Is Your Child a Math Moron?

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Have you ever waited for your change at some fast food joint? Of course you have. Even if you’ve not recently indulged at a fast "food" bloat buffet, you’ve had to wait for change in other shops. You know how it goes: you stand there holding back an aneurism while the cashier struggles to figure out how to break your twenty-dollar bill. What a toughie.

Experienced clerks know that The Machine automatically tells them the amount of change. Then the clerk has the arduous task of trying to make $8.37, or some such amount, out of the money in the cash drawer. This is where all too many young, eager "smiling" faces crash and burn. Simply counting up from the total price of your purchase to the sum of the $20 with which you paid, could be, like, you know, basically, really harsh on my mellow of one of those kids. Is it any wonder that often the clerks are surly?

Even with the answer provided by the cash register (EMB — electronic money-counting brain), the clerks counting out your change appear to be swimming in a sea of mathematical mayhem. God help them if you get cute and think.

For example, you make a $16 purchase. You hand the clerk $21. Totally shaken by the iDon’tGetIt of this, the clerk strives to make sense of the transaction. You are handed back your extra one-dollar bill and then the EMB instructs the clerk to give you four dollars. What you wanted was a five spot. But, this is pushing the outer limits of the clerk’s stunted cranial capacity.

Does this sound familiar? Do you find it not only annoying but also distressing? Hey, these expensively educated children are the next generation who will inherit the earth… or is it the wind? I always thought it was to be The Meek but I guess it will be The Imbecilic. It is not a good omen when the planet’s future citizens must wear flip-flops in order to count to twenty.

How did we get to this pathetic state?

Oh there are a million fingers out there pointing every which way for someone or something to blame.

How about the parents? Absorbed in their careers, neither husband nor wife has the time or energy to help Scooter learn to count beyond his toes. However, busy parents are never too busy to blame the schools.

Firmly grafted to the U.S. Department of Education, the schools need someone to blame. They don’t want to lose their federal funding. So who gets to star in a game of dodge ball (hazardous for children — prohibited in some school districts)? Aha… The Teachers! Rant and rave at them! They aren’t doing their jobs!

Baloney. From pre-school until graduation… or dropout… every child is faced with a mix of incompetent and brilliant teachers and everything in between. It’s part of the learning experience. Either way, it is not the fault of the teachers that on math tests, children regularly score lower than that unsightly shrubbery taking over the Rose Garden.

For the most part the teachers try their best, intend well and find their hands tied by school administrators, by the demands of the parents, and hamstrung by the curriculum provided.

Gone is the reliance on teaching. "Programs" are all the rage. School administrators and parents are always on the lookout out for new, exciting programs complete with the latest bells and whistles that are guaranteed to raise test scores and grades. As a result, our schools are pouring forth a society of illiterate nimrods… like my dogs, Nimrod and Little Brain. I can’t wait until these cretins get into the White House and Congress. No, I don’t mean Nimrod and Little Brain even though it would be an improvement. Anyway, it’s already happened. Cretins are already running rampant in our government.

So what about math? I hated it in school. Who didn’t? Until it becomes a practical tool in life, math is one huge pain in the sit upon. However, we survived. Some of us can even use math! But our kids can’t!

I may not be a math teaching whiz. But I can see clearly where the deficiencies lie. It’s called The Basics. You know, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Even the simplest one-digit operations can throw a child into total confusion. This is something of a contradiction in our hi-tech era. Your child spends hours playing computer games based on a binary system that ties him in knots.

Administrations and parents are being sold a whole lot of hooey when they spend thousands of education dollars on flashy programs. The U.S. Department of Education has a budget of $88.9 billion and you-know-who paid for it.

Someone is getting rich. But it sure as hell isn’t you or your children. Fortunately for the education grifters, your children won’t have the know-how to see it… let alone catch them.

One such program is Everyday Mathematics created and published by the University of Chicago Mathematics Project. Due to its confusing nature, within the teaching world E.M. is also known as "fuzzy math." And fuzzy it is, but not the warm, snuggly kind.

Everyday Mathematics boasts a "spiraling system" (hey if they don’t get it the first time, maybe they won’t get it the second either… or the third, fourth, fifth, etc.). E.M. also uses bizarre terminology unfamiliar to most parents. That means that busy parents must master Everyday Mathematics in order translate that which they already know how to do into E.M.’s new-fangled lingo for the purpose of explaining it to their children… if they can. Confused? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! It’s kind of like learning how to "speak" a foreign language… without having a clue what you’re saying.

E.M. even has geography lessons (I don’t get that either… unless they are to help find Middle Eastern oil deposits)! I suppose counting states is math. Unfortunately for the students, there are more than twenty.

It gets better. Everyday Mathematics is chock full of alternative algorithms. What, you ask, are those? For those of you out there who suffer from "mathematics deprivation syndrome" (MDS, the new plague replacing bird flu), an algorithm is a "method to solve problems." Your basic method of adding two-digit numbers through "carrying" is an example of an algorithm. E.M.’s program is brimming over with "alternative methods" giving children a miasma of choices from which to be baffled further.

Well, if it ain’t broke… better fix it. Traditional methods are passé. Unfortunately, the old-fashioned methods only offered one way to solve a problem and another way to check it. Everyday Mathematics makes attaining a lucrative career as the Village Idiot all that more challenging. Too much competition.

Everyday Mathematics ensures that it will be nearly impossible for parents to help their perplexed offspring. Will there be federal funding for No Parent Left Behind? I sure hope so! Additionally, continued use of Everyday Mathematics is a sure fire method to hardwire children with indelible hostility towards math.

It makes me long for the good old days of Tom Lehrer and New Math.

Not convinced? Here’s an explanatory video.

For education officials who have to buy a program, there are alternatives such as Saxon Math, Progress in Mathematics and Singapore Math, all of them highly effective in actually teaching… math.

I suggest concerned parents raise a full-blown, bovine stink to get Everyday Mathematics tossed out of their children’s classrooms and into the dumpster where it belongs. Or… we can look forward to longer lines at the Chum Bucket Sea Food Buffet waiting for our change.

And remember this. Your children will be the ones to pick out your rest home and pay for it! It might help if they can add up the bill correctly.

Special thanks to Linda Schrock-Taylor.

Elizabeth Gyllensvard contributed to and edited this story.

Tom Chartier [send him mail] played lead guitar in legendary Los Angeles punk band The Rotters for 26 years until their final appearance in January of 2004. He has lived in Tokyo and Los Angeles. Currently he resides somewhere in the Caribbean.

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