Written last night at Ray’s school, where they were holding a math and chocolate night.  My only regret:  they kicked her out at seven.  I rambled; Ray was coloring and cutting out pattern shapes elbow to elbow with other kids, and it seemed like it took forever…

At the chocolate and math night at school.  It simultaneously seems like there are too many kids and not enough kids.  I wish that Ray’s teacher would teach like this, but I just don’t think she thinks this way, making and playing (and bribing with M&Ms).

As sometimes comes to me, math strikes me as the philosophy of “there’s a trick to it.”

There’s always a next-order solution.  Sure, you could count on your fingers, but it’s easier to know how to add (especially once you start getting into double digits).  Sure, you could laboriously trace this pattern, but you could also use folds to give you the shapes you need to cut out.  There’s a trick to it.

As always, I’m proud of the mix of people who come here.  My daughter isn’t going to school where people who are Black or Hispanic (or Indian) don’t exist, invisible.  Parents in suits, parents in sweats.  But that’s math, too–she’ll grow up knowing that most of the world isn’t white.  I feel like that will do her well in the future; more and more of this country is shifting.  Although almost every single teacher here is white, and a woman.  The janitor, the PE coach.  I think that’s it for guys–both white.

That concerns me.  I think it distorts how kids learn.  The teachers seem to treat the kids equally, but I’m  not in the classroom.  I do know that Ray seems more “girls rule” this year than last year, by a good bit.  I have to talk more to her about how she treats and talks to boys than anything else.

This year started out with boys bullying her all the time.  That seems more under control, but I still hear all kinds of stories about boys in trouble, boys always in trouble.  And that concerns me, too.

Boys and girls should be in a similar amount of trouble; when they’re not, it says something is out of whack with teaching methods.  On the one hand, girls need to be built up as much as boys.  On the other hand, boys don’t need to be torn down as much as girls.  It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.  But I’d like to see more men recruited as teachers, more people who aren’t white.  Quotas?  No.  Not hard numbers.  But more scholarships.  More begging.

Ray’s cutting out pattern blocks, the kind of thing you make mandala-like patterns with.  She did tangrams earlier, and I showed her what they were for.  We made a girl with a jaunty hat, a duck, a cat.  They’re just there to play with, the kind of play that teaches kittens how to hunt.

She’s supposed to be completing eight stations, collecting stamps on her card and candy in her bag (candy…getting hungry…).  One of the mothers says, “This is the last table, baby.”  But this is our third, and part of my brain says, “Do what you’re supposed to do, rush her from table to table, before they run out of time!  What are they supposed to do, stay until midnight?  Hurry…”

School seems so full of those useless, mindless, repetitive tasks.  Add.  Add some more.  Write all your spelling words followed by the number of vowels, a slash, and the total number of letters.  That kind of thing, day after day.

They must really think that there isn’t enough routine our kids’ lives.  Moo.  And with all that repetition, that sheer mass of tasks that take up her time, the rare project that asks any more of her has to be gone through quickly, without obsession.

And so I let her play as long as she likes.

But I still stand over her shoulder, watching, wondering if she’ll see the trick to it.  Sometimes yes.  Sometimes I butt in, catching the small errors that might mislead her–have to count all the sides of the rectangle, not just the long ones.  But she’s got it, and I feel like I’m just in the way.

Math is what you like when you like finding out the trick to it.  “The trick to it” is just another way of saying “the pattern.”

We ended up not getting to all the stations.  But they let us enter the drawing for the free book anyway.  I’m hoping for Magic School Bus.