A friend of mine told me today that forcing kids to memorize times tables (or any mathematical equations) is the equivalent of forcing someone to memorize an already completed crossword puzzle. Not only is it excruciatingly boring, but it takes all the fun, all the discovery & creativity out of the process.
He’s right, of course.
The biggest crime committed in schools today under the guise of “learning” is forcing reading and math on kids. Forcing them at ever younger ages to forgo their own interests and creativity for the drudgery of “have to’s”. Reading and math are at the forefront because they are the two subjects everyone thinks are of ultimate importance in an education. We unschoolers know this because it is the first question we are asked when we tell people that our kids learn without any sort of coercion or forced curriculum whatsoever. “But what about MATH?!” takes precedence, followed closely by “But how can they learn to READ?!”
I am not disputing the importance of reading and math. They are hugely important tools, used sometimes for practical matters and other times for sheer pleasure.
Because of that, kids should never be forced to learn either of them.
That’s right. Forcing a kid to learn to read before he is ready is the surest way to kill a love of reading. Oh, he’ll learn how, but odds are he’ll hate it. Why do you think that, according to a study by the Jenkins Group in 2003, 42% of college grads never read another book? NEVER. 80% of U.S. households did not buy or read a book in 2002 (the year before the study was done.) 57% of all books purchased are never finished. 1/3 of all high school grads never read another book in their lives. (And of those that do, some do so in college & then become part of that 42% statistic.)
Appalling? Well, considering how more and more kids have reading shoved down their throats and are made to feel stupid if they can’t “keep up” with their peers, I’m surprised the numbers aren’t higher. And maybe in 15-20 years they will be much higher, once graduates of the Common Core get out of school.
And then there’s Math. Math is one of nature’s miracles. It is everywhere, all around us. A fact which I am just now discovering, 20+ years after leaving school. I hated math classes. I hated the fact that getting the right answer wasn’t enough – you had to do the equation the “right” way. What baloney! My physicist friend shakes his head when we talk about these things. Great discoveries in mathematics often come from people who think about it in very unconventional ways. But in school there is always only one correct way to do anything. Equations might as well be set in stone.
One time a few years ago my son told me a story. In school it would have been called a “story problem”. He said that if you had 10 friends and they all gave you a birthday present every year that you lived, if you lived to be 90 you’d have 900 presents. He stated this in a rather matter of fact way one morning as we were waiting to get on the elevator in our building. He was 5 years old at the time and had never done a math problem in a workbook; didn’t know how to use a calculator and certainly had never “practiced” multiplication. I asked him how he knew, and he launched into an explanation that I couldn’t follow. But it made perfect sense to him, and I wasn’t about to dispute it.
This is discovering “math” and it is exactly the type of thing that is discouraged in schools and for which programs like the Common Core have no use.
It is such a shame that in our relentless quest for higher test scores we are losing what little joy was left in learning. Reading has become just another painful task that must be mastered in order to get a good score on a piece of paper. It contains no beauty or wonder.
Math is just a bunch of numbers on a page, often learned by rote and with no practical application or connection to life beyond the test.
We are creating a world where all kids learn to do is memorize already solved crossword puzzles.
Which gives us one more reason to support and advocate for unschooling. The love of reading and math may depend upon it.