When I was going through grade school, we learned how to subtract by borrowing. We learned how to add by counting. It was ok to use your fingers to count when we started, and I still use them occasionally today.

Flash forward a few years and it seems like schools are teaching a whole new language. Is this the math I learned? Drawing counters? What makes this easier? Sure, I get that most people learn how to round to ten first before adding, and it definitely makes things easier and faster, but trying to teach that right from the get-go?

If I, someone who knows and excels in math, have trouble understanding these lessons, then how do the kids handle it? These seem to be such convoluted methods to get to the same answer! Take, for instance, this math paper from a Boing Boing employee’s daughter. Sure, I understand what they’re trying to do here, and it’s a trick we all learn. But starting out with this? Why?

My own children bring home math papers that use the oddest methods for adding and subtracting. My son brought home a math paper about subtraction and had trouble completing it. I tried to explain borrowing to him and he looked at me like I had two heads. Apparently borrowing is no longer taught, instead they use regrouping. They draw pictures to get the answer rather than using mathematics.

Yeah, yeah. In the end, they do subtract, but why the need to draw pictures? Do we not have enough fingers? Can we not use them to figure out every subtraction problem? Regrouping is basically borrowing, but the concept seems so much more convoluted and difficult to explain.

To make matters worse, I tried to explain why he needed to borrow/regroup. “You see, the top number is smaller than the bottom number, so if you subtract them, you’ll get a negative number.” He floored me by asking what a negative number was. Seriously? I tried explaining the number line and while he understood, he explained that the teacher never taught such things.

I fear for our youth’s future. These are simple concepts. What happens when they get to the difficult stuff? Will they start relying on calculators and computers to multiply and divide because it’s “difficult” and they’d have to draw really big pictures?

What is our education system coming to?