Studying math gives homeschoolers a sense of belonging

So many homeschool parents say, “I can’t do math and I fit in fine.” But science has shown that’s probably not true.

It turns out that math, more than any other subject, is one that kids cannot learn on their own and often need more than just a parent’s help with for homework. This means that math homework has become a de facto marker for status among school kids: Who can finish it and who can’t? Who is consistent with the relentless pace, and who falls behind?  Math is also a status marker for parents. More than any other subject, a child’s math achievement correlates to the socioeconomic status of the parents.

So it’s no surprise that when I tell someone I homeschool my kids, the first response is, “How do they learn math?”

I used to get upset about the question. I used to say, why does everyone have to learn math? Who cares? Or I’d lecture people on the totally oversold idea that math is everywhere — music, cooking, street signs.

Now I now see that was a self-serving response from a parent who can’t teach math and doesn’t want to pay a lot for a math tutor. It’s clear now that homeschooling parents use math as a status marker for how carefully a child’s education was managed.

And that’s not unreasonable, because this is how colleges measure homeschooling as well. It’s an easy way to determine if the homeschooling curriculum was likely to have been rigorous. If a college knows you got a good grade in calculus, that covers about five years of math. So you don’t have to show five years of history for the college to believe that you didn’t waste all the rest of your time when you weren’t studying math.

Fair? Who knows. It’s how the world is. Fortunately, you don’t need to start teaching kids math until 6th grade. They learn everything they need to know until then on their own. Really. I did that with my son, and he got a 5 in AP Calculus. He is not a math genius. My point is proven. But I don’t need to prove this point, because we have had research since the 1930s that says we don’t need to teach math until 6th grade. It’s just been a very inconvenient truth, so we ignore it.

As a homeschooler you probably talk all the time about how parents ignore research that you like: play-based learning is best, boys suffer most in school, creativity is squashed in classrooms. But what happens when you read that a child’s sense of belonging is nurtured when they learn math? I bet you argue against it. It’s dangerous to wave research we like high up in the air and squash research we don’t like into little pieces.

I do that all the time. But I’m trying not to, so I’m telling you that even though Z. has a head injury and I really don’t think he needs to know more math than he already knows, I’m getting him a math tutor and I’m making sure he knows enough math to feel like he belongs.

I used to be a pain in the butt to him. I’d say, “How much is enough math? What does that even mean?” Now I know the answer. It’s enough math so he doesn’t have to worry when someone asks him how he learned math if he didn’t go to school. He doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life lecturing people about how they shouldn’t ask that question. He just wants to fit in. And I don’t blame him.

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