Why Johnny’s Dad Can’t Do Math

Yesterday, my sixteen year old son came looking for me. At first I thought he wanted money, which is a normal enough occurrence in my house. What he wanted was help with his math homework. Being a good parent, I told him that I would be happy to help, until I saw the chapter header: Quadratic Equations.

Helping my kids with math homework is problematic on a good day. First of all, it’s been thirty years since I have seen a quadratic equation. Let’s face it, the brain is a muscle, and the brain muscles that handled quadratic equations when I was sixteen atrophied a long, long time ago.

The other thing is that, when it comes to math (any kind of math), the odds are very good that my kids were shown different techniques for solving problems than the ones I learned way back when. This phenomenon first showed up when my kid was in the third grade. It seems that kids no longer “borrow” when they subtract; they “regroup.” When I was in third grade, “regrouping” was what happened when a team got trounced in kickball.

The result of these radical teaching techniques is that when my wife and I try to help with homework, our kid’s grades crash and burn like the Hindenburg. (“Teacher said I did it wrong!”) Personally, I think it’s a government plot to wrest away another modicum of parental control. If we can’t help with the homework, then we can’t be as involved in their education, parent-teacher conferences notwithstanding. Marginalize those pesky parents!

This isn’t paranoia. Think about it: Who has more expertise with advanced mathematics like imaginary numbers and fuzzy logic than the government?  If you don’t believe me, go take a look at the federal budget. They need extra large calculators to complete that thing. They might as well put some nice pictures of unicorns in the margins to go with all the pretend stuff. Charles Grodin said it best in the movie Dave: “If I kept my books like this, I’d go to jail!”


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