Dear Louis CK:
Okay, I’m a fan and I love your work. End of fawning admiration. I want to talk to you dad-to-dad about your daughter’s homework, the Common Core, and the fate of the world. Seriously, I do.
I’m sorry your daughter got a math homework assignment that was so confusing and led to discord in your tranquil home. I’ve been a math teacher for the past 30 years, and if your daughter had been in my class, I’m sure she would have come home with these types of assignments on a regular basis. It’s not that I want to torture your child or make you feel dumb. It’s just that part of the unspoken agreement between schools and parents is that children must get homework, and the more challenging it is, the better. This is because we’re currently in an educational era where teachers can get away with developmentally inappropriate assignments by citing the “fact” that we now have “high standards,” and that we’re trying to “challenge our students to do their best.”
This runs counter to the fact that homework has never been shown to be effective. If that isn’t bad enough, helping your child with homework does not lead to better long term outcomes. Sure, it may make you feel as if you are being a “good parent,” but there are lots of ways to be a good dad; unfortunately, getting involved in school just doesn’t happen to be one of them.
Let me cite my own personal history: I have a 22 year old daughter. When she was in elementary school, I took it upon myself to help her with her math homework. I mean, who would be better than a math teacher with an MS in elementary mathematics education? What could go wrong?
A lot, it turned out. First, as an “expert” on mathematics teaching, I was appalled at 90% of the homework that my daughter had to do. I frequently found it confusing, inappropriate and just plain dull. This did not endear me to my daughter or her teachers. Once, while I was attempting to help my kid with an activity that required her to order fractions, I was told that I didn’t know what I was talking about. This was followed by a door slam.
After several incidents like this, I finally waved the white flag and admitted defeat: imagine how humiliating it was to admit that the teacher who spent his days bringing great math to his students couldn’t do it with his own kid. At the same time, I had a realization: mathematics, despite its seeming neutrality, is the most emotional subject taught in school, for a variety of reasons. The most salient one is that it is the subject that we use to gauge our own intelligence. Other subjects, like language arts and social studies are “interpretive,” so there is certain amount of “wiggle room” when answering questions. By way of contrast, mathematics is about logic and process, and when you start engaging with your kid in these two domains, you’re asking for trouble.
My solution was to step down: I told my daughter that she should spend a reasonable amount of focused time doing her math homework, and if there were questions that were confusing or difficult, she would give it the old college try and then bring it into school. Her teachers were invariably understanding and she never felt singled out, as other kids in her class also found math confusing. It’s just the nature of mathematics: deal with it. If we tried to make it easier, it would no longer be mathematics.
Take my advice: let your kid do her math homework on her own, and if she finds it frustrating, tell her she’s most likely not alone, make her a nice cup of chamomile tea, sit on the couch and read a book together. That’s what good dads do.
Which brings me to the Common Core: I agree, the Common Core State Standards are idiotic, but not for the reasons you may think. My disagreement is more than the fact that they are vague, poorly written and inappropriate; my problem is that they will never accomplish what they claim. They will not create a new generation of new “college and career ready” children, they will not make them more likely to get good jobs, and they will not make them good citizens in this poorly functioning democracy. In fact, it will not lead to a great future for our kids, or for anybody else for that matter. This is because no matter whether CCSS sticks around or dies a slow death, the future for our children is going to suck, and when our grown children are fending off the marauding hordes and baking away during the 140º summers, the issue of the viability of the Common Core State Standards is going to be as relevant to our survival as the current size of a Kardashian butt.
The real danger of the CCSS is that it distracts us from the real problems of the world, which includes the plots hatched by mendacious assholes like the Koch Brothers who are busy polluting our environment, stripping away our basic rights and pushing poor slobs like us into financial ruin. The advocates of the CCSS have made lots of noise about “raising the bar” and all sorts of other nonsense relating to world competitiveness (which I have covered here), but in the end, it’s probably best to pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Seriously, speaking dad-to-dad, you’ve got better things to do with your time. Now would you get back to making us laugh?