Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Brain Hurts

I finished school almost three decades ago, so the idea of sitting down to work on math and social studies and reading for any length of time on any given day offends me. Add to that the complexity of the work our children bring home, the amount of work our children bring home, and the general lack of understanding My Lovely Wife and I are able to offer our children once they get home, and the entire situation becomes unbearable.

And I'm not talking about college-level or even high school-level work, either. I'm talking about elementary school math. Just a quick glance at our sons' math homework is enough to convince me of one of two possibilities: (1) math has changed a whole lot in thirty years, or (2) I have the equivalent innate mathematical abilities as a domesticated turkey. Neither option is good.

When I was in elementary school, we worked on four basic mathematical concepts. They were addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. We learned to memorize the multiplication tables. We learned long division. We learned the basics and, if we paid attention, we learned them well.

These days, it isn't enough for kids to know 7 times 7 equals 49. They have to be able to prove it using any of seventeen different methods. Instead of being tested on whether they can achieve the end result, they're being tested on the different processes available to achieve the result. But it seems to me like the basic methods are being shoved aside.

I recall one night when Our Daughter was little and the teacher assigned division problems for homework but had not yet explained how division works. Our Daughter had been told if the problem asked "what is 8 divided by 2," then she should work the problem the other way around to figure out what number times 2 equals 8. This sounds easy enough, but what happens the moment you start working with two-digit and three-digit numbers? What kid would be able to figure out 3,111 divided by 183 equals 17 by trying to guess what number times 17 equals 3,111?

My favorite of the new methods for learning multiplication is the latticework process. Put simply, lattice multiplication takes simple equations and turns them into undecipherable hieroglyphics even Pythagoras and Archimedes would have trouble comprehending. Lattice multiplication stretches an equation that should take up one square inch of a piece of paper into a complex diagram that fills the entire page and consumes the lead of two pencils in the process. And, if the end result isn't correct, good luck figuring out exactly where the problem went wrong. When the teacher sends home the weekly e-newsletter instructing parents to ensure the homework is done correctly, she might as well tell us to make sure our kids understand the theory of Quantum Entanglement while we're at it.

My plea to educators around the world, if I may be so bold as to submit a plea, is to stop mucking about with the tried and true methods of teaching math. We don't need new approaches. We don't need seventeen different methods of figuring out 5 times 5 equals 25. Just teach the kids math. Sweet, simple, straightforward math that doesn't hurt my brain.

Maybe my expectations are low, but I'd be happy if the German stopped putting his shirt on backwards and the Italian stopped walking around the house tapping his athletic supporter like a percussion instrument. Complex mathematics can wait.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Death By Turkey

My Lovely Wife and I had a conversation about a turkey sandwich the other day.

Our Daughter had to stay after school for marching band practice and we were debating whether to pack her a turkey sandwich for lunch and a peanut butter sandwich for dinner, or peanut butter for lunch and turkey for dinner. Our daughter wanted the latter, but it caused My Lovely Wife some concern.

She was afraid, you see, of what might happen to that turkey sandwich as it sat all day in Senor Awesome's car in the 85-degree North Carolina sunshine. The fact it would be stored in a cooler with an ice pack didn't make her any happier.

By My Lovely Wife's way of thinking, somewhere between noon and 6:00pm, that innocent turkey and cheese sandwich could transform into a ZipLock bag full of raging salmonella capable of causing explosive diarhea, projectile vomiting, internal bleeding, collapsed lung, shingles, and twelve other symptoms never before documented by the Center for Disease Control.

I foolishly thought it would be okay. After all, when I was her age we didn't worry so much about these things.

I can't begin to count the times my tuna fish sandwich -- wrapped in wax paper and placed lovingly in a brown paper bag by my Mother -- would sit in my non-temperature-controlled high school locker until lunch time rolled around. By then, you could smell the mayonnaise halfway down the hallway and it had soaked through both layers of paper and greased up the cover of my social studies textbook. I could have sworn off tuna fish for the rest of my life, but my textbooks, notebooks, jackets and gym clothes would continue to carry that lingering Chicken of the Sea odor for the rest of the school year.

That's just the way it was. If you brought your lunch to school you ended up eating a room temperature sandwich, regardless of how much dairy product or meat or seafood went into the making of it. Tuna, bologna, peanut butter, cheese -- we didn't worry about food poisoning. We simply unwrapped it and ate it. Had we known to be more worried about contaminated food, it's very likely I would have tried faking a bout of E. Coli or campylobacter to go home early on days when there was a math test scheduled.

So, it isn't that I don't love Our Daughter. It isn't that I don't want to keep her protected from random food borne illnesses. It's just that I have a difficult time believing two slices of Boars Head smoked turkey breast and one slice of picante provolone sitting for a day in an insulated cooler with an ice pack the size of a brick could pose her any danger.

Under those conditions, my tuna fish sandwich could have lasted for days...

© 2012 Mark Feggeler

Friday, September 7, 2012

Drop 'Em and Move Along

You know when you're dropping your kids off to school in the morning?

Particularly when dropping off younger children to kindergarten, there's that special moment when you share high fives and words of encouragement. Maybe they need you to open the door for them and you steal one last hug before sending them on their way into the building for the day. It's one of those occasions when you realize you are standing in the middle of a precious memory. You want it to last forever. You wave them off as they scamper away, only to have the moment tainted by some impatient clock-watcher honking his horn and gesticulating wildly at you from inside his Honda minivan.

That clock-watcher is me.

I have three kids, the youngest of which will complete their elementary-level education experience at the end of the current school year. I understand what you people with younger kids are going through, but you really must find a way to understand that I don't care.

While you're standing outside your car trying desparately to cope with the fact your children have graduated from bouncy seats and diapers to backpacks and packed lunches, there's a line of cars three miles long choking the public streets for six blocks in every direction thanks to the fifteen-minute unloading ritual you've chosen to perform.

Take it from me, your kids will be fine. Stop the small talk, kick them out of your Explorer, and keep the line moving. There are things the rest of us would rather be doing.

Like showering. I'm a big fan of showering, especially on mornings when I'm sweaty from the 5:30am cycling class and smell like a combination of dirty socks, vinegar and garlic (or, as Our Daughter calls it, "old man funk"). I also enjoy eating breakfast, brushing my teeth, wearing clean clothes, going to the bathroom, and starting my workday, each of which now has to wait because your peripheral vision is so impaired you couldn't see the angry glares of every driver in line behind you.
And here's a helpful tip. Get your kid's stuff packed up before you leave for school.

School happens almost every weekday between September and June. The local school system hands out calendars -- free ones! -- so you can find out in advance on what days there will be school. You had days, weeks, possibly even months to prepare for this morning's drop off. So why, then, is your kid juggling loose school supplies and papers like his backpack just vomited?

Please, we don't want to hate you. You seem like a nice lady, and you clearly love your children, as evidenced by the fifth pat on the head you've given your son and the twelfth hug you've given your daughter. But for the love of all that's holy, drop 'em off and move along. I promise, they won't look any different when you pick them up seven hours from now.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler