And we are off

January 21, 2022

As we race to the bottom of just about every national educational ranking, our legislators have found the problem. It’s not underfunding, out-of-date facilities or the fact that we are losing veteran teachers left and right. No, according to them, it is obvious that our standards are wrong. I suppose it makes a sick sort of sense on some level. If you can’t hit the target, just move it closer until you can.

I have spent a fair part of my career explaining to parents how “new math” works. In case you did not know, there is no “new math.” Math is pretty consistent and has been for a few hundred years. Although to be fair, during his two years of lockdown to avoid the plague, it is said that Newton discovered calculus. So brace yourself — maybe there will be some “new math” after all.

“Why did they have to change the way that they teach math? I don’t understand, it clearly is wrong. I can’t figure out how to help my child with their homework, it makes me feel stupid.”

Why did we have to change? We did not have much choice. The world has changed. When I was in elementary school, my mother worked in computer operations for a local financial institution. The computer was the size of my bedroom, and it could not even play Candy Crush. Operators had to be specially trained. All of that bulk and the computer had less processing power than my iPhone and less storage than the thumb drive on my keychain. My earlier anecdote about Newton? I looked that up on my phone. Back in the olden days, you know the ‘90s, I likely would have had to venture to the library to look that up.

Considering that a toddler can now operate a computing device superior to that which was available when we put a man on the moon, it stands to reason that we may have to rethink the way that we think. That is exactly what the math standards do. Before, we left difficult math concepts to those in older grades. It was not necessary for elementary students to understand the “why” of math only the “how.”

Those responsible for educating our youth found that it was much easier, in the long run, to start off teaching the why, because once you understand the why there is really no limit to how you can apply that knowledge practically. That is what leads to innovation. The earlier you start the better.

I, for one, want my children to have more opportunities than I did. I want them to have more advantages. I want them to have a better future. I accept that the future I am preparing them for is different from the future that I was prepared for. That means that I cannot restrict their potential or hold them back, even if it means that sometimes I feel stupid while helping them with homework.

David Roth

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