended by the book comes from education-establishment bizarro land, we can explain (not ask permission) in a conversation with his homeroom teacher (really, an advisor/contact at the school) that we won't be taking the scenic route across a mathematical Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Instead, my wife taught Anthony basic long division as she learned the subject. He has my mind for math which is, admittedly, missing a few circuits, so that was challenging enough. So she spread the lesson over two days. And she had him work at it repeatedly.

And he passed his unit assessment with 100 percent. Even better, he said he liked math. Last year he cried over his homework.

School doesn't have to suck, when the lessons are tailored for kids' learning style, and the pace matches their ability to absorb any given skill or bit of information. It's easiest to do that when you don't have somebody else's education philosophy of the moment forced on you.