Friday, March 16, 2012

Encourage Entrepreneurship, Stop Teaching Math!

Guest post by Christeil Figueroa Gota    

My homeschooled kids can’t get through a math worksheet.  No, really.  Not one single worksheet. If they solve one algorithm or word problem, that’s it.  My 10 year old will even get bored 75% through reading a word problem.  He’ll blurt out the answer, and never even bother to write out the solution. This issue lasted about 3 days in our first year of home education before we employed the solution:  I stopped teaching math.

Instead, our kids just lived alongside us, as we lived our lives as business people and entrepreneurs.  Luckily we took to home education freedom very quickly and soon abandoned all things schooly – especially when it came to math.  Though not our initial intention, abandoning conventional math opened us up to real-world entrepreneurial internships that our kids relish.

We played many games together.  We did it just for fun, not for homeschool.  But because we didn’t have to report to a ringing bell every 55 minutes or need to show up with no. 2 pencils at any particular place, we sort of gave in to our board game vice and played constantly.  Besides Monopoly, we played The Wonder Number Game, Sum Swamp, Dino Math Tracks, Pay Day and Money Bags.

My 6 year old could make change.  Well, of course he could make change! The boys loved to play with play money, and when the play money got lost or torn up, we started using real money from our wallets and piggy banks.  The irony was not lost on me the one occasion when a stranger, who noticed my kids not in school in the middle of a Tuesday, expressed her concern about “socialization.”  Luckily, I actually had a moment to engage her in conversation, because I was still at the table waiting, as my poor, unsocialized child navigated the social process of paying the cashier for our breakfast at the cash register.

Another time, a child of mine negotiated the best rate for our dinner.  He had reviewed the menu and after listening to all of us give our orders to the waitress, he spoke up and switched things up.  Instead of 2 child’s chicken strips meal (which only had 2 strips each), he changed it to one adult’s chicken strips (which came with 6 strips, unlimited fries and a side salad).  He continued to adjust the order for the rest of the family, leaving us with more food and almost $20 saved from our original order.  This child was 9 at the time.

Why am I irritated when my husband rearranges our restaurant order to maximize savings, but burst with heavenly pride when my child does the exact same thing?  What does a 6 year old need with the ability to calculate the economic loss of mortgaging vs. selling?  How does understanding the velocity of money allow an 8 year old to enjoy his passions?  Why did I waste 3 whole days of homeschooling with math worksheets?

Ok, not all parents, homeschoolers or not, are entrepreneurs.  However, kids interacting with you in your daily comings and goings, or spending time lounging, cooking, watching TV or Facebooking, can be a valuable entrepreneurial internship that parents can give their kids.

My husband will point out to the kids the kinds of ads he gets when he is logged onto his FB account as opposed to the ads I see when I am logged onto mine.  Social networking as the hottest new advertising model, as well as the record-breaking, Facebook IPO were all discussed.

We analyze why the kids love the Jack-in-the-Box, “Jumbaco” ad, while I have a strange admiration for the screaming JC Penny commercial.  Last month, my son asked why I was fast-forwarding through the football section of the Super Bowl that we DVR’d, just to stop and watch the commercials.  So, we explain 30-second prime time media ads in detail, while laughing through the commercials.  This fun-filled way of learning marketing, advertising and demographics in business has actually made my kids less susceptible to ads, even ads aimed specifically to children.  They can see right through them.
Volunteering, fund-raising and charity drives are fantastic entrepreneurial internships.  The kids understand the business structure of charities as well as the basics of charity R.O.I. because I volunteered as Secretary of a cancer charity this year.  Last year, the kids wanted to become micro-lenders through,  after seeing mine and my husband’s enthusiasm for granting small interest free loans to entrepreneurs in 3rd World countries.  The boys now lend their own money to people in Asia and Africa. I wrote about this activity in detail in a previous post.

Besides living alongside us, the kids have informally interned with their martial arts teacher that owns and operates his own dojo. I've done some marketing consulting for him, and my kids have made flyers, hung signs and other odd and ends.  Exposure to these owner-operators gives the kids insight on the entrepreneurial paradigm known as, “living above the store.”  They see how  people are accountable and invested, as opposed to the “entitled” attitudes that are often displayed from factory-model employee types.

Now 4 years into homeschooling and my kids still can’t/won’t do math worksheets.  However, on any given week, they are either lending to a new grocery store owner in Kenya, or selling their old toys and clothes on consignment, or brainstorming with their Tae Kwon Do master on how to get new students in the school, or trading properties with high equity with properties with high rental income, or criticizing the choice of spokesperson for the newest car insurance ad on TV.

Finally, the most important entrepreneurial internship we offer our children is “failure.”  My son attempted to earn some money for himself by setting up a gumball machine at his father’s office.  He used M&M’s because they were a lower cost, but the candy clogged the machine.  Fail. Great lessons learned.  Last year, my other son wanted to sell giant pumpkin seedlings, but he planted too late to market them for Halloween, and the pumpkins weren’t impressive enough for Thanksgiving.  Fail.  Great lessons learned.  March 1st of this year, he planted seeds for another run at “Grow Your Own Giant” for the 2012 fall holidays.  Stay tuned!

Christeil Gota is mother of 4 boys and unschooling in California. The family is happily embarking on their 4th year of home education, following their passions and playing.


  1. My youngest son was unschooled and decided to enter school in grade 6. He entered school without ever really having had math taught to him and what he had, he picked up "by osmosis" from us. He struggled in the formal math lessons of school of course.
    What's interesting is that around the middle of grade 7 the math curriculum changed and became more abstract, less concrete. And he loved it. And he found out he was good at it. He likes algebra and solving equations. He's now in grade 8, taking grade 9 math, wants to study math in university and his teacher thinks he might be gifted in math.

    Sort of a success story, but I wonder if he'd ever have found his passion if he was still being unschooled. Not a lot of call for solving polynomials in most people's day, unless you're a math teacher :) Just a thought.

  2. My son is talented at statistics. He can calculate derivations from the mean or pull patterns from random data like it was a party game. There is very little statistical math, if any, covered in conventional school. Andrew, your son would have most certainly discovered his passion either way, because you as the attentive and respectful parent that you are made it possible. If school had not made polynomials handy for him to solve, he would be analyzing the mathematical beauty of curves in weather, planets, mechanical signals, music or economics. I bet if you ask your son, he'll show you polynomials are everywhere!

    1. I'm glad things worked for your son Chris. My point was not to question if it CAN be done, because I think we agree that it can. My question is, does it always work and is it always right in every situation? My son was unschooled by his mum who is a wonderful writer. His brothers are also wonderful writers and so this was a great fit. Maybe he would have found is passion maybe not, we'll never know. But he hadn't through 5 years of unschooling. Maybe there isn't one situation that's right al the time for all children and in some situations some kids are better off in school.

  3. If mathematics consisted solely of arithmetic, this would be a perfectly viable approach.

  4. Homeschoolers are an arrogant lot that think they can reproduce the work of highly trained professionals with their homespun 'wisdom'. For every anecdote about a homeschool 'success', there are a thousand anecdotes about homeschooled kids ending up flippin' burgers and going nowhere. I counsel these kids when they apply for unemployment benefits, and frankly my dear, their parents should be charged with child abuse.

    1. I would never, or could never reproduce the work of highly trained professionals. I think it was an act of extraordinary kindness and respect for math teachers that I pulled my sons out of school to home educate. Math teachers would absolutely hate to have my kids in their class! ;)

      I challenge your assumption that only 1 out of 1000 home schooled people are successful. Also, I don't see any indignity or failure in a job flipping burgers. I know a lovely gentleman that lost his job at a real estate finance firm in the recession and is now assistant manager at our local Carl's Jr. I respect him immensely and think he is the epitome of success. Also, entrepreneurs cannot apply for unemployment benefits.

    2. Would love to know what percentage of your unemployment recipients are homeschoolers vs. those that were public schooled. My aunt is an unemployment counselor and has more than once noted to me that perhaps our decision to homeschool might keep my kids out of her office since in 27 years, she has never come across one.

  5. I was pulled into homeschooling by our kids, after they were mislabeled, recommended for Ritalin, and were totally bored in school. Our kids did not need Ritalin but a more challenging curriculum - which they were denied, along with gifted services. Our daughter was also harassed by the administration, the effects of which lasted for years - even after she left school. This, Anonyomous, is educational neglect and emotional abuse. I am now an educational consultant and I have heard 1,000's of these stories.

    Both of our kids helped to design their own learning and did many very advanced independent study projects, some with mentors. They regained their love of learning, and never needed Ritalin. Both received scholarships, graduated last May, and never flipped burgers. Both are excelling in creative fields.

    I've tutored public school students for the past 17 years, which is often extremely frustrating due to their lack of knowledge and motivation. I've also taught groups of homeschoolers and experienced the exact opposite.

    I was later hired by a college admissions department to be their "Homeschool Specialist". Yes, believe it or not, colleges are actively recruiting homeschoolers because they know that these kids extremely bright, motivated, and mature. All of my homeschooled recruits received very nice scholarships.

    I also recruited from 18 local public high schools. I'm sorry, Anonymous, but it was at these schools that I saw thousands of potential burger flippers who were absolutely not prepared for college. I also teach SAT prep classes to groups of public school kids. Many struggle with basic math. So, I suppose my experiences have been completely different.

  6. "Homeschoolers are an arrogant lot that think they can reproduce the work of highly trained professionals with their homespun 'wisdom'."

    Which might hold water if most teachers WERE highly trained professionals. And really, for all that training, there was a study done in NJ about the rise in second-career, alternate route-trained teachers that were (then) comprising about 40% of all new teachers and their productivity stats.

    Sorry, but the non-traditional teachers with less training outperformed all those "highly trained professionals". Think what you want, but numbers speak.

    1. I find it funny that you'll use numbers like this to evaluate teachers yet in the same breath would probably rail against using numbers like this to evaluate students. Anonymous is right. I have yet to meet a home-schooling parent who isn't completely self-righteous.

  7. Self-righteous: Exhibiting pious self-assurance

    Before we go off attacking folks that have pious self-assurance for how they support learning, we should ask ourselves: "Isn't that what we want for our kids???"

    Whether you're a teacher or parent I commend you for being devoutly tied to the belief that you are helping a child learn in the very best way you know possible.

    If all educators (home, school, etc.) were self righteous, that would be a pretty good thing.

    1. HA HA HA!!! Any time an educator gets self-righteous, you and your minions accuse him/her of abusing children. Nice try.

    2. An accusation without evidence appears empty and unfounded.

      My readers are certainly not my minions. As many of them can tell you, I've learned quite a bit from them and follow their insights and direction much more so then the other way around.

      We discuss, debate, share and learn together.

  8. Lisa, I think that self-righteous ALWAYS refers to an unpleasant trait.

    The quickie definition I grabbed off the internet says, "holier-than-thou, excessively or hypocritically pious, sanctimonious."

    That said, I have known hundreds and hundreds of homeschooling parents, and almost none of them are self-righteous. Of course they think that they've made the best choice for their kids and their families--if they didn't think that, they wouldn't have chosen to homeschool! But most of them want to be left in peace to homeschool their kids as they see fit, and do not want to run around trying to convince everyone else that THEY should do it, too. Naturally, a few people are quite evangelical about homeschooling--they want to spread the "good news" that it is possible, that it can be tons of fun, and that it works!--but only a very few are actually moralistic about it.

    Most homeschoolers couldn't be arrogant about not sending their kids to school because they do or have or will send their kids to school. Consider the facts that:
    * there are a disproportionate number of teachers who homeschool their own kids (
    * a sizable minority of homeschooling parents send their kids to public school for portions of the day or week (
    * most homeschooled kids enter school at some point in their lives between ages 5 and 18 (

    As to the charge that homeschooling parents must be arrogant to think that they could reproduce what well-trained teachers do, there are two simple answers:

    1) Most children learn most of what they know by age 18 outside of schools--an awful lot of it as babies, before they are school aged. Maybe all parents everywhere are arrogant to think that they could take on the responsibility of raising a child--because the hardest, most important parts have nothing to do with academics!

    2) Many homeschooling parents are not even trying to reproduce what trained teachers in schools do. Instead, they "just" help their child learn and develop and eventually master the facts and skills that abound in their environment and within their passions.

  9. Cathy,

    Thank you for shedding some light on this. Your insights make complete sense in general. When it comes to the term "self-righteous," I agree that the term is generally used in a negative sense, however, I believe the part that applies to adults when it comes to the young people in their charge is this part of the definition, "Having or characterized by a certainty that one is totally correct." The reason I say this is because many educators I hear from believe school is what every child deserves and what is best for each child. In fact, as we both know, the NEA takes a strong position against home education that could certainly be defined as self-righteous.

    When it comes to home educators, in several cases, their children have left school due to a system that simply did not meet the needs of their child(ren) and in many cases they experienced harmful effects so these parents could be categorized as "Having or characterized by a certainty that one is totally correct."

    Personally, as I share often in my blog, I have learned more about effective ways to support learning from home educators who fall on the unschooling side of the spectrum than I have from any class I've taken in schools of education.

  10. There's talk on here about homeschoolers being an arrogant lot. I tend to agree after reading this. Just getting through the first paragraph made me ill. Your children can't get through a math worksheet, so let's stop teaching math? Worksheets are the problem, not the math.

    Summary: say goodbye to engineers, the driving force behind entrepreneurship, if you're just going to scrap math. This is not innovative education, it's neglect.

    I agree that the greatest internship you offer is failure. Stop teaching math? Fail.

    1. Right on. Maybe if the kids were learning actual math (thinking, not procedural grunt work) they would have been more inclined to stick with it.

  11. Jennifer Lopez in an entrepreneur, but not an engineer. Thomas Edison was both an entrepreneur and an engineer, but he was home schooled.

    The kids in this article seem to know how to do math in their heads, so even if the mom is not teaching them, they are learning it somehow.

    Certainly does make you think.

  12. As a special ed teacher, I can tell that these kids may have savant abilities in math. Therefore, making them do worksheets would literally be torture for them. Imagine someone asking you to identify the color of a fire truck, you say 'red' and they go on to ask you to explain your answer. Some kids are able to comprehend math in a non linear way, so explaining the answer or working out solutions on paper makes no sense or is purposeless for them.

    If these kids were in a regular school, they may be misidentified as having behavior problems simply because the usual math classes are not suited to them. We have to be careful not to make generalities about teaching math, and remember that only a varied and individual approach has proven to be the most effective for the majority of kids. A special ed IEP can accommodate kids like this in a classroom, but how many parents are willing to do that?

    The kids are home schooled, so they have successfully escaped labeling. Only time will tell if this advantage for them will carry on beyond the care and nurture of their parents. My feeling is that it will.