Just Do the Math, by David Albert

A group of homeschooling mothers gathered together in a circle to discuss unschooling approaches to their children’s education.

 “Not possible,” homeschool mom proclaimed glumly, shaking her head.

 I had just explained how the Sudbury Valley School – a democratically managed, child-directed learning environment that has been around for almost 40 years – has demonstrated repeatedly that a child could learn math – all of it grades K through 12 – in eight weeks. Average (if there is such a thing), normal (never met one), healthy children, hundreds of them, learned it all, leading to admissions to some of the leading colleges and universities in the nation.

 “Must be some kind of trick,” she insisted dolefully, remembering her own dark days in the classroom slaving over the seemingly inscrutable, all joy wrung out as from a wet sponge, then as an elementary school teacher herself, and now finally daily fighting what she was convinced was a losing homeschooling war with her nine-year-old over the required workbook pages.

 “Nope, no tricks, no special techniques, magic curriculum, or innovative teaching method,” I informed her. The secret, if there was one, was to wait until the child asked for it, indeed insisted upon it, and had a use for it, even if the use was just college admission.

I have found this to be true.

First, I personally learned all the algebra I needed to take the ACT in about a month. I had never had algebra previously, having ceased all formal math instruction about halfway through seventh grade. A month of concerted effort and I went from a 17 to a 26 on the math portion.

Second, my own children have gone from no formal math to grade level (6th, or so) in about 3 months of off and on effort. Some weeks went by with no progress, and other weeks would cover a full grade of work. This has been the case for Faith and Abby.

Third, my autistic son, Bede, has had no person-to-person instruction of any kind in any subject. He is entirely self-taught, the ultimate autodidact. He knows how to add, subtract, multiply and divide with no trouble. How? Because he needed to learn to do other stuff he wanted to do, so he learned it.

So you can keep your high-pressure or even your medium-pressure learning environments. I don’t want them. Why do you?


3 thoughts on “Just Do the Math, by David Albert

  1. You know my all time favorite math quote by Fran Lebowitz: “In real life there is no such thing as algebra.”

    1. Oak Meadow lasted about 2 months with Faith and Abby, and less than a month with the middles. I just can’t bring myself to interrupt the kids for things they don’t just love doing. So we manage our read-aloud books and Life of Fred math, but Oak Meadow just didn’t consistently excite. Faith and Abby loved the first book for OM, and we substituted Outsiders for Kidnapped for the second, and then we just petered out.

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