Sunday, November 27, 2005

Just Do It

As I pointed out recently on Jenny D’s blog, I’ve been very lucky thus far, in that I’ve been able to keep up with my fourth grade daughter’s math homework. However, I fear those days are rapidly coming to an end.

A few weeks ago, she brought home a multiple choice test that asked her to identify equations displaying “commutative properties” of mathematics. I suggested she select a pair of multiplication problems, something like 5 X 7, and 7 X 5, which happily turned out to be correct.

I have to question the need for her to know that term. I’m admittedly not good at math, not interested in math, and very grateful I no longer have to study it. But I don’t feel my quality of life has been markedly damaged by my unfamiliarity with that term. The concept, to anyone schooled in basic arithmetic, is obvious.

As an English teacher, I have to suppose that many Americans don’t know what present progressive or future perfect means, yet manage to speak perfectly. Many can even write with clarity and precision, despite our best efforts to churn out automatons who do nothing but five-paragraph compositions.

On the other hand, I’ve had hundreds of foreign students who could name the grammar terms backward and forward, but could not speak.

I figure if you’re not a teacher, you don’t need the terminology. You just need to know how to do whatever it is you need to do. We’ve got it backwards—which is why so many of us have studied Spanish but couldn’t speak it to save our lives.
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