“Haven’t I just paid teachers to do this?”

By LISA HUDSON STUMP Calkins Media, Inc.

October 20, 2011

The elementary school just sent a letter home saying I need to teach my child math. I have to teach her the multiplication tables for 10-plus minutes every night until she learns them. There hasn’t been enough time for this in class. Not in first, second, third or fourth grade.

I was balancing my checkbook when I read it. My school tax bill was a budget buster so I thought, “Haven’t I just paid teachers to do this?”

I am committed to helping my kids excel at school. I do sight words and math flash cards. I read to the little ones every night. I have logged 10,000 kitchen table homework help hours by now. Their dad has, too. Our kids are good students and we like to think we do our part.

A parent-child relationship is different from a teacher-student one. My first kindergartner came home, ate a snack, disappeared and then scurried back to the kitchen with a ditto sheet, pencil and red crayon ALL ON HIS OWN, so he could trace dot-to-dot A’s and color an apple because the teacher said so. And he actually wanted to please her and did a great job!

He did it the very same day we spent a half hour arguing about breakfast. Go figure. I almost picked up the phone and invited that teacher over for breakfast the next morning.

My children are taught by wonderful, dedicated teachers. I give these professionals all the credit in the world. I can’t teach so I pay school taxes so educators can teach. Why aren’t they given enough time to teach basic math?

Who designed the math curriculum? I want to speak to this math Einstein about the choices he made for my kids. Why isn’t intensive focus on addition, subtraction and multiplication early in elementary school Arithmetic Priority One? Who decided that parents could just pick up the slack a few years later so teachers could roll right into lessons about fractions now?

I worry about our high school students in the fast food drive-thru window who cannot make change for a dollar without an electronic cash register. If those teens haven’t mastered addition and subtraction by the time they are in high school, we shouldn’t have ever started teaching fractions or multiplication to them. Multiplication is harder, and those kids needed more basic math instruction back in elementary school. It’s too late for them now.

Don’t tell me these kids’ parents dropped the ball and didn’t help teach them to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Parents don’t have the training and talent for this. My children cried because I don’t know how to explain the new math the same way teachers do in class. I learned the crappy old-fashioned math and I don’t have the New Math Teacher’s Manual. Does anybody know where to get one so I can learn how to teach my child multiplication facts the modern way?

Parents work full time at other jobs to pay a professional educator to teach arithmetic.

Having parents handle crucial math instruction is a recipe for disaster and it’s ludicrous to ask parents to do it. I’m sure the math curriculum designer was paid well to figure out how to get it done in school. I really don’t care when and how it’s done. Just do it before our children apply for jobs requiring basic math skills. Please.

Why hasn’t enough math instruction time been built into the elementary school day? Why are we using a curriculum that might allow our kids to graduate without being able to make change for a dollar when the cash register isn’t working? How can we send our high school graduates to college if they need to think for five seconds before figuring out that 7 times 8 equals 56?

I learned that multiplication math fact at age 8 because a professionally certified teacher taught it to me in public school. When I have age-related dementia I will still know that 7 times 8 equals 56, even when I have forgotten darned-near everything else.

My parents treated me to ice cream when I learned my multiplication tables, but that was the extent of it. They were taxpayers, not educators.

Guess I will just buckle down now with the other parents and research how to teach multiplication to children. We don’t want our kids to look like fools when they are old enough to enter the working world and don’t have basic math skills.

**Lisa Hudson Stump**, Lower Makefield, has three children in the Pennsbury School District.