about math

So I've been looking at all these different math curricula, trying to choose one for Colin (and possibly Marky). The Well-Trained Mind suggests several as good choices, and one of them is A Beka.

I was taught A Beka math in elementary school. And I hated it. HATED. IT. But just in the past few years I've realized that it's not the curriculum that's to blame. As I was reading Susan Wise Bauer's assessment of it, she mentioned as a point in its favor that it uses lots and lots of drill. Meh, I thought, That doesn't sound like a point in its favor to me.

And then it hit me. Drill is supposed to be for practice. Drill is supposed to be for practice.

See, at my elementary school, they didn't offer speed drills for practice. They administered them as tests. And graded them as such. And sent them home with students for parents to sign off on. And I was punished for bad grades (because I'd tested as gifted, you see, and so if I brought home bad grades I just must not have been trying hard enough, and by God I was going to receive some serious motivation to try harder).

So every time we had a speed drill, here's what would happen: The teacher would pass out the "test." She would start the timer. I would tackle the first problem and if the answer didn't immediately pop into my head, I'd start thinking about how I couldn't possibly finish in time, and I was going to make another bad grade, and then I would have to take it home and get a spanking (with a BELT) and I'd get nauseated with fear and frustration, and then any chance I had of concentrating would really be gone.

So my school's egregious misadministration of the curriculum plus my parents', ah, ill-advised policy of punishing me when I didn't perform up to expectations created a nice little perfect storm of math frustration for me. It was awful, and crippling. Even though I consistently hit the 97th percentile or so on standardized math tests, I didn't cease to fear math until college, and by then it was too late for me.

I'm not sure why I'm even blogging about this. Catharsis, I suppose. Elementary school math was over 20 years ago and I still had tears in my eyes while writing parts of this account. It was just all so damned unnecessary.

One lesson I sure as heck did learn. No matter what math curriculum-- or any subject curriculum-- we end up using, terror is not going to form any part of our encouraging our children to academic endeavor. I'm praying for deliverance from this. It's a hard slog. I just hope I can show more grace to my own children than was shown to me.


M. Robert Turnage said...

Mathmatics, especially at the elemenatary school level, uses two completely different areas of the brain. One of them is the conceptual area where you probe the deeper meanings, seeking to understand the concepts. The other is wrote memorization.

So after sitting through sessions in third grade where you realize that multiplication is a hyper-form of addition, and 3 times 4 means there are four sets of three and 3+3+3+3 = 3x4 = 12.

Then you are asked to ignore all of the conceptual information and just memorize your times tables so you can answer 100 times questions in three minutes or less.

I suppose this method helps people realize if they are conceptual thinkers or memorize/regurgitators so they can use this insight to determine some sort of future profession, but in actuality, it ususally makes people hate math.

Hairline Fracture said...

Oh, Sherri, how awful that you had to go through that. I hated those timed tests too (we didn't have ABeka, but A.C.E.--which also had timed drills you had to get a certain time on before you could go on.) I used to get knots in my stomach, and always hated math, even without the spankings. You are so right. Terror should have no part in education.

Kimberly said...

I didn't get spankings. I got "talked to" about how I needed to "try harder" because I was "given a good brain" and it was somehow a mark of an unregenerate self to not give 100%.


Hated math, too. I don't think it was the drills though. I have no memory of elementary school math except that three of us were too far beyond the seventh grade math, so we were allowed to do eighth grade work on our own. Of course the other two girls were very competitive and I couldn't stand it. So I stopped trying.

Math seems to be the single biggest sticking point for home education. Probably because most of the parents don't have a great foundation.

Julia said...

I too did A Beka through elementary school (also at a Christian school) and I too hated it. I thought it was so boring and repetitive and dull, and I thought of myself as a verbal/writing person who did not like math. When I got to algebra, the whole world of math changed for me and I discovered that in fact I loved it. I don't know if it was the subject changing from something concrete to something more abstract or if it was the method (I started homeschooling about then) but wow, it was different. When I was homeschooled, we used Saxon math textbooks (are they still out there?) and I just loved them.

Recovering Sociopath said...

Saxon is indeed still out there, and also highly recommended by many home school types. I used Saxon in public school in 8th grade (good old Algebra 1), and it was significantly better.

happygeek said...

When I taught in Texas I used A Beka for second grade. I found it needed a fair bit of supplementation to bring in manipulatives and such to better explain the concepts, but the drills are good to help students get comfortable doing mental math quickly.
On another note, I'm a math idiot. I'm good at all the other stuff though. I could (and did) spnd 2-3 times as much time on studiyng and practicing regular math as I did on my AP English and History and I passed High school math only by the grace of God and a very patient teacher while I scored in the high nineties in the other two.
I was very blessed to have parents who recognized my effort and praised that more than my achievements. They had little tolerance for laziness, but punishments were usually in the form of more practice or removal of privielges until greater effort was evidenced at home, not necessarily in the grade achieved.
I'm hoping that I am as wise as them with my boys.

Robin T said...

I have no idea what kind of math I did in elementary school, but I have very vivid memories of 3rd grade multiplication table drills, and having to go up to the board and write a number, say 6, in the middle of a circle, then go around the circle of random numbers 1-10 and give the answer. I have hated math, and public speaking, ever since being the last person in the class to complete my wheels! on the last day of 3rd grade!

Mary-LUE said...

How're you feeling about things a couple of weeks out?

Beck said...

Your parents would beat you if you didn't do well on your math tests?
I am horrified to hear that.

We're using Singapore math. Neither of my kids likes much repetition and they're both quite good in math, in their casual, let's-not-work-too-hard-now sorta way. So I think - I hope - it will work well for us.