Friday, April 21, 2006

So Red Eft,

how are you and your 44-year-old muscles getting on in karate class, heh heh?

Glad you asked. We (my muscles and I) got our yellow belt tonight. We are feeling good! We can do 20 push-ups now (no, not on the knees, shame on you for doubting).

My secrets: castor oil baths (rub it on, soak in hot tub), lots of stretching, and of course: a positive attitude.

I'm going to go have a soak right now and read Joyce Carol Oates' book on boxing, or maybe the jujitsu handbook I got out of the library, or maybe The Myth of Ability, a book about awakening children's love of mathematics, but that's sort of changing the subject, but who cares, blog writing is famous for darting on to the next topic.

We have a math tutor in our lives now that we adore. She says I'm unusual. I told her: I don't give a shit about tests. I want my kids to love math, to fall in love with its aesthetic beauty, its order and mystery. Math should be fun. Do whatever you have to, but make it fun. She meets with my son and a 10-year-old girl, also homeschooled, sometimes with my son and me, or with him and my daughter and me, and we always have fun. I have learned things that I never thought about before about the most basic operations.

For example, did it ever occur to you that subtraction can be about two different things? It can be about 'taking away', as when you have 12 millet muffins and give 3 of them to a friend and are left with 9, or it can be about the distance between two things, as when you are at 59th street and have to walk 4 blocks to get to 63rd street. That really blows my mind.

Guess what? When I was learning math in grade school, it wasn't fun. Big surprise. It was dreadful. Malpractice! Really, you should be able to sue those awful institutions of anti-learning.

Lucky me, I get to have a second childhood in which I'm good at karate, I can hula hoop for longer than I ever could as a kid, I've learned to throw a frisbee thanks to tips I found on the internet, and math is finally fun.


Udge said...

I'm enviously admiring your second childhood. There is progress and fairness in the world after all!

Yes, math (and everything else for that matter) could and should be fun, and yes it usually isn't. The problem as I see it is that schools are not in the business of arousing curiosity and thoughtfulness in children, but of (a) teaching them punctuallity and obedience, and (b) cramming them full of facts for passing standardized tests with. It's a very tricky issue and I don't know what I would do if I had kids. There is a separate (fee-paying) system called Waldorf Schools here in Germany, where kids "do whatever they want whenever they want". I have yet to see convincing statistical analysis that correlates Waldorfism more highly to artistic talent and personal contentment, than to being a neonazi thug. Anyway, that's not what I started out to say.

Good for you, and for the kids. That was the point.

red eft said...

I agree with your (a) and (b), udge. Also, with math you have to be fast on your feet as a tutor, because students get bored. You have to be able to circulate among many skills and activities to build the bonds that make a fluent mathematician, I think. School doesn't allow the flexibility for that.

Waldorf schools here, in my experience, tend to attract families that would identify themselves as artsy and/or spiritual rather than militaristic, but I'm curious about Germany. Here, Waldorf kids don't "do whatever they want whenever they want." The Sudbury schools come closer to that. U.S. Waldorf schools are sometimes criticized for being too rigid, but I imagine they vary greatly.

If you had kids, in my opinion they'd be lucky.