Monday, June 6, 2011

Knowing

When I was in first grade, we moved to a new state and a rural neighborhood. One with horses in the backyard – not in our backyard of course, but other backyards, up the street, not far away.

My dad had a temporary assignment, we knew that. Which made our assignment temporary; we knew that, too.

I liked the school and made friends easily. After several months, I skipped a grade. Then another grade. My first day in third grade math class, we were told to turn to the chapter on long division. And like everyone else, imitating everyone else, I turned.

It might have been a chapter on long division. Then again, it might just as well have been a chapter on the Pythagorean Theorem or a Shakespearean sonnet in Mandarin Chinese.

I did the only thing possible. I asked to go to the bathroom. And on my way up the aisle, I looked over everyone’s shoulder. Most were making notations of no sense at all, but one girl was copying, neatly with her number 2 pencil, the problems exactly as they appeared on the page.

Well, is that all there is to it? What a relief. I went to the bathroom, pretended to tinkle, then came back, copied the problems, and turned in my worksheet.

That afternoon I spent at the doctor’s office. It seems in those early years, my sister and brother always had pneumonia or asthma or scoliosis, and my mom and I spent hours and hours in waiting rooms. That afternoon, my mother taught me long division. I didn’t find the concept intuitive or interesting, but after hour 2 or 3, the lightbulb came on. Dimly, perhaps.

During the lesson, maybe I got impatient, maybe mom got impatient, but how impatient can you get, really. You’re in a waiting room.

That was my first and last experience with homeschooling. My mom must have done a decent job. At six or seven or whatever age I was, during that year, I made the cut. I stayed in third grade. I was in a tunnel with a flashlight. But you don't care if the batteries are weak when you know the tunnel is short and the exit is near.

In other words I didn't get demoted. Until we moved to a better school district.

32 comments:

  1. What a great mom. better than me, by light years.

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  2. I'm so grateful I don't have to teach Ella long division. Sounds like your mum did a wonderful job.

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  3. I don't even remember what long division is. Should I be worried?

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  4. Kudos to your mom. When my son was learning basic math it was called "the new math." I was woefully inadequate.

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  5. I love the flashlight analogy. Some of us feel our whole lives are lit by dim batteries...

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  6. "But you don't care if the batteries are weak when you know the tunnel is short and the exit is near." Quote of the day. I should hang it on the wall - just what I needed to hear.

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  7. My parents tried to help me with math but it was useless because we were learning "new math" and they just got frustrated immediately and tried to show me the old way, which completely messed me up.

    Still math-phobic to this day.

    Interesting, though, my old elementary school classmates are suddenly reconnecting on Facebook. Quite an experience.

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  8. That "new math" was a great divide between me and my kids. It seemed to consist of intersecting circles and things called vectors. I wonder if it's been abandoned now?

    Your new piece on Altadena Patch about homeschooling is illuminating. My two kids would never have allowed me to homeschool them. They disliked the way I got carried away when explaining something, and added really, really interesting extra information. "Just tell us the minimum we need to pass the tests, Mum," they said, turning to their father for help.

    Homeschooled kids must be very docile, obedient, and compliant children. Mine would never have tolerated it.

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  9. If you write more about skipping a grade (or two), I'll be interested. The skippers I've known have not liked it--tho' the two I'm thinking of were males and were disadvantaged in sports.

    By the way, this is very clever again. I shouldn't forget to say that just because you're always clever.

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  10. Starting in second grade, I was sent to 4th grade math and reading classes. That was when I moved into South Street School. When we moved out midway through 5th grade, they put me back in the math and reading I'd done 2 years earlier. I spent the remainder of my time in that school bored. Ah, schools. So much control, so little consultation of the parents.

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  11. I'm just happy American kids can still get some schooling. And whenever I think I sea the light at the end of the tunnel, I'll think of you KB - for better or worse.

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  12. When I got skipped the first time, I left a particular friend behind, and she felt very lonely. So I said to her, "Look, let me talk to the principal. Maybe we can skip you too."

    Yup, all about having the inside track.

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  13. Education is about so much more than grade levels - or report cards. Before my son started school I investigated education in all its forms and I still remember to this day the homeschooling mom that talked about children learning what they need to learn when they're ready. It made me so angry when my son was penalized for not learning to read until second grade. By Middle School he was reading at college level and took the ACT where he scored higher than most of his teachers had.

    I hope you tell us how you felt about being sent back to a lower grade. Nowadays you would be in a gifted program and having a ball.

    wv mentaxi

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  14. I had a tearful tutorial session with my father at around that age. He tried to convince me that my two big nickels were a fair exchange for his one thin dime. What did he take me for, a fool?

    after that he hired someone to teach me math

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  15. Wonder which is more difficult, math or Mandarin Chinese?

    GG

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  16. Delightful story and how amazing of your mom to teach you long division. And I'm very impressed by all your skip-to-my-louing. My dad was a physics professor and in high school I only asked for help one time. He gave me a whole extra set of problems to do before he'd tell me the answer to my original question and I refused to do his extra work.

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  17. Katie, that made me laugh. I wouldn't have done it either.

    I'm so glad my parents didn't home school me. They were both teachers. That, and other reasons.

    I knew someone who held himself back a grade. His grades were borderline and he didn't feel he was ready to go on to 5th, so he asked to do 4th a second time. He was allowed. I thought it was incredibly mature of him.

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  18. I was thinking, we blue sky kids, the gypsies, following our dads who worked for Ford, and Boeing, and Mobile, we were only a two-decade long phenomenon, the 60's and the 70's. Our lifestyle, where moving seemed so permanent, was just a blip.

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  19. K.C., MO. to Denver - Dad an Ad Mgr. for weekly papers. Then alchoholism got in the way - back to his "hometown" of St. Paul. He never worked again.

    I was struck by the differences in skill and learning I found in St. Paul; a poor neighborhood, Principal Zucco advised we get out. But it saved my a**. I was falling behind in Denver, no surprise there, yet then a stand-out in MN. You could pretty well glide if you could read well. 'Course, I blew it in the '70's and adolescence. Now I'm going to school again.

    St. Paul now has maybe 75% (probably more) in free lunch programs, an indicator of poverty. I wouldn't want to send my kids to public school here now. Frankly, I think their system is a sham.

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  20. Your parents were lucky: as far as I can tell the current policy of Pasadena School District is to use homework as a way of providing kids with extra one-on-one tuition that the schools do not have the resources to give, thus cheaply inflating their test scores. Consistently, this year, the homework has been on subjects barely yet covered in class: I have been *teaching* my daughter, not supervising her homework (this is first grade, by the way). Sometimes I feel I might as well be home schooling. This would be less of a problem if a) I *had* half an hour to spend on homework every night, b)my daughter (and I) had the right kind of temperaments for home schooling, and c)it wasn't so blatantly unfair to children from homes where parents do not have the time/resources to give this kind of help.

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  21. If you want to get a bead on the current educational system watch "Waiting For Superman". It's entrancing.

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  22. I agree with Paula. I started watching "Waiting for Superman" online and couldn't pause it.

    the_sybil, parents I know are pleased with the dual-immersion language schools but I don't have experience of the others. What you say concerns me, though, for the kids whose parents aren't educated enough to teach them. Not every parent in town knows grammar, spelling, math, etc.

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  23. Wonderful as always, Karin. We moved a lot too, though not always from city to city. And not for work, just out of parental boredom, I think. I was well into adulthood before I'd had the same address for more than two years. My best friend in high school, on the other hand, had lived in the same house all his life. That made me feel sad for him.

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  24. So many factors contribute to the success or non success of a child in school...most important I think are the parent's involvement and their support of the teacher. I'm glad I don't have to deal with the educational system anymore, but I'm worried about my grandchildren...I'm not impressed with much of today's education...we've gotten away from helping kids learn to think things through and come up with their own ideas and conclusions...ie: self reliance...so much is spoon fed these days. And yet, on the other hand, there are multitudes of opportunities that weren't available when I was a kid...so who knows??? Unfortunately, the only real way to determine if an educational system is working is to see the final results and how they adapt to the adult world once they graduate...

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  25. I love these tales from your childhood, so different from mine. My parents still live in the house they bought in 1967. And my mom never taught me long division.

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  26. One valuable thing about constantly moving and changing schools, as Bandit, Marjie, and Terry point out, is that you realize early on that intelligence, as it applies within schools, is such a relative concept, a moveable feast.

    (Except when it came to spelling. Didn't matter where we moved, mine was always bottom of the barrel.)

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  27. Oh, so you think long division was hard for you? Well how about trying to teach LOOONNNGGG Division to 19 third graders? :) Divide, multiply, subtract, bring down...ad nauseum. That was my life for many years. I'm glad you had a patient mother.
    V

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  28. What?
    You were a bad speller?
    You?



    wv: bionac

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  29. I might have been able to skip a grade or two also, but I guess I would have had to actually go to school on a regular basis to do so!

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  30. My nemesis was telling time. I could. not. get. it. That clock face was one big, frustrating mystery to me. Now, it rules my life in a very irritating, exhausting way. Maybe I was more aware than I thought I was, way back then.

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  31. Ok, smarty pants, what's 32,578.44 divided by 62. Quick!

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