Math for Rebels

Every day after school, ill-disguised dread creeps into my voice as I ask my 5th grade son, “So, what kind of math homework do you have today?”

I am the kind of person who still has regular, vivid nightmares about math class. My brain rebels against numbers like a sassy teenager to a helicopter parent. I learned there is a word for this problem, in its most extreme form: arithmophobia.

Lately, the arithmophobe’s nightmare is coming true. It’s not just long division that has been coming home to torture me. Like in the movie Monsters, Inc., sadistic teams have conspired to create my most ideally personalized “monster,” and deliver it to me daily in a shiny gray folder labeled “Mathematics.”

Now, kids have to learn a bunch of ALTERNATIVE ways to solve long division problems too. Things called partial quotients, and “ten-blocks” – techniques that have the nerve to demand that you ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND what you are computing on a visual and conceptual level.

I hear this has something to do with new common core standards. I am finding myself at an uncommon level of panic, seeing my A and B student come home with D’s.

“Um, mom, I can’t finish the homework -I just dropped my pencil down the crack in the floor,” Cal told me during an excruciating battle the other day with these “partial quotient” characters.

(Keep in mind, the setting for this battle is the dining room table we finally put back into our ripped-up kitchen, which has been under renovation for two months. Who needs running water and appliances, anyway?)

I found him a new pencil. Then he needed water. And a snack. And to check something in his backpack. And to get some fresh air. Then he tried to “drop” another pencil down the crack in the floor.

Finally, when I forced him to finish the two pages of 12-step problems, he got an idea. “I’m going to write a letter to whoever made up this math book….” He proceeded to dictate me his letter, creatively “bleeping” his way through a very expressive, although respectfully self-censored,” description of his frustration.

Then he went outside and played baseball.

While his teacher helps me work out a plan to stay on track and survive these daily battles, I am working on a math equation of my own: if a child has two pages of 12-step math problems per night, five nights per week for one month, how many bottles of wine will it take for his mother to survive it?

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