Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? A Parent's Tale
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“Are you sure?” I asked, genuinely. “Because it would make the problem a lot easier. Let’s just try it like that.”
We did it my way, which totally altered the question being asked and made it utterly impossible to arrive at the right answer, in the process robbing my son of the chance to practice the skills allegedly learned in school.
We couldn’t solve it my way either.
Who remembers how to find a fraction of something, or a percentage, much less both at once? Not me. So I did what people do in 2015 do to learn stuff. I Googled “How to calculate percentages.” Then I Googled “How to solve a fraction.” But we still couldn’t get an answer that made sense.
We moved over to scrap paper, on which we employed renegade strategies. At one point, I got really excited, sure that I’d cracked the problem wide open. I felt like Albert freaking Einstein. My paper was filled with wild mathematical equations, numbers crossed out, division symbols and parentheses and fractions being cross-multiplied.
“THIS IS IT!” I yelled. “We’ve got it now!” The answer I got was 3,876. “I think that’s right,” I told Primo.
“Mom,” he said, “how could 3,876 be 662/3 % of 120? How could 3,876 kids help with a food drive?”
“You’re very smart,” I told him, realizing that I was really more like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind—at the end, after he’s gone loco.
That was about when David came home. “DADDY!” Primo shouted.
“Thank God,” I said.
He looked at the problem and the first thing he asked was why the percentage symbol was crossed out.
“I didn’t like it,” I said.
“Move over,” he said. A half hour later, David had gotten us nowhere.
“I’ll write a note and tell your teacher that we don’t get it,” I said, “Just leave it unfinished.”
“No!” my son protested, a chip off the old stubborn block. “We have to figure it out.”
So I took things to the next level: I called my father. He was my go-to when I was in school, and he loves math. It’s been years since he was a deus ex machina for someone’s pre-cal problem set and, frankly, he’s missed it.
As expected, Babbo saved the day. He knew just what to do and he explained it clearly. We had an answer that made sense. Sweet victory.
Until Primo’s teacher corrected his homework and we found out the answer was wrong.
Honestly, I can’t say I care at all. That’s what teachers are for.