There is a newsitem going on in Britain at this time relating to parental involvement in math homework and methods by which math should be taught. The article indicates that education policy-makers in Britain are alarmed that large numbers of parents are unable to help their children with math homework. They attribute this to new methods of teaching math and to the possibility that the parents, themselves, were inadequately trained in math when they were young. It suggests there is a social “badge of honour” that some people wear regarding their difficulties with math. It also notes that many of these math-deficient parents have quite successful careers, but run into difficulties with ordinary math functions, such has handle budgets, calculating change, and reading transportation schedules. This claim seems anecdotal and not research based. It claims that studies in the United States have shown a connection between parental involvement and higher test scores. The references to the United States do not appear specific to math, or involvement in the form of helping with homework.
I find this article interesting in that it focuses on parental math skills rather than on teaching children math in the class. It suggests that homework completion is an end in itself, not a method toward achieving success. I don’t know all the factors involved in how to best teach a child math, but that seems like this is the purview of the education profession. This article could be easily read as an indictment of the overdependence on homework as a teaching method. If children are going home with homework they cannot do on their own without the help of their parents, and if parents lack the skill and training to give them the help they need, why would we continue to bank on that resource to teach our children what they need to know? I’m a psychologist. People come to me for help with mental and emotional problems. I don’t get calls for people needing help with their teeth (Well, that’s not completely true. As it is, for a long time there was a dentist, Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, who had an office across the street from mine, so I would get calls from dental surgery patients. I was wise enough to turn them away and not take a stab at pulling their teeth).
But think about. Some people are not good at math. They still work and have successful careers. They may have some difficulty with day to day tasks, and that may or may not be related to math (I’ve never been good at budgeting and I have a master’s degree in mathematics in addition to my doctorate in psychology). We have teachers who are trained to teach our children. We understand that teaching is a tough job and that the profession needs to continue to research its techniques and advance its skills. We know that parents are vitally important to children. They offer children different types of lessons they cannot learn at school. Their involvement and support of education is helpful to children. Battling over homework or struggling with things they don’t do well is not be the type of involvement that helps education.
Dr. Kenneth Goldberg, is the author of The Homework Trap: How to Save the Sanity of Parents, Teachers, and Students, published by Wyndmoor Press.
I recommend giving copies of the book to the teachers at your child's school. Discount purchases are available through Wyndmoor Press. Single copies can be purchased at Amazon.