our kitchen table is our chalkboard |

Succumbing to the occasional loss of confidence in “un-schooling” is par for the course. I have been somewhat consistently, in an erratic sort of way, trying to get my two younger children to do a bit of math every day. In part, it is the fact that they must take standardized tests every Spring in New York State. (Either that or present a portfolio of work and a report signed by an official teacher or something like that) I hate to think that they might miss getting a math problem right simply because they have never heard the word “dividend” for example. So we sit down at our slate kitchen table and pull out the Saxon math book. I crack it open to our marked place (which doesn’t necessarily change very often) and we each choose a color of chalk. Next, I present them with a concept or remind them of whatever we were struggling with last time. Recently, we were trying to grasp the concept of rates, as in ratios. Math is not my strongest suite, so part of our routine is to close the door to the office where my husband is working. If he overhears us, he often feels compelled to come sweeping in with “clearer” methods of explaining. The problem with that is that as soon as the two children are presented with the spectacle of two adults trying to get them to understand something, they sort of shut down and get tense and apprehensive about why this subject is suddenly so important.

So, the door shut, I do my best to explain rates. My daughter tries to follow along. My son is less trusting. His face looks almost resentful. Perhaps he is afraid of not understanding this? He has seemed deeply mathematical to me over the years, including figures and speeds and sizes in stories since he was tiny, He can quickly grasp math concepts and also will labor for a long time on calculations in his head and come up with the right answer. Yet, he insists that he hates math. Is it that he hates math if it has to be written down and read? Does it relate to his vision issue? We struggle on with rates, working out how to write the two rates implied by the statement: Marco Polo bought 40 skins for 8 liras. (Skins? liras?) I wonder about why the rates can be written with either number on top or bottom, but I try to keep this worry to myself. The one problem wears out all of our stamina, and we agree to desist. We all wander off to other things.

Later that afternoon, my son is engrossed at the computer working with a music editing program called Garage Band. I am working on planting seedlings in the next room. He calls out, “Mom, if there are 60 seconds in a minute, how many seconds would there be in 5 minutes?” And before I can answer, he replies to himself out loud, “Oh, there would be …120…240, 300, right?” I assure him he is right. And I go back to planting thinking that maybe the un-schooling thing is more reliable after all.

This goes to the “mastery of precision” that I was discussing in my recent post. How one gets there…that is the question.