Of all the hurdles I thought I’d have to face as a parent, I never thought homework would be the one to trip me up the most, causing so many tears and leaving some of us flat-faced on the floor. When will this nightmare be over?
When I was a kid, I came home from school and did my homework. It wasn’t until high school that I remember writhing in pain as my dad tried to teach me formulas and pre-calculus while my eyes rolled back in my head and I bit my tongue hard to keep bad words from spilling out.
I despise math. I could not sit in a chair long enough to listen to anyone explain it because I did not care about it. Yet, somehow, I managed to survive it. I thought with the repeat of my college algebra course that was the end of it. No more. Hallelujah! The only math I’d see was for simple household measuring, grocery shopping. My word, someone has put a curse on me and given me children who sometimes need help with math. And I have to be the calm one.
Occasionally I check my son’s homework. Not always. I look at those long division problems and three-digit multiplication and know it would take me all night to work it out in my head. I don’t have time for that. My son does well in math. I glance and figure it’s OK.
Yesterday I got out the calculator to check up on him, just to make sure he wasn’t struggling. He got four of those big multiplication problems wrong. He redid the first one—992 x 91—and got the same answer. He did it again, same answer.
“Well this is the answer the calculator says. You’re not doing it right,” I told him.
Mind you, I didn’t take away his dinner or tell him he couldn’t have candy for a year, but the rolling on the floor and fussing that ensued would have made you think so.
He did the problem again and he got the same answer. His mechanical pencil mysteriously “fell apart.” I worked the problem on the calculator again. It had the same different answer I got before. Then I worked the problem on paper and got an entirely different answer from any of them, but it was closer to his.
This was not looking good. Are calculators sometimes wrong? I use this calculator for work, for important things. I’ve used this calculator since college. This calculator gave us an answer that was nearly 60,000 off. I thought the answer seemed strange but who am I to question a calculator?
We went to the computer and got the same answer I got on paper. The calculator was wrong. My son was wrong. I was right. What is wrong with this world when you can’t rely on a calculator to check your math?
My son had only missed two problems and not four. Our calculator could not be trusted. And I guess that meant that I could not be trusted in my son’s eyes. I guess it also meant I’m going to have to start working all those problems out the long way. Or maybe he has this multiplication thing down good enough.