Learning What Matters (Homeschooling on Purpose?) JT Gatto Part 2

(Part 1: Schooling Has Nothing to Do With Real Education–John Taylor Gatto)

It is only once we see the problem with what Gatto calls “forced schooling that dumbs down children” that we even care about what a real education is. Many homeschoolers recreate the same problems of the classroom in their homes so this isn’t just about pointing out the problems with government education, but also the problems with the way any of us “do school.”

“Kids are set to memorizing science vocabulary, repeating well-worn procedures certain to work, chanting formulas exactly as they have been indoctrinated to chant commercials from T.V.” Gatto, A Different Kind of Teacher

In our family, we are taking a scrupulous look at what we’ve always assumed was an integral part of education and I’m testing it against real life. Let me give you an example:

Long division.

In the 19th century, being able to do long division by hand was a necessity. Just like washing clothes with a scrub board was. But calculators and washing machines have changed things.

Yet, students spend countless hours learning to do a procedure they will never, ever need to do again in the real world. A ten minute lesson with a calculator would be far more advantageous. I’m experimenting by asking people everywhere I go if they’ve had to do a long division problem on paper since school. So far, no affirmatives.

The CONCEPT of division, now that’s important education. But that is learned in real life, without pencil and paper.

My theory is that there is already too much to ever learn. Why waste time on the things we will never need, that don’t grow us or give us real skills for life?

One may suggest that long division helps the mind think analytically which can be transferred to any area of life. Maybe. But so can a whole lot of other things more interesting and useful than long division. I liked long division. It was like a puzzle. So for that child, I say long division all day. But mostly I think it’s a waste of time better spent on other things.

Do you see?

Do we ever tilt our heads and look and things with fresh eyes, asking questions that no one else is asking, considering that “what everyone else is doing” may not be the best thing?

This is where is starts.

59 Responses to “Learning What Matters (Homeschooling on Purpose?) JT Gatto Part 2”

  1. Annie D says:

    Ow, my brain. If my kid can do one of the long division problems without my input, I let her do the rest with a calculator. But do I even need to require that of her? You’re messing with my worldview!!

    I think we all fall into the trap that the way we learned something (or the way we grew up) is The Way It Should Be Done. It worked for me, therefore it will work for you, even if it was hard for me. It’s confirmation bias. It takes a lot of humility and open-mindedness to entertain a completely contrary concept and be willing to try it.

    It’s so hard to know if you’re giving them the tools they need or slowing them down!

  2. shannon says:

    Hmm… I might have to disagree with the example above. I view the use of long division as a skill, not as some mundane memorization activity. I can see where memorizing lots of useless trivia will only be beneficial while playing trivial pursuit. BUT, having a skill such as long division can prove very beneficial. There are times one is without a calculator, and it would be so frustrating to not be able to solve a problem without it. Once someone learns that skill does it need to be repeated with fifteen digit numbers? Probably not. But it seems worthwhile to learn HOW to do it in the first place.

    I think one of main problems with education (both formal and at home training) is the lack of skill teaching. When I’ve talked of my end of summer days lately and that I’ve been doing a little canning, people look at me like I’m crazy and I’ve had multiple people say how hard it is! I promise, it isn’t. (I can do it!) But, it seem hard since it is a long forgotten skill.

    • Word Warrior says:

      I should have included (and I will) that I certainly believe in learning the *concept* of division. Which can be learned without pencil and paper.

      Also, I’ve been asking everyone I know if they’ve ever had to work a long division problem on paper and so far, nope. πŸ™‚

      • 6 arrows says:

        Well, you didn’t ask me πŸ˜›

        Let me be a friendly contrarian this morning πŸ˜‰ In the days before the grocery store I shop at the most often had price-per-ounce labeling, I would use pencil and paper (usually the grocery list) and calculate the price per ounce myself on items I wanted to compare. Yes, I could have used a calculator, but do you think I could remember to actually *bring* one to the store? Knowing long division was a safety net for a forgetful person like myself πŸ˜‰

        And yes, I could have just done some mental math and a little estimation, but, when the price comparisons between sizes or brands were very close, well, call me OCD or something, but I wasn’t going to pay a tenth of a cent more than I had to if I could help it! πŸ˜›

        Anyway, I’m probably an extreme example, but doing long division has been useful to me in my adult life, even if I’m not doing much of it anymore (I’m more likely to be reading nutritional labels these days, as what I eat is more important to me than what the cost of it is).

        This is getting a bit off topic now, but something I thought of just now is a conversation I had with my husband one time about an experience he had at a grocery store that sort of relates to the math discussion here. He was checking out one time at a grocery store when the cash register stopped working right, and it wouldn’t calculate how much change the cashier was supposed to give back to my husband when he paid for his groceries (he didn’t have correct change). This is no joke, but the cashier could not figure out how to make change for the amount he gave her. Then she tried using paper and pencil, and she could not figure out how to subtract the actual amount of the groceries from the amount my husband had given her. She had to call a supervisor over to get it right!

        So teach your kids how to make change and how to subtract!!!

        • Word Warrior says:

          6 arrows–I sure agree that we don’t spend enough time on life math, like teaching how to make change. Our kids earn their own money and purchase their own stuff. I leave it to them to check out, make sure the cashier made the right change, etc. Yard sales are also an excellent lesson under pressure.

          • 6 arrows says:

            And BTW, Kelly, I didn’t make it very clear, but that last sentence (“So teach your kids how to make change and how to subtract!!!”) was not aimed at you personally! It was just a statement for a general audience even though it was nested under your comment πŸ˜‰

            You make a good point about giving your kids opportunities to handle money and get practice with a lot of real-life math. And I agree that yard sales are good for teaching change-making and other money matters.

            Many years ago, my husband bought a toddler swing for our swing set when he was at a yard sale. The price marked was $2.00, and he gave the teenage girl who was doing the transactions a ten-dollar bill. Well, she didn’t know how much change to give him! She had to ask her mother, who is an accountant!

            I’m thinking that may have been one of the reasons the mother decided to pull her daughter out of public school and homeschool her! And people say our school district is so good πŸ˜•

      • shannon says:

        Thank you for your response. I can honestly say I can’t remember using long division recently though your comment challenged me to try to think of it. I asked my husband (because I think concepts such as these are fascinating) if he has and he said he has quite a few times in home restoration.

        I will take this back to a more general question and thought and look forward to your continued input via any posts on this topic. Thinking of schooling from grade school all the way through grad school, the information that frustrated me the most was when I was taught something but not HOW to apply it. That always bothered me- such as many things in Algebra and even statistical analysis in college. Ugh.

        Other things I think of as useful. Even learning to use a washboard this day in age could be used in different areas of life (I could provide some examples but my comments are always longer than I intend). So, my question is, how do you determine what is necessary to teach and what isn’t?

      • Cathy says:

        Kelly, I read most of the answers to your question on FB, and I think that I remember reading that there have been a few who have used long division in their everyday life–and used pencil and paper. I am good with basic math (you start losing me with algebra), but I would not be able to do long division without pencil and paper. How does one do long division in one’s head? I think that you pretty much have to be a math whiz to do so. If calculators aren’t available, then what? I understand that you’re stressing teaching of the concept, but how without pencil and paper? I know that things change, and you shouldn’t necessarily do something merely for the sake of tradition, but how far is that extended? For example, I am a fairly decent pianist, and, having grown up in the Stone Age, I learned to read music. I know, I know, how quaint. But, now there is no need to read music, according to an article that I read, because so much of accompaniment is chording, and if you can read the chords, and know where the notes are on the piano, well, shazam!, you can be the church keyboardist. That is a foreign concept to me–not the one about chords, but the one about not learning to read music. It sounds a whole lot like dumbing down, but, then again, maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps it’s called progress, but I don’t know. Although, how do you sight read a piece if you don’t read music? But I digress. Your question about long division is akin to the one that you asked about diagramming sentences. I would put them both in the same camp, for which I have no answer…but I lean toward learning how to do both, and if you never have to use those skills again, so be it. At least you know how. Just my $.02, but it’s worth far less.

        • 6 arrows says:

          Cathy–I’m a pianist, and I’m interested in reading that article you mentioned in your digression. πŸ˜‰ Was that online somewhere?

        • Word Warrior says:

          Thank you for the 2 cents πŸ˜‰ And for me too, the question and answer is still in progress. I think a lot of what is “standard curriculum” in government education is not useful, at best. That is one reason I’m always questioning the status quo.

          Something you said, though, and several others on my FB wall said, made me think of something funny. “What if you don’t have a calculator” or “we fall off the grid”…

          I can’t remember when I’ve been in a situation without any means of obtaining a device and suddenly had a “long division emergency.” πŸ˜€

          I think having a concept of division would enable one to estimate a long way too, just for the record.

  3. Smitti says:

    Please know that NONE of this post is meant to be sarcastic or snarky or any of that. I am seriously being HONEST.
    I HAVE had to use long division – to teach it to my children! However, I’m fuzzy on what the ‘concept’ is. Sorry, I’ve been dumbed down.
    But I was really good at ‘doing school’. However, I never learned the ‘concepts’, and I always failed at finding the ‘correct’ themes in literature. (Teachers just told me what they were – rolling their eyes that I could be so dense.)
    People thought I was crazy (this was the second time, after they got over me homeschooling) to be ‘majoring’ on ‘life skills’ with my daughters (after they learned to read, write, and do math – well, math is still a work in progress for one of them). All I know is, I cook and clean far more often than ANYTHING else I learned in high school or college! Nor was I prepared to do this when I graduated.
    As one who felt completely unprepared for the daily ins and outs of life, I think we should do ‘spot’ lessons on some school subjects, and give grades on consistency, effeciency, and mastery of every day stuff like keeping a home. (The opposite of how I was raised.)
    But, because I homeschool and would like a better education than I received, where do I go to find the list of ‘concepts’ my children should know, and the alternative ways to teach them? Better yet, is there an article or something that will help me teach them how to learn? (People – dh included – keep telling me this is important, but I can’t teach what I don’t know.)
    Can anyone help?

    • Smitti says:

      Because I want to GIVE a better education than I received…
      Proofreading – it’s a good thing! ; )

    • Word Warrior says:

      Smiiti–I get everything you’re saying. By the way, I do plan on fleshing some of this out, according to what I’ve been reading/studying, to give more substance to what this real education thing looks like. Stay tuned πŸ˜‰

      What I mean by understanding the concept of division is knowing when to use a dividing function, multiplying, etc. If I have a problem to figure out (say, “what percentage of x is y”), I need to know how to figure it out, although I have devices at my disposal to handle the tedious part of it.

  4. Lucy says:

    The flip side of that coin is teaching dependency on technology. It can be done. It is being done, but does it foster independence and self-sustainability? Does dependence on technology really foster curious exploration, or just acceptance of someone else’s work?

    That answer is certainly going to vary by the ideals and goals of the individual.

    • Word Warrior says:


      You do make a good point, but a point that needs to be thought out and defined. (Not that I’m necessarily doing that here…just thinking out loud.)

      We are heavily dependent on technology in a number of ways that have added to our lives, though I’m the first one to gripe about its enslavement too.

      Just like the washing machine analogy, I don’t mind being technologically-dependent in that way because it’s faster, makes my life easier and I don’t feel I’m missing much EXCEPT that any technology speeds *us* up too because we fall into the expectations of the culture who are all moving faster due to their technology. (I feel like I just talked in a complete circle :-P)

      But, do you know how to figure, on paper, the algorithm for finding a square root to a large number? Neither do I because I graduated school before the 60’s when they stopped teaching it, ruling it obsolete. No one panics because that function has to be figured out on a device (my husband does it all the time in construction). I think it’s a short matter of time until long division files in those ranks.

      Now, in the event of a major global shutdown and we lose power for 5 years, I sort of doubt our biggest concern will be that we can’t remember how to do long division on paper πŸ˜‰

      Good thoughts.

      • Lucy says:

        I’m not so concerned about major global shutdowns πŸ™‚ Though that might be fun… It’s the other things. Like when you go to a doctor, and they can’t do ANYTHING without hooking you up to a machine for some sort of test that spits out results with reference ranges that doctor then “diagnoses” you by. Compared with the “old” ways of doctoring where a doctor would pride himself by being able to accurately diagnose the ailment just by looking at the patient. (See the book “Strong Medicine” by Blake Donaldson, available as a free download http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015003228171)

        Certainly we have made medical gains by embracing technology, but the all-or-nothing approach has also racked up some pretty substantial losses. I’m an engineer, and I will tell you the same can be said of every industry.

  5. Joy says:

    I have to disagree with the notion that long division is never needed. I use it frequently when I don’t have access to a calculator. I run a small home baking business and I often add up numbers in my head or by hand, to figure out my cost of goods, my profit, etc.

    I am teaching my kids consumer math — addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, decimals, basic finance equations, etc. They need to know how to balance a checkbook, budget, figure out how much paint they need to cover a wall, scale recipes up or down, read a financial contract, and understand how interest works. Anything beyond that is up to them, if they are interested or need it in their chosen field.

    • Word Warrior says:

      Joy–VERY IMPORTANT point I think you may have missed: I never said long division is never needed. It is most certainly needed. It’s important that we know when it is needed.

      My thought is that just like no one ever computes a large square root on paper, but on a device (before the 60’s, there was a tedious algorithm taught in school for this but we don’t miss it AT ALL), few will ever have the need to specifically work out a long division problem on paper. Now understanding how and when to divide? Absolutely! Understanding how numbers work together and all the concepts of being able to figure out a problem–interest, percentages, fractions, etc.? Absolutely! I’m just specifically questioning some of the more tedious process that technology has made obsolete.

      Your approach is almost exactly the approach we’re taking with math, except the long division, which is still in question πŸ˜‰

  6. Joy says:

    I have just gone back to something even older than the pencil and paper – the abacus. I am totally feeling cheated that I did not grow up in a country that uses the abacus. If I did, I may have been good at math. My mother-in-law picked one up on sale for the kids, and I watched some you tube videos on how to use it. It totally makes sense and is so visual. You do not need to start with the ones column when adding or subtracting large numbers. And it goes all the way to one number short of one trillion. Now, I need to watch the videos on how to do multiplication and division. I am seriously so impressed with this ancient invention.

    Get one – they really help with the concept of WHY we borrow from the next column.

    (Note – I am a different Joy than the commenter above. Funny, not to common a name.)

  7. D says:

    Hi Kelly,

    I think maybe long division might not be the best example for this.
    It is actually a very useful skill to have! It might just be because I am math oriented, but I use it all the time and cannot imagine not having learned how to divide on paper. And the best thing is that it works mentally too! Just like using a calculator, the purpose of the skill is to make it *easier* to carry out division, and to make you more able to produce an answer on a whim. Even better when all you need is a rough approximation.

    But even more than it being a useful skill, it helps develop analytic thinking as well, particularly in a child who is math oriented and actually interested in numbers. I was one of those children, and though I dislike public school, I’m glad we at least got to learn some things. Simple skills are based on very concrete concepts, and sometimes learning such simple things helps expanded one’s capacity to do more learning later. (Again, math was my absolute favorite subject, so I might be biased here. But who knows? You might have a child like me.)

    But the real reason I dissent with this post is because long division can be taught just once and practiced whenever the opportunity presents itself (when out shopping with the child, planning meals, baking etc) and yet it remains useful for a lifetime. It’s not something a child would lose a year over, yet he can refer to it for many years to come.

    I agree with you completely on public school, though, and I appreciate your posts. πŸ™‚

    • Word Warrior says:


      I was one of those children too. LOVED math. Was on the HS math team, placed second in my country. I wouldn’t go to bed one night because I was struggling to grasp logarithms. Got it, went to bed after midnight, made a 98% on my log test. I went on to take Calculus I and II in college. Loved it, big waste of time.

      I mentioned that it couldn’t certain strengthen analytical skills, but so could a thousand other things. So I feel that if a child just enjoyed this type of thinking, he should most certainly be free to do it. But since it’s not a vital necessity anymore (the process, not the concept) I’m thinking it’s not something I will force all my kids to learn just for the sake of “it’s what everybody does.” That just isn’t enough for me, so until I’m convinced otherwise….

      • Hey Kelly, I get what you are saying. DD10 is very analytical, logical but “hates” math according to her. I figured it out a year ago that she doesn’t hate the mental mathematical skill, she hates the endless repetitive exercises. So now, we learn the concept, practice it a few times and move on. NO more repetitive exercises, unless she is enjoying it and wanting to do more.

        More important than know how to do long division, is knowing the concept of division, rounding and estimation. YOu can divide anything that way approximately.

      • D says:

        Thanks for clarifying, Kelly. I’m not there yet, but I fully agree on the process vs. concept.

  8. D says:

    Also, just for clarity, I agree with you not just on public school, but on modern schooling in general. πŸ™‚


  9. Liz says:

    I am having a hard time understanding the people who say they forget the calculator. Any smart phone has a calculator already on it. Heck I have about three different calculators on my iPhone. I am rarely if ever without my phone. Other people carry the e readers such as Kindles. There calculators there too. It’s very rare that you don’t have a calculator available to you in some which way or form. That being understood I do agree with them having to learn the concept or understanding what division really means. But you have to do it on paper rarely. Especially long division. I have seen people also make that same argument for spelling. There is spellcheck,dictionaries,the touchable word on the screen you can get the correct spelling or definition. So teaching spelling for hours and hours and hours I don’t believe is needed anymore either. I can make the same argument for handwriting. Most of the things we do our electronic nowadays. Occasionally you might have a form in a doctors office. But we get those in email where we live occasionally. So a lot of things are being phased out. I think we all could look at homeschooling through many different lenses in the coming years. As technology advances.

    • 6 arrows says:

      I’m one of those still living in the technological dark ages πŸ˜› No smart phone, no Kindle; I don’t even have a laptop! Just my computer sitting on my desktop. I guess I can be thankful I do have high-speed internet rather than dial-up, though, so maybe there’s hope for me yet! (Although I’m not entirely sure I would want any of those other things; it’s nice to be relatively unwired.)

  10. Rachel says:

    I agree with the idea of rethinking education and what is necessary to learn. However, I chuckled when I read your example of long division. I just threw out a piece of scrap paper from last night with all my long division on it. I was at my sons soccer practice and decided to work our budget for next month while I waited. I had my smart phone with me, with a calculator app. I didn’t use it, instead used my paper and pencil because a) my phone battery was low and b) it is easier to work out division on a piece of paper than get frustrated when my fingers keep pressing the wrong button πŸ˜‰ but I do get your point!

  11. Laura says:

    I was pondering this whole question the other day and thinking about people in history who were homeschooled (at least part of the time). Often I refer to Laura Ingalls Wilder, since she and her sisters were primarily educated at home. They learned to read, to figure, how to do grammar and understand about history. Theirs was a traditional book-based education that relied on a lot of memory work. However, they didn’t have ANYONE looking over their shoulder requiring some sort of state standards to be applied to what was taught. If ma had a rough season where there was too much work to do, she and the girls did the work. When there was time, they studied. Many people at that time didn’t educate their children at all, or many may have only had a third grade education. However, they had SKILLS to live by. THey could plow and plant, do dairying, and other livestock skills, the women could spin, weave, sew, cook, preserve food etc… They had very practical common sense… And my understanding is that if a person had a longing for more education, after a certain point, it was up to that person to find out where to get it and make it happen for themselves… Look at Abe Lincoln, George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington, and others… They had a burning desire in them to spurn them on to read and amass information. I look at my boys sometimes and wish I could just say, okay, forget it. Let’s just do work. When they have the burning desire to read and all that, then we’ll address it…

    • Rachel says:

      I love that idea! I mentioned something similar to a friend recently, about not everyone being cut out for higher education. He looked at me like I grew a second head! What I needed most to learn ( how to run a household) I had to learn by trial and error. I was too busy in my teens being educated at school to learn anything practical!

      • Ansley Barnes says:

        So true! I have been thinking about that the last few years! How much I wasn’t taught what I really needed to function in life because I was off during “school” or whatever activity or time waster instead.

  12. Kristen says:

    Well….. I see the general point, and I’ve known for a long time that you and I have different philosophies of education, Kelly, which is fine. I still love ya!;) And I don’t want to try to change your mind. However, I cannot let that “how are we going to use this in the real world?” argument go without comment. My kids memorize a tremendous amount of things – be verbs, helping verbs, poetry, Latin and Greek, geography, grammar, etc. We do Latin, diagram sentences and a lot of other things that at first glance, have nothing to do with the “real world”. But, it does. Tremendously. Because it is training the mind. Diagramming a sentence trains the mind to analyze, organize and fit things together in a logical manner. We are living in a deceptive world full of propaganda and lies. I want my kids’ minds to be trained, sharp, be able to pull arguments apart and see if they are valid, see the lies. It’s like in that old movie “Karate Kid.” He couldn’t understand what the point was to washing those cars, waxing them and painting the fence. Really had nothing to do with karate. But…. it did.

    • Word Warrior says:


      Thank you. If there is any argument that would sway me, it would be this one. (I’m not convinced, either way yet, by the way.) In fact, this is precisely what I used to tell my students who hated math (even though I was teaching them English). I whole-heartedly agree with you that the powers of the mind that analyze, think critically, and dissect information need to be strengthened. I would say it is at the top of my list.

      But I have two thoughts about the things you mentioned:

      1. Those things may offer one way, for *some* students, to develop that part of their minds, while there are a myriad of other ways. I think one thing our system has done is assume all kids think, learn and process information the same. And that can be a tragedy. I had students who could not wrap their brains around diagramming sentences. But they were brilliant mechanics and could take a machine a part a put it back together. That’s as much genius as a straight A academic student, but we call the one “smart” and the other, well, he just has to do what he can. We’ve created classes of people through a pigeon-holed system that excludes the different kinds of genius.

      2. If those mental exercises were so adept at teaching kids to think, we’ll have to explain the epidemic of non-thinkers of this generation.

      Still thinking….

    • Deborah says:

      Of course I have to learn long division, so I can teach my kids! OK, seriously I agree that math develops the mind. It adds to character and discipline as well. Still, it is not the only thing. Learning to write down thoughts, or even discuss them out loud with the fewest words is a sharpening tool too.

      I personally prefer to include math because it is a daily example that there is a single truth in a relative world. I think a large chunk of Christians should be studying it because we can use technology today without math but, we likely cannot lead the development of new ones unless we master it.

  13. Laura says:

    Another thought I have had is the balance between learning being work and ease. My brain might not be wired to easily do geometry, but that doesn’t mean that working through it over and over isn’t beneficial to my overall thinking processes. History and literature might be easy to me, but that also doesn’t challenge my brain much. Also, the mechanic that “hates” history, and can’t remember factual information about it, can still be influenced by understanding history, in the light that he is a citizen who must understand history in order to understand current events today, and how our political leaders and their votes will effect (affect??) our country right NOW. The hard part is how to show some learning to be WORK that strectches and challenges us, and isn’t EASY, and some kinds of learning are naturally fascinating and enjoyable to us. But BOTH, I think, are necessary. And what I am finding is that my boys are VERY unmotivated to tackle things that are HARD and don’t come naturally to them. They seem to have no natural tenacity to keep on keepin’ on… and meet challenges head on. Just because they aren’t wired to understand a subject easily doesn’t mean it should be thrown out. What I can’t figure out is what to do with that unmotivated personality… You can’t MAKE a child be SELF MOTIVATED. I was as a child, and I was, that’s it. My brother wasn’t and he wasn’t, and that is all… And no amount of cajoling could make him CARE any more than any amount of teasing and being called a “bookworm” could dissuade me from doing my best, even if it didn’t come naturally. I struggle to force the one kind of learning as just “you must, you have to, there is no choice” and the other “cool, neat, isn’t that fascinating?” kind, and not destroy one by forcing the other… Does that make sense?

  14. BettySue says:

    I often do long division on paper and in my head because it is easier and faster than pulling out and finding the calculator app on my phone, tablet, or laptop. Sometimes I think in our fascination with technology we actually do things the hard way.

    Heard of a farmer who wanted a pile of dirt moved. In the time it took his son to get the tractor going to do the work, the dad moved the whole thing with a shovel.

    My hubby runs into this at work, too. He manages a warehouse, requiring daily unloading of trucks. The 20 year olds will always go start up the forklift to do this work, but before they can get there Hubby (in his 40s no less) unloads the whole thing by hand.

    So my point is, just because you have a calculator doesn’t mean that is the fastest easiest way to do long division. Sometimes actually using your brain and the back of an envelope IS better.

  15. Catie says:

    As someone who is just starting out homeschooling (my oldest is five), I find this so interesting and helpful! Can’t wait t to hear more on this subject!

  16. Natalie says:

    My 17 year old has been frustrated with the burden of having to study HS math and science. He is a passionate and gifted writer, poet, reader,communicator, debater, theologian, etc. He desires to go to Bible College next year. Honestly, I cannot see any benefit to making him study the higher math and science…but I tell him it will develop character as he makes himself do something he does not want to do. Really, the only reason we do these things is because somebody somewhere decided that we should. What do you do when a young person is very focused in their areas of strength…do you force them to study irrelevant facts??? It goes against my philosophy of true education, but I don’t feel like I can completely let these things go.

    • Laura says:

      That’s exactly what I was trying to point out above!! I think there IS some good character that can come out of studying things that don’t come easy to you. I also think it can be generally beneficial to brain development… What I struggle to know how to balance is how to tell when is the resistance stemming out of laziness, and when is the resistance stemming out of true lack of understanding and frustration? Because it is human nature to want to get out of something if it’s hard or uncomfortable… Laziness should be dealt with for what it is… And for what it’s worth, a way to gauge whether it’s laziness is whether the young man in question is willing to do other things he doesn’t want to do… Like chores, willing obedience etc… If a child is very willing to help around the house but is resistant to a certain subject… it may be that they really do struggle to understand the content… Just some thoughts πŸ™‚

      • Word Warrior says:


        You and Natalie raise the very same questions I wrestle with, and am sure many others do as well. I think you made a good point: laziness will manifest itself in every area and should be pretty easy to spot. When a child is genuinely frustrated and seems to not be progressing in a certain subject, I think the subject at least needs to come up for evaluation.

        Gatto mentioned how many boys are made to read/understand Shakespeare. I was one of those teachers who actually belittled a student for his apparent disinterest. Shame on me. This guy had lots of other interests and gifts, but the camp of academia has only deemed a few select things worthy of pursuit and its mastery worthy of accolade. Shame on us.

        • Natalie says:

          Good point and yes I do see some resistance in other areas (keeping room clean for example) to things he does not want to do. However, in general he is very compliant and respectful. He often comes to me and asks if he can help with anything (drying dishes, reading w/ little ones while I cook, etc.) However, laziness is a weakness for this particular child, thank for bringing this to my attention.

  17. Marie H says:

    I Like your concept Word Warrior…but not so much your example. Absolutely… I have used long division and basic algebra in my everyday life! (way more than once) Those are skills I think everyone should have. What homeschoolers can do without are those awful worksheets for the elementary crew: not so much the ones that ask you to solve basic problems, but the ones that have kids coloring the picture and cutting-and-pasting, etc. And–holy cow–please please please make sure your kids (that is a general “you” not specifically you) know their multiplication facts inside and out. I sub in the schools (just completed my student teaching last spring)and am constantly shocked at how many middle schoolers don’t really know their math facts.

    • Word Warrior says:

      Marie–I second you on the mult. tables. That’s one rote memorization I take seriously. (By the way, for homeschoolers, one of the ways we practice this is with a deck of cards. Divide the deck in half, give each stack to a child. They turn their top cards over at the same time and the first one to call out the answer (whichever function you are working on) wins that stack.)

      Question on the long division (just trying to carry this out to its end): you said you do long division in your every day life. So do I. But why does that mean you have to do it on paper? I never do it on paper because that is a waste of time to me since there is a much faster (and more accurate) way to do it.

      • Amy says:

        Did you learn on paper first? If you didn’t have a calculator would you be able to do it on paper? I want my kids to be able to work it out first on paper and then when they have it down I see no reason as to why they couldn’t use a calculator. It really is a basic skill they should know. I don’t use it everyday, but when I do have a need for it, and don’t have a calculator I can still work out a problem. We don’t have to spend years teaching this to our children, but what does it hurt to give them the knowledge and even have them master this skill?

        Now algebra…that is a different story….it’s pointless. Just kidding. Kind of. πŸ˜‰

      • Marie H says:

        Amy pretty much summed it up for me πŸ™‚

  18. 6 arrows says:

    I’ll admit to thinking a lot more about the usefulness of teaching long division since this discussion came up here. I’ve never questioned the need for teaching it before this, and the jury is still out for me on whether to continue teaching it as I have. However, let me play devil’s advocate, Kelly πŸ˜‰

    Granted, it’s much more efficient, time-wise, to give a lesson on using a calculator for long division than it is to go through the tedious process of dividing a problem out on paper, but does a calculator teach why the answer comes out as it does? It might teach the how in less time, but isn’t the why just as, or more important than, the how? I’m not sure the calculator is just as good at teaching why as working problems on paper. Shouldn’t we be teaching the why behind math, allowing our children to manipulate the numbers on paper to see for themselves why things come out as they do? I question whether they “see” why when using a calculator without any more understanding than “First you punch in this number, then the division sign, then the other number, hit equal, and you’ve got your answer”.

    This isn’t a perfect analogy, but I’m thinking of when I learned to play viola, and how playing a stringed instrument developed my ear much better than playing the piano had in the seven or eight years of prior practice I’d had on that instrument. The fact that I had to carefully manipulate the fingers of my left hand to play my viola with good intonation taught me a lot more about listening for exact pitch than the piano ever did, because even being a little off with where I placed a finger would make a difference in the pitch, whereas on piano, if I hit the right key (and there are a lot more places you can put your finger on a key than on a string and still get the pitch you want), then the “right” sound (the one I was expecting to hear) would come out, even if the piano was out of tune. I never could tell whether I was playing on a piano that was out of tune until my ear became more fully developed from playing viola.

    So I think that was a case where the physical interaction with strings on an instrument, which one doesn’t really get on a piano, even though there are strings on that, too, taught me things that helped me develop a better-rounded understanding of musical pitch.

    Perhaps long division with paper and pencil results in similar broadened mathematical skill by virtue of working again and again with the numbers one is manipulating, seeing every step of the process? Just like in playing a stringed instrument and having to fine-tune the placement of your fingers, so also I think actually dividing math problems on paper makes you have to fine-tune your thinking about which number to put in the quotient. Will it be a little too much, or not quite enough, or exactly the right number you need for the position in the quotient you’re working on? Like in playing a stringed instrument and you hear that your pitch is not exact, and you have to determine how to adjust your finger to raise or lower the note to the correct pitch, so in division, if you have put the wrong number in the quotient, how will you know whether it is too high or too low, and what to do about it if it is, unless you’ve had plenty of practice manipulating the numbers yourself, instead of letting a calculator do the work before your ability to reason why something works or doesn’t work is fully developed?

    I think the process is just as important as the product (or the quotient, speaking in correct mathematical terms) πŸ˜‰ It seems a too-early introduction of the calculator may hinder a child’s ability to reason mathematically, especially one who isn’t naturally math-inclined, and I have to wonder whether it’s good for anyone to bypass long division with paper and pencil. Some may not need much of “doing it the hard way” before they thoroughly understand and can use a calculator without shortchanging their understanding of the process, but I think for most people, learning paper-and-pencil long division isn’t a waste of time, as it helps to solidify knowledge of why the answer comes out as it does, making it more likely that they will know when they use a calculator whether they’re entering figures in the right order, or using the right functions, making them more able to recognize when an answer comes out that would not make sense in terms of what they’re trying to find.

    I don’t know if that makes sense, but in any case, I hope my discussing long division isn’t causing division. πŸ˜€

    • Word Warrior says:

      6 arrows.

      That sounds good, like the other possibility of how working complicated math problems increases one’s ability to analyze. Unless it doesn’t πŸ˜‰ as it appears to not be working very well in mainstream schooling.

      I’m taking this seemingly small subject out to its fullest length for a bigger purpose: to explore and force ourselves to determine what it means to be truly educated. Thus far, most of still can’t fathom being educated and not being able to do long division at the same time.

      But what is math for? Math represents things. Ingredients, dollars, angles, heights, widths, unknowns, etc. All of those things involve living, breathing math. We get tripped up even calling it “math.” It’s important knowledge for solving some of life’s problems that deal with quantity and measurements.

      Those are the foundational elements to be grappled with. How can we take “this math”, whatever it is, and make it make sense and be useful to us in life.

      With that in mind, the “inner workings” of the numbers themselves might seem a bit obscure. And with every technological advancement in the different fields of science and math, even more so.

      It would be silly for me to ride my horse to the grocery store. It could be done. It would take a lot longer and it would be a lot harder. The horse is good for riding when I want to ride. But the horse is an outdated mechanism by which to accomplish getting from A to B in a timely manner.

      We are using numbers to solve life problems not to be math whizzes (unless you’re planning a career on Jeopardy?)We can manipulate numbers in real life because it’s all around us, every day. So to spend time learning a tedious formula whose solution has been replaced, unless you just want to, seems odd. I’d rather have my children get their hands dirty working in a real business to see how real numbers work, using a calculator to make them work faster πŸ˜‰ Or looking at debt and interest and seeing how a poor understanding of those things can be detrimental to life. Or working alongside my talented husband who is a construction GC (and always uses a calculator–he told me) to see why numbers and precision really matter.

      That kind of stuff πŸ˜‰ Learning long division isn’t evil, btw. But from a woman who stops at the door to immediately throw away all the junk mail to avoid as much clutter as possible–you can see why I’m having this conversation.

      • 6 arrows says:

        OK, like I say, the jury is still out for me πŸ˜‰ For the record, my 16-year-old asked me what I was doing while I was typing my previous comment, and when I told her, she said she was thankful she’d had the practice she did in working long division problems on paper, because she understands math much better now than she did before.

        But, yes, I understand your point about math representing real things. I’m still thinking…and thanking you for the role you are playing in maybe decluttering my mind a bit πŸ˜‰

        BTW, when are you coming to declutter my house? πŸ˜› I’m predicting you won’t be riding up on a horse when you do! πŸ˜€

  19. Beverly says:

    Let me preface this by saying I am a supernerd.:)
    I find it more convenient to do math by hand or in my head sometimes. If I need to work something out and don’t have a calculator handy, I write it out and can do it rather quickly
    I do understand your point of view, though. I got as far as Calculus Two in HS and we always used calculators.

  20. […] Part 1: Schooling Has Nothing to Do With Real Education, Part 2:Learning What Matters Most […]

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  22. Missy says:

    It’s been a year and a half since the last comment was posted, but I have to add my thoughts on this. I first must say that this has made me rethink the endless and continual written work to drill long division perfection into my child’s head. HOWEVER, I will never not teach it. I agree with a lot of the comments above that it is necessary for understanding the concept of how numbers work together. Creation itself sings with numbers, God reveals Himself in numbers, science and math work together for basic numerical concepts. I loved math, still do, and have had to admit with humility that not all math is necessary for basic education/living and those that need it to go further can get that specified learning experience without having it shoved down their throat in any particular grade. That said, there are basics that have such a deep mathematical concept, that not teaching it for the simple argument that it’s automated, is worthy of an old school fainting spell. My daughters are both very artistic and not so great at math, spelling, or science, but they love all of it! The reason is because I teach the concepts and then when I link all the concepts together, it’s like a big magic show and they are amazed! They constantly have AHA! moments and I think just simply putting a calculator in front of them would most assuredly bore them to pieces. To me, long division is just as important as adding, multiplying, and subtracting. I would never just let my children do addition on the calculator, and the same goes for all the other operations. They would miss out on so much opportunity for discovery. I don’t use a calculator for much of anything actually. I keep a running tally of our groceries…in my head, I convert prices to per ounce…in my head, I do tip calculations…in my head, I very successfully convert measures, keep running bank balances, do square footage estimations, all in my head. I could not do this without being taught how to do it, why it works and then put it into practice.

    I shop for most of my clothes. Correction, my mom shops for most of my clothes because new clothes are a luxury for me. How, I would love to be able to sew! Not because I just love to sew, but because I see the value in passing on skills that are invaluable to our future generations. The only two people in my life that know how to sew are my 81yr old grandmother and my mother in law. They put together outfits and fix my mending all the time. The fact that my clothes have to last a while because I don’t have a clothing budget at the moment, reinforces the need for their skills. What happens when they go away? Exactly. My daughters are learning to sew, I’m going to start learning along with them. My older daughter wants to be a designer, not just a seamstress….a designer, so learning this skill is vital to her (as is math, ahem….and it’s concepts), but my younger is not interested at all. She’s still being taught the basics though, mending, buttons, hemming, etc. My point is that if I had the attitude that I don’t have to sew because there’s always a store of some kind around, my girls would not be learning this skill, nor would my oldest have discovered that she is amazing at it! I’m learning it to use it, then to pass it to the next generation. The same goes with all math, including long division.

    (As a side note, the above mentioned aspiring designer used to want to be a professional ballerina. She danced for 7 years before she changed her mind, and believe me, she is an amazing dancer who definitely had a future there. She picked up a needle, fell in love, and never looked back! She spent more time drawing her designs or coming up with new and funky ways of wearing her clothes, than she did stretching and strengthening for ballet. We are Messianic Jews -Jewish believers that Jesus is the Messiah- and she is now taking her Bat Mitzvah classes, which are a huge commitment and take up most of her extra time. So after 8 years of dancing, she is now on hiatus. She plans on returning to dance after she’s done with her classes because she loves to dance, but who knows…..she may not, and that’s ok. I added this to show you that my girly is 100% artsy, but loves the concepts taught in math, something she wouldn’t have learned on a calculator.)

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