Uh-oh…the secret’s out. If you want your child to do well in math, teach ‘em long division at the kitchen table after school. Traditional formulas have been supplanted, the Associated Press has discovered (long after the horse has departed the barn) by concept-based curricula aiming to “teach the ideas behind mathematics.” This is leading “renegade parents” to teach basic math formulas on the sly at home.
Renegade teachers too, as Matthew Clavel described in a terrific piece in City Journal some time back:
If school officials knew how far my lessons would deviate from the school district-mandated math program in the months ahead, they probably would have fired me on the spot. But boy, did my kids need a fresh approach….Not one of my students knew his or her times tables, and few had mastered even the most basic operations; knowledge of multiplication and division was abysmal. Perhaps you think I shouldn’t have rejected a course of learning without giving it a full year (my school had only recently hired me as a 23-year-old Teach for America corps member). But what would you do, if you discovered that none of your fourth graders could correctly tell you the answer to four times eight?
You’d teach them the algorithms, like Clavel did, I did, and countless others. The idea that teaching for understanding precludes automatic recall and traditional methods of instruction–that children haven’t learned unless they ”construct” their understanding of math–is one of those mindless orthodoxies that have squeezed out common sense and strewn failure in its wake. Watch a 4th or 5th grader struggle with partial sums addition and lattice multiplication and you’d quickly revert to time drills and memorization too.
If I run into one of my 5th graders even 20 years from now, I will ask him or her, “Do you know how to divide?” I’d bet my rent money I’ll get the answer, “Does McDonalds Sell Cheese Burgers?” Sue me. Take away my teaching license. But I’ll bet they can divide.