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




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.





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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