For to be free is not to merely cast off one's chains,
but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
- Nelson Mandela -

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Autonomous Maths

When I was thirteen years old, my maths teacher begged me to drop maths, and all other beta subjects. He even promised to up my marks so I would pass that year, on the condition that I swore an oath never to enter a maths class again. I was only too happy to oblige.
It wasn’t that I hated maths, maths just didn’t like me. It refused to enter into my brain. Sometimes it even refused to enter my ears. I can remember making an effort to listen to the teacher, try and read what he’d written on the blackboard, but my attempts invariably ended in me switching off and falling asleep.
Strangely enough I’ve never had the feeling that something essential was missing from my life. I got by, survived school, had lots of fun, saw a bit of the world, met loads of wonderful people, found a husband and a job and even made quite a career. I never had a problem earning enough money to live on and I never had a problem spending it.
Maybe, if I’d had maths, I’d have learned the perfect formula to quickly overcome or even avoid grief and obstacles and lead a happy, troublefree life. Maybe it would have taken me less time to work out that I’d be a happier mother working from home instead of away from home. Or maybe I’d have been able to calculate that my children would end up unhappy in school. I don’t know. Somehow, looking around me and seeing quite a few people who have had maths - some of them even excelled at it! - and are still struggling with their lives, I doubt it.
Having said that, Ken’s always told me how he enjoyed maths, physics and science. And something that can be enjoyed has a definite right to exist, wouldn’t you agree?
So, when I ended up home educating my children I realised that maths should be part of their lives and I should give them a chance to find out whether they enjoyed it or not. But how to present it to them?
I acquired loads of books. I love books and I know a zillion ways to acquire books without spending too much money. Also - bearing in mind Einstein’s wise words ‘Play is the highest form of research’ - I obtained, designed and made an equivalent amount of games. That alone was very educational as well as fun, not in the least for myself.
Then there was of course our every day life. If you think about it, not an hour in the day goes by without maths. We give and take, we buy and sell, we cook and bake, we divide and share, we multiply :0).
I had to learn to bite my lips every time one of the children asked a question starting with ‘how much...’ and encourage or help them to work it out for themselves. They had pocket money from a young age, they are actively involved in managing the household budget and I let them calculate, weigh and measure things when and wherever possible. Or I do it myself in a very exhibiting kind of way with a running commentary.
All three children seem to cope with maths in their own sweet way.
AL - having had traumatising experiences in school as well as having dyslectia - has picked up as little books as she could get away with. But she’s never had any trouble with adapting recipes to suit the amount of people, she shops and cooks for herself and manages to do that very well on her weekly allowance, and even has money left to buy cheap things in the sales, and for everything else she has a very good calculator.
When Owen was six his teacher in school told me that sadly, Owen didn’t even understand the basics of maths. Because when she’d shown him a matchbox with four beans in it and asked him how many beans were left after she’d taken two out, he hadn’t been able to come up with the answer. When I asked him later: “How much is four minus two?” he looked at me as if I was daft. “Two, of course.” “Well, why didn’t you say that when teacher asked you about the beans?”
“Mum! Then everybody would have known that teacher can’t do the simplest of sums!”
He too is a one for practical maths, although at times he likes to do the odd workbook. Because he says he wants to do some GCSE’s to be able to go to college, Ken’s been doing some proper sitting down and teaching maths with him. Fifteen minutes a day is the maximum time they can manage without ending up arguing. But on a Kielder day, working in the Birds of Prey Centre, Owen knows exactly how much each individual bird needs to be fed to be on an ideal flying weight (and that’s working with imperial measures, which is fairly new to Owen) and he can work the till without a problem. Ken had been trying to do percentages and fractions with him for nearly two weeks and it just seemed that Owen couldn’t be bothered. But then there was a sales on in the Games Workshop and guess what, Owen saw the percentages and knew exactly what the reduced prices were. How fractions work fell into place when we incorporated in into baking and sharing. And don’t underestimate the amount and the level of maths involved in a game of Lord of the Rings, another of Owens favourite passtimes.
Myrna - who’s never ever gone to school - has inherited Kens love for maths and science, I think. To my great relief the books I bought get used by her, her favourite ones being the workbooks with nothing but sums, where she can do her own correction. And she never cheats. She can also do all kinds of sums in her head. And she thinks about the logic of things. In a very lateral way. The other day I was taking her to singing lessons when she told me she’d discovered that if you take an odd number away from an even number, you always end up with an odd number. And when you add up two odd numbers you always get an even number. But if you add up two even numbers you also get an even number. And so on, and so on.
I stared at her, totally amazed. I’d never thought of that, but I realised it was true. When I asked her where she got that from, she answered: “From my head, of course.” And then it turned out she’d been listening to Ken and Owen working on fractions, because she continued to explain how they worked...
If we carry on like this we might actually get to the stage where maths and I start liking each other.
I mean, nobody said home education is for children only!


Ruth said...

Great post:)

Dawniy said...

connor thrives on maths too - less said about my maths ;-)
just dropping in to say hello xx

IndigoShirl said...

I was never any good at maths at school either - but it's amazing how I can work out the shopping budget down to the very last penny lol!

thenewstead5 said...

my maths teacher in Junior school had taught my brother - who is a "natural" with numbers. She felt that the only reason I wasn't as good as him must be because I was "lazy" and she made my life such a misery that to this day I freeze when someone gives me some maths to do! I spent ages, when we first deregistered, explaining to JJ how to do long division, only for him to point out that my answer didn't match the one in the book... guess I need the maths more than he does ;0)

Mieke said...

Thanks, Ruth!
Hi Dawniy, good to see you here :).
And, Indigoshirl, isn't that just the most important thing? We're not all meant to build bridges or computers or make aeroplanes fly...
Ann, ((hug)) I think what you need is to just let go of the maths. JJ will gladly help you if you ever really need them :)).