I have noticed that many home educators, as well as those who write books about home education and set up as experts on the subject, view education in a strictly utilitarian fashion; that is to say in terms of what a child will need in day to day life. Mathematics should be about weighing the ingredients for a cake or calculating the change when shopping, history should be about their family tree, geography; the streets around the child’s home. It puts one in mind of the Victorian industrial schools, whose only aim was to provide children with a rudimentary education, sufficient to fit them out for their station in life, which was usually a pretty lowly one.

On one of the larger home education lists, discussion has been taking place which sums up this awful attitude, a frame of mind practically guaranteed to stunt a child’s intellectual development. The subject is ‘higher maths’, by which those contributing to the debate evidently mean anything at all above the most common arithmetic. Here is one of the more influential figures in British home education, expressing his views on the subject:

*As to higher maths, yes a handful of people do need this stuff but do we*

*really need to make so many kids lives a misery forcing them to learn so*

*much stuff that they have neither the interest or aptitude and which even if*

*the schools do manage to drill it into them they will instantly forget?*

*simple geometry, even the stats I've needed for research is easily covered*

*by the more basic stuff done at GCSE. I've never quite followed why kids are supposed to need the rest of it.*

Notice that key word, ‘need’. Why would you teach a child about the wonders of mathematics, the beauty of sonnets and so on unless the kid actually ‘needed’ it. As I say, a utilitarian approach to education which would have delighted Mr Gradgrind from

*Hard Times*! Others go on to speculate that it is all a dodge by the schools, either to ‘stratify’ the children or to keep them occupied at school. The idea that any mathematics beyond basic arithmetic could be exciting for a child is absolutely impossible for these people to appreciate. This means that their children will probably never learn about the Fibonacci Sequence, which shows the arrangement of leaves on a plant stem, the generations of breeding rabbits and many other features of the natural world. They will never wonder at the idea of imaginary numbers; i, the square root of -1. Nor presumably will they be introducing their children to the marvellous realm of calculus. None of this is ’needed’ and so may be dispensed with. They make them learn this boring stuff at school, why should we do it at home?

It is not, as regular readers will know, my habit to be rude about other people, especially home educators, but these people really deserve to be tied to stakes and pelted with stinking offal and old vegetables. Their idiocy is not only blighting their own lives, but also harming those of their children.

Let me tell a couple of anecdotes about my daughter’s education and how mathematics formed an important part of it. When I taught her to calculate the area of a square by multiplying the sides, she asked me how you could work out the area of a circle, since it didn’t have any sides. There were two ways to proceed. If I had adopted the view of those who want the teaching of mathematics to stop at the simple level and to avoid higher mathematics, then I could have given her the formula for the area of a circle and left it at that. Why on earth would I have done that? It would have been meaningless and dry. Instead, I got her to draw a large circle on a sheet of paper and then cut it out. I then told her to cut the circle into long, narrow strips. Kids of eight always like things like this which involve using their mother’s razor sharp kitchen scissors, which were normally a forbidden item.

We then took the narrow strips of the circle, cut them all in half and arranged them in a rectangle. Then we measured the sides of it and multiplied them, to give the area of the original circle. This intrigued her and led to a long discussion in which she correctly suggested that the narrower the strips had been, the more accurate would be the area that we worked out in this way. Oh, look! An eight year-old child has, with a little guidance, come up with the idea of calculus! Other experiments consisted of measuring the volume of a curved vase by filling it with marbles and then filling it with sand. Obviously, if you used infinitely small grains, you could produce an accurate measurement of the volume. All these enjoyable activities laid the grounds for her later learning of calculus. Of course, she didn’t ’need’ to know about calculus at eight, but the experiments had started her interest. I bought her the relevant

*Murderous Maths*book and she soon knew more about the matter than I did myself. At twelve, I bought her a book on calculus and she taught herself the whole thing.

Here is another example. When I explained to her about right angle triangles, she found the topic boring. What possible use was all this stuff? We made a gadget out of a ruler and protractor which enabled us to measure angles of inclination. I then offered to help her measure the height of a tall tree near our home. She was incredulous. We simply measured the length of the shadow by pacing, found the angle from the end of the shadow to the top of the tree, used Pythagoras and Bob’s your uncle. Of course, She has never ’needed’ to do this, but it certainly gave her an insight into mathematics and was also a lot of fun.

There is no doubt that it is possible to make any subject boring for children, whether it is higher mathematics or history. What many home educators seem to say is something along the lines of, ’I was bored at school by this subject and so I shall avoid doing it with my child.’ They might instead say, ’I was bored by this subject at school and so I shall work out new and exciting ways to make it interesting and enjoyable for my own child.’

That might have been a good and inspiring post if you'd managed to avoid the seemingly inevitable sides swipes at other other home educators. Sadly it's just left a nasty taste in my mouth.

ReplyDeleteDo you still maintain that some mystery person is forwarding all list messages to you from a list you were banned from? And they've done this for years? It seems a bit of a contorted approach to reading the list. Why not just sign up with a different email list? But I suppose if you did that your frequent claims that you always use your own name on the internet might be questioned. Though I can see little effective difference between either approach since you are effectively a member of the list under your forwarders email address.

ReplyDeleteInteresting to observe that the two people commenting above are unwilling or, more probably, unable to discuss home education. One wonders what their purpose is in coming onto this blog if they do not wish to consider or debate this subject!

ReplyDeleteThey commented on the content of your blog post which seems typical behavior for blogs. If you don't want particular topics to be discussed I'd advise against raising them in your articles.

DeleteIts hard to comment on the content of your posts when you are forever making digs at other home educators.

DeletePerhaps the way you phrase your posts could be the problem.

So, about the content of your post, rather than making digs about people on lists, you could simply refer to the fact that some people are less than enthusiastic about taking their child through higher maths. Even in schools there are teachers who wont teach higher to some kids as they assume the kids will never use it, its not all about HE.

We didn't do higher with my dd because she hated it, and there was no point tormenting her further, sometimes its really not worth the struggle. Not everyone will love all subjects, regardless of how interesting someone tries to make it.

'They commented on the content of your blog post which seems typical behavior for blogs. If you don't want particular topics to be discussed I'd advise against raising them in your articles.'

ReplyDeleteAh, I see what you mean. I had supposed that I was writing a post about home education, with particular reference to the teaching of higher mathematics. You, and apparently the other two people commenting today, formed quite a different impression of the subject of the post. I must apologise for not making myself clearer.

Satisfy my curiosity, because I am now intrigued about this. What did you think the topic upon which I was writing was, if not home education and the teaching of higher mathematics?

Satisfy my curiosity, because I am now intrigued about this. What did you think the topic upon which I was writing was, if not home education and the teaching of higher mathematics?"

DeleteI would say that the topics of the post included math, home education, theories about how some home educators view math, books about home education and the discussions held by other home educators about the teaching of math. I hadn't realized that comments were required to cover everything mentioned in the article and would be marked down if we failed to do so. I'll try to do better next time.

Personally, it seems you are finding ways to criticize others personal decisions to teach/or not teach a certain way. Especially it seems, if the way differs from your own approach.

DeleteA majority of your posts are criticizing someone, that 'someone' changes with every post. Whilst higher math and HE formed part of your argument, you seemed to be using these as sub-topics to make your main point (which seems to be about being unable to understand why HE parents cant captivate their children in the ways you did, and why they settle for foundation math)

Sometims the best thing a parent can do is to employ someone else, or find a group where the subject is taught in a more inspiring way. Most HE parents have certain areas about which they are more infectiously enthusiastic than others. We were lucky in that we could always find friends who loved the things we didn't.

ReplyDeleteSad to say, Maths was one of those things I just could not get excited about. It all worked out in the end though.

'I hadn't realized that comments were required to cover everything mentioned in the article and would be marked down if we failed to do so. I'll try to do better next time'

ReplyDeleteMy we're touchy today! I suppose by your definition, the first comment might be said to be relevant, but I am still doubtful about the second. Perhaps it would have been more accurate for me to assert that half of those commenting are unwilling to discuss home education? You seem yourself to suffer from this same, curious reluctance; one is bound to ask why those who don't wish to talk about home education would be commenting on a blog concerned with home education!

Now tell me, three times in this comment you use the abbreviation 'math' instead of the more usual English expression 'maths'. Once could have been a typo, but three times suggests not. Are you American or Canadian?

" Now tell me, three times in this comment you use the abbreviation 'math' instead of the more usual English expression 'maths'. Once could have been a typo, but three times suggests not. Are you American or Canadian?"

DeleteYou feel into my trap! :-)

No, I'm English, but what has my nationality got to do with my comment or the blog article? Do the 'rules' only apply to commenters?

Ah, but did you teach the lovely and fragrant daughter about the Golden Section?

ReplyDeleteA

It is unlikely that she would have been able fully to appreciate the great works of western art without this!

ReplyDelete"make so many kids lives a misery forcing them to learn"

ReplyDeleteThat's the main problem. Maths = fun. That was one of my biggest issues with my girls' school. We decided to do some practice SATs papers for fun, their dad mentioned this to the teachers and I got accused of putting too much pressure on the kids. Would they have said the same thing if I'd bought them a puzzle book? No. I'm nowhere near being a tiger mum, they weren't forced to do that or the other maths 'work' we do at home.

When I'm showing the kids how to cook something, it's a few tablespoon of this, a cup full of that, a dash of something else. You don't need exact numbers to cook, it's more about using the senses, and I don't own scales so that's very, very basic maths being used.

Then with calculators, you don't even *need* to teach them to add, so what's the point?

"Here is another example. When I explained to her about right angle triangles, she found the topic boring. What possible use was all this stuff? We made a gadget out of a ruler and protractor which enabled us to measure angles of inclination. I then offered to help her measure the height of a tall tree near our home. She was incredulous."

ReplyDeleteIsn't that a utilitarian approach? Look, learning about right angles triangle is useful/interesting because you can do this with it. Much as some people use a child's love of cooking to show them that division, multiplication fractions, etc. have practical uses.