Carrying the One

Tree Killing Math

“Working on your Spanish homework,” I asked my 7th grade daughter the other day, as I looked down at the unfamiliar combination of letters on the paper.

“It’s my math homework, dad,” she said, with one of those distinctive eye rolls that girls her age are known for.

Since when did math homework start looking like Spanish homework, I thought to myself?

While it’s been some time since I’ve been able to help my kids conquer their homework, I do occasionally offer my wisdom and guidance to them. Both of my children know, however, that my “wisdom” and “guidance” can be misleading.

A perfect example of this occurred a few weeks ago when my 4th grade son was tasked with solving a long division problem. As a child in the 1980’s, long division was my forte. So, as I began working on the problem, slowly covering the entire length of the loose-leaf paper, he made sure to point out to me the mounting concern that began covering his face. Undeterred, I continued to prove to him that my math skills were still relevant.

Eleven minutes later, I had solved the problem.

“Yeah, dad,” he said. “I don’t know what you did, but that took forever.”

“It’s long division,” I said. “It’s supposed to take forever.”

He then showed me the modern way of solving long division problems. After roughly 42 seconds, (and using only 1.2% of the piece of paper) he produced the same answer it took me eleven minutes to solve.

“Huh,” I said.

He then went off into a statistical thesis about what he did with remainders and stuff, while I stared at him, dumbfounded.

These days, as my kids gather around the dining room table to complete their math homework each night, I am relegated to doing the dishes or cleaning the kitty litter box. Every once in a while, though, I will get an urgent request from one of them.

“I need your help with my math homework,” I overheard my daughter say one afternoon. Sensing that this was my chance to finally help one of them out of a math bind, I bounded up the stairs and proclaimed that I was ready!

My daughter looked up from her phone and it was then that I realized she wasn’t asking me for help. She was asking her classmate for assistance, via Facetime. Her friend threw out some words that may as well have been Spanish and before you know it, the answer was provided. In truth, my daughter was just getting a consult and had the answer all along.

Sensing that I was feeling dejected, my son maintained that I was still a valuable component to their futures.

“We need you dad,” he said. “I can’t drive myself to basketball practice and the cat can’t scoop her own poop.”

He had a point. Still, I feel sad knowing I’ll never again impress them with my ability to carry the one.

One thought on “Carrying the One”

  1. Hah! You were probably born too late to have encountered the “New Math,” the education industry’s attempt to prevent American parents from helping their kids with arithmetic in the early 1960s. The brilliant Tom Lehrer explains it all right here: You may find the experience . . . oddly familiar.


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