Posted by: chrisdavis | December 4, 2011

Don’t Get Math? A Real Dilemma (or Not)?

Just as some children have Dyslexia (difficulty with the written symbols of letters and words), some children have difficulty with its sister condition, Dyscalculia.

An article in this week’s Jerusalem Post discusses how Dyscalculia can be easily diagnosed by determining how well a child as young as age 3 is able to estimate. “The National Institutes of Health showed that the innate capacity to estimate is impaired in children who have a math learning disability.”

For example, if shown 8 dots, can the child tell you if the number is closer to 10 or to 5? Can the child determine which number is greater or lesser than the other?

The article featured an individual who had taken intermediate algebra six times before a teacher finally stumbled on a way to explain formulas so the student could understand. It seems that students with Dyscalculia are often able to grasp complex mathematical concepts, but choke at the most basic tasks of addition and multiplication.

Although my ADD is greater than my Dyscalculia (I understand that 8 is greater than 5), I have always had difficulty figuring how much to tip or which line is moving faster in a store. At first, I had tremendous difficulty with Algebra until one day the thought struck me that Algebra was, basically, a game—each problem a mystery to be solved. I have always loved games; so, once I entered the “game” called Algebra, Algebra became one of my favorite pastimes. If I had not made this discovery, I might have become a statistic like what Sylvan Learning Center recently discovered: “…about 1/3 of students surveyed would sacrifice a month of fun activities if they could never have to do algebra again….”

As an educator, my greatest concern is the long-term damage to an individual’s self-worth caused by the continual comparison between students that is so endemic in an institutional educational setting (i.e. public and private schools). Studies show that Dyscalculia is in no way related to IQ; that people with Dyscalculia are often highly intelligent, but suffer from low self-esteem due to  having been compared with others over many years.

A few years ago I read that 85% of 2nd graders (read that again: second graders!) consider themselves failures. I am forced to repeat this: By the time a child is in 2nd grade he or she is most likely to consider himself/herself an academic failure. Why? Again, comparison.

John Gatto (former New York State Teacher of the Year) states that public schooling is, basically, a “competitive sport” at which only a few can win and most lose.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, one of the main reasons we must raise our own children (including providing for their education) is that we are the only ones capable of treating them as individuals. In our homes, each child is not compared to any other. Each is allowed to be the individual he or she really is. By contrast, it is virtually impossible for an institutional setting to individualize education. No one ever asks, “How much math is enough for this person?” Or, “What kind of math does that person really need to succeed in life?” Or, “Is there a different way to present math to my child so he ‘gets’ it?”

Does your child “Get Math”? Many of my former blogs deal with this topic.

I always appreciate your comments and feedback to anything I write…


P.S. Consider bringing your students to tour Israel with me this summer: visit This will be our 10th year!



  1. Thank you, Chris; I’m not sure why you brought this up now but God does that for us and it is exactly what I needed. I didn’t realize there was such a thing, and now I will be reading your former blogs about this topic. THANKS!!

    • Math is a subject that I touch on through much of my writings as I homeschooled boys and I had to come to grips with how math “fit” into each life. Thanks for your comment and feel free to comment further as you read. CHRIS

  2. Look at what math has done to me!

    • Jay, where do I look?

  3. Math it one of those mysterious things that some people love and other people hate (like broccoli). I happen to really like math and algebra. I find it rewarding to help someone with algebra, especially when I have to review before I can help- a good mental challenge.

    My son on the other hand dreads math and it can be a sore spot in our homeschooling. I have tried to keep things at the level he is at. We took about 2 1/2 years to do a pre-algebra and basic math review. It may take about a 1 1/2 years to do algebra. Then, we will see what comes after. I am fine with just algebra, but he might want to go further in order to do well on the ASVAB test.

    • Love your analogy about broccoli :). I hated math, also (until I took Algebra the 2nd time). Timing had to be right. Also, I am aware that boys often need for something they are learning to have personal meaning/application in their world in order for them to reach out to learn it. IMO, a game is better than a book; but real-life experience is better than either one. Thanks for being such a patient mom!–CHRIS

  4. Great thoughts! I made it through Algebra alive in high school, thank God, but …math in general is still my “achilles heel.” Suffice it to say that this quote you referenced — “…about 1/3 of students surveyed would sacrifice a month of fun activities if they could never have to do algebra again….” — really resonates with me. 😉

    I enjoy your blog (miss you)!

  5. Thanks for the response. I believe more and more people are taking a hard look at institutional schooling and the damage it does to many young people. Can it be “fixed”? Time will tell…

  6. […] DyscalculiaEthnic Game Palooza Part 2: Sungka — Live in the PhilippinesThe Bulldog BarkDon’t Get Math […]

  7. I could cry after reading this. Of course, I suspected something amiss when my son just could not retain, for any length, his math lessons, and his having trouble understanding the concepts in the first place. Even through high school is was something he hated and did not retain. I blamed myself almost entirely for not finding the right tools, for not teaching him well enough, for not providing for him what he needed to succeed, though I tried.
    This is the hardest aspect of home schooling for me….the feeling of personal failure at my children’s difficulties. I know they are brilliant in the ways God has gifted them to be.
    Thanks for this post.


    • Rhonda, thanks for the comment. We always blame ourselves that we could not find the “silver bullet” for our kids’ struggles. I’m glad the post helped. I am encouraging every hsing parents to read the book “Uncommon Gifts” by James Evans (if they can find it somewhere). CHRIS

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