A new study finds that when parents who suck at math help kids with math homework, the kids do even worse than they were already doing. (Which must have been pretty bad, if the math-hating parents had to get involved in the first place.) I understand this, because I've seen my daughter Scout put her head on the counter while her artist mother and I caterwauled at one another about how many fucking cantaloupes Rhonda has left after she ate two, sold six and inexplicably gave five away to her grandmother.
But it doesn't work the other way, either.
When I was in sixth grade, I was sinking. Bullied at recess and after school and losing ground in the classroom, I faced my problems alone.
When I told my dad about the bullying, he got quiet in a way that told me he was sorry for my trouble, but it was my trouble. I solved that problem by winning a very public fistfight the next year. But my academic problems continued, to my parents' increasing consternation. And concern. But not participation. They yelled about my grades. They tried disappointment, too. They wondered in the other room whether it was my teachers' fault, for being boring. My mother speculated in a letter to a friend that she and my dad, both overachievers, were perhaps just too great for me to try to live up to.
But as many calories as they were burning wringing their hands, neither of them actually tried to help me with my fucking math homework. They just sent me upstairs, where instead of studying, I listened to the Pete Franklin Sportsline on the radio and set things on fire and burned them in an ashtray on my bedroom desk.
Scout is in sixth grade. She's an A student. She astounds this onetime procrastinator with her (usual) organization and self motivation.
When she does struggle to keep up, my response isn't, Uh oh, sounds like she's gonna start bringing home Ds pretty soon.
It's, Oh, fartballs. Now I have to get involved. Because no matter what happens, Scout is not going to go down academically anytime between now and college, I guarantee you that. I do science with Scout, even though I hate science with the heat of a thousand climate-change deniers. My wife and I help Scout with her math homework, even if it means learning math ourselves. (Why doesn't Scout come to us for help in reading, or social studies?) In the end, we'll do her math homework, before she starts getting bad grades.
But I'll also tell you that I do understand my parents' hands-off attitude toward my school troubles. So does my wife. We do our jobs. We do the shit out of our jobs. We also pay our taxes, buy the groceries and pick them up too. We cook the dinners, clean up the spills, wash the clothes, mow the lawn, shovel the snow and dig the schmutz out of the dog's ears.
And the math teacher can't teach fractions and angles sufficiently well to keep us from having to hunker down at the end of a long, hard day, with a protractor in one hand and a glass of scotch in the other? The science teacher expects us to remember the exact difference between a hypothesis and a theory, scientific theory and scientific method, responding variables and independent variables? How the fuck should we know? Christ almighty, it's 7:45—okay, okay, Scout. Sorry, honey. Let's take a look.