being me, homework

A Father Helps His Son With Math

Last night as I sat in the San Francisco airport waiting for our flight home, I could’t help but listen in on an exchange happening across from me.  A father sat with his child helping him with his math homework.  My curiosity was first peeked because the lesson they were doing was one I had just taught that week which meant the boy was a fifth grader.  And yet I stared fascinated as the dialogue continued:

Father – how did you get this solution?

Boy – I am not sure…

Father – Well, if you don’t know it is not right!  Erase it properly and do it again.

Boy starts to erase the page…

Father – Now how are you doing this problem?

Boy starts to explain how he has been taught but is interrupted.

Father – That is not the correct way, why can’t you understand that!  That is not how you do it.

Boys’ shoulders visibly slump.

Father – You need to get this done right now and do it right or we will erase it again.

As I sat there, horrified at this exchange, I almost jumped in and offered my help.  But I didn’t because it wasn’t my place.  Yet in my head I could not help but go there.  How do parents expect us to teach a child to love math when this is how they help with homework?  Obviously this father was frustrated, it was a Sunday evening and they were traveling, so that time was not the best to do anything that required brain power for the boy or for the father.  Why do it in public like that?  Why humiliate your own child with a raised voice?  The effect on the child were immediate and very apparent.  That child did not want to do his math anymore, he did not want to learn the method the father wanted to teach him.  That child lost a little more faith in his education and I wonder how he felt?  I felt horrible for him and I felt bad for that child’s teacher who had no idea that this boy had struggled with the math and that his father had helped him in such a way.

We do not always see the damage that homework creates outside of our room, or how well-meaning “helpers’ distribute their knowledge.  All we see is how it affects the child in the long-run, how their love of learning diminishes and we wonder what we could have done differently?  Well sometimes not assigning the homework is a huge step in the right direction.

2 thoughts on “A Father Helps His Son With Math”

  1. I'm the father of a four-year-old, so math beyond 2+2 isn't part of the school day yet, but I can at least see what the state of mind might have been for the father. My son and I practice writing letters and it is sometimes very hard to simply sit back and be patient when he doesn't write a lowercase "e" correctly. I hope this makes sense, but it's like an out-of-body experience. You sort of realizing you're being a jerk but then at the same time you can't stop it. Not that I'm justifying what you saw, because he was definitely wrong (furthermore, if the kid got the problem right, why didn't he just move on to the next one and try to focus on how he got it? That's like saying "You hit that home run but you swung at the first pitch when I told you not to, so I'm taking it away." Be a prick why don'tcha, dad?!)I have gotten close to the point where that father was, but usually I just take a breather. Then again, I've never been doing that in the middle of an airport.I hope some of that makes sense.

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