The New Math

‘Mom! I learned a new skill in math today,’ the Gort announced excitedly as he ingested a slice of pizza last Wednesday. ‘Sr. Diego taught us a new skill and it’s better than the skill you taught me – which is to break it down.’

Yes, I may have tried my un-pedagogical hand at teaching the Gort to break ‘difficult’ math problems down into manageable chunks. Like, for example, if you’re adding 12+12 and that seems too difficult, break the second 12 down and add 12+3+3+3+3 instead. [Clearly I missed my calling by not becoming a teacher.]

‘Oh yeah, what’s the ‘skill”, I asked, chuckling at his dig about my ‘inferior’ skill.

So the seven year old grabs a piece of paper. And writes 77 at the top. Followed by a + sign on the next line. Followed by some sort of line with a line sticking out of it.

‘What is that,’ I ask, pointing to his seemingly invented number.

‘It’s a 1,’ he replies. As though I’d just asked the world’s dumbest question.

‘That’s not a one,’ I insist.

‘Yes it is – it’s a straight line and then there’s another little line off to the side,’ he retraces his backwards 1.

‘The little line should be on the other side,’ I remind and wait for comprehension to sink in.

‘Oh, yeah, okay anyway. So you take

      77

+1

_____

There’s nothing under that first 7, so you know it has to be 7. And then you add the 7 and the 1 and you get 8.

      77

+1

    ____

   87

He shines as if, with this discovery, he has elevated himself to Stephen Hawking territory.

I see immediately that he’s put the 1 under the wrong 7, hence the error. And I’m torn because he’s so excited. And so wrong. And he more or less called my very useful break-it-down skill inferior to this add-stuff-up-entirely-incorrectly skill. ‘Seventy-seven plus one is not eighty-seven,’ I do my best to suppress the laughter threatening to ruin me in the eyes of my child. The funny thing is, if you’d asked the Gort point blank: ‘what’s 77 plus 1.’ He would have said 78 without hesitation. But somehow, with a newfangled tool at his disposal, it turned into 87.

‘Yes it is,’ he insists. Outraged by my inability to comprehend the new math. I try it in Spanish, thinking maybe that would help shed some light on the problem at hand. ‘Setenta y siete mas uno es igual a setenta y ocho…no es ochenta y siete.’

I sputter, hoping I haven’t screwed up the numbers and thoroughly ruined this ‘teachable’ moment.

Eventually he sees – whether due to the bad Spanish, or my impatient hand gesturing towards the misplaced 1 – that he is incorrect. This time. And all is well.

But not before a substantial amount of aggravation is expended on either side. Each of us certain the other has a below average IQ.

 

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