Two things are guaranteed to make me feel as though my IQ is plummeting in inverse proportion to my age.
First and foremost: any kind of tech snafu — frozen smartphone, unresponsive software, a confusing TV remote. But the second situation that pushes me into the agonizing quagmire of self-doubt might surprise you.
My grandchildren’s homework.
Sometimes I supervise workbook problems that make absolutely no sense to me. And I have a college degree. I graduated in the top 1 percent of my high school class. I was considered…OK, enough of the credentials that get you nowhere.
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Like any parent, I have extensive experience in feeling small, but that was when my children were taking Calculus BC or some such upper level course. My oldest granddaughters, however, are 6 and 8. They’re in first and second grades, for Pete’s sake.
The other Saturday, I volunteered to help the first-grader on a problem she couldn’t figure out. Sure, it’s been more than half a century since I learned about ones, tens and hundreds— but, really, how hard can the mathematical concept of place values be?
Well. Well, well, well. I couldn’t even figure out what was being asked. So I called The Hubby over to help. He read over the problem, then turned to me with a glazed look.
“Huh?” he grunted.
Our first-grader went on to complete both worksheets, except for that one confounding question. I was as frustrated as she was, and as befuddled. I kept thinking: Why make a simple addition problem so complicated?
Days later a friend, who happens to be an educator, told me parents’ complaints about homework had reached a fevered peak at her school in the past couple of years, a revelation I found disturbing. Homework hassles have been around forever, a daily rite most families endure, so I suspected it had to be some educational tidal force that had worsened the situation.
It was. In my state we’ve been implementing the Florida Standards, our version of the Common Core curriculum. The idea is to hold students to higher expectations, to prepare the workforce of the future with critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Laudable. Of course I want us to be able to compete with the Chinese, the Indians, the Norwegians, the Germans. But I still can’t figure out the dang question asked of the 6-year-old.
I’m hardly alone in this. Google the topic and you’ll find piece after piece by parents trying to figure out how to help their kids with Common Core-inspired homework. One father wrote a hilarious letter on his child’s workbook that read, in part:
"Don’t feel bad. I have a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electronics Engineering, which included extensive study in differential equations and other higher math applications. Even I cannot explain the Common Core mathematics approach, nor get the answer correct. In the real world, simplification is valued over complication…The process used is ridiculous and would result in termination if used."
Maybe there’s a silver lining in all this (imagines the ever-hopeful grandmother), maybe there’s an unintended lesson, too, which is for us adults to back off from kids’ work. Let the children figure it out on their own. Let them struggle. They may not be able to answer that one inscrutable question, but surely they’ll learn perseverance and diligence in the process.
In the end, true, consistent effort builds character long after whole language, new math, Sunshine Standards and other educational trends have passed.