Conservative Blogger Has Meltdown Because He Doesn’t Understand His Third-Grader’s Math Homework

First Obama makes people get health insurance, now he wants kids to learn more efficient ways of doing subtraction? Tyranny!

Erick Erickson, a writer at the conservative Red State, was enraged to find that his daughter brought home a homework assignment that he couldn’t wrap his head around (she’s in third grade, mind you), so he took to his laptop and shoveled out a rant against Obama and his new Common Core standards that are making people like Erickson feel ancient and clueless.

Erickson’s laments:

The traditional method of subtracting, borrowing and carrying numbers, is derisively called the “Granny Method.” The new method makes no freaking sense to either my third grader or my wife.

He appears particularly upset because he pays for his daughter to go to a christian private school specifically so he can avoid having to teach her anything that Obama might want her to learn.

We send our child to a Christian private school. We thought our child could escape this madness. But standardized tests, the SAT, and the ACT are all moving over to Common Core. So our child has to learn this insanity.

Here is what Erickson’s daughter’s textbook looked like:


Image via Red State

For those of you who aren’t currently in the third grade, the new approach to tackling subtraction problems does, at first glance, seem intimidating. Gone are the cumbersome “take ten out of next digit” instructions. Now, subtraction is really a matter of addition. But do not despair, while it may be different, the new way (which is not really “new” at all, as we shall see) is far from the “madness” Erickson assumes it is.

It turns out that Obama isn’t intentionally trying to make things harder for people, Obama isn’t really involved at all. Instead, it’s educators, teachers, and schools coming together to attempt to find better ways of helping children to learn methods of problem solving that will help them in the the real world.

In a fantastic post on Hemant Mahta’s Friendly Atheist blog, the former math teacher explains that the complicated way the textbook chooses to teach children subtraction is not very complicated at all.

Well, consider this: Suppose you buy coffee and it costs $4.30 but all you have is a $20 bill. How much change should the barista give you back? (Assume for a second the register is broken.)

You sure as hell aren’t going to get out a sheet of paper and do this:


Instead, you’d just figure it out this way: It’d take 70 cents to get to $5… and another $15 to get to $20… so you should get back $15.70.

That’s it. That’s the sort of math most of us do on a regular basis and it’s exactly the sort of thinking the “new” way in the picture is attempting to explain.

Erick Erickson via Wikimedia

Erick Erickson via Wikimedia

In short, the “new” way is merely putting into textbook-form the kind of intuitive math we do in our heads every day. More importantly the “granny” way that many of us learned in elementary school is still taught to kids, but they are also given other options — like this one — to add to their arsenal. For some math problems, the old way may be better, but for figuring out how much change you should get at the grocery store, this new system will certainly help. That can be invaluable for training children to operate effectively in the real world.

It should also be noted that despite Erickson’s claim that this is (literally) a textbook example of how stupid Common Core is, this method isn’t Common Core. A simple check of the Core Standards website reveals no mention of which way students should learn how to subtract. Instead, the standards are simple guidelines meant to be used by teachers and school districts to ensure that all kids are learning different kinds of thinking and problem solving skills.

Amazingly, Erickson didn’t bother to investigate Common Core or even how his daughter’s math problem was supposed to be solved (hopefully, she has a teacher who is more patient than her parents), instead he dismissed the entire new model based on a single page of his daughter’s math book, because he didn’t recognize subtraction method and couldn’t be bothered to spend five minutes figuring it out.

Erickson concludes his rant by claiming that this proves that “these people” — meaning the promoters of Common Core — “want worker bees in their cogs. They want automatons. They do not want productive, independent citizens.” Ironic because flexible, multi-faceted approaches to problem solving are the corner stone of the new Common Core requirements. Instead, it sounds like Erickson is the one who would rather kids be taught one way, his “right” way, to do things and that’s final.