Okay, so to be fair to math, it's not math that is stupid. I mean, math is just math, after all. Math, regular math like addition/subtraction, multiplication/division, algebra, doesn't change. 2+2 will always be 4. Always. The quadratic formula will ALWAYS be the quadratic formula:
So it's not math that's the problem; it's the people who write and/or produce textbooks.
There's been stuff in the news recently about how some school districts have been offering classes for parents who need help with their math skills in relation to the new common core math standards. Every one of the news stories I have heard or read make it sound like there is some issue with these adults. They're having to go back to school because they're just dumb. Smart parents don't need help with the math. I don't think this is necessarily the case.
Granted, I don't think a lot of adults have retained much of their high school math and, really, that's okay, because you don't need, in general, much math to get by on. Heck, if you have any kind of cell phone or tablet (and who doesn't? I mean, even I have a Kindle at this point), you can get free calculator apps and stuff, so all you need to know is when to add or subtract or whatever, not actually be able to do it. But I don't think the issue with the new common core stuff is lack of ability or knowledge; I think it's because it's full of made up crap that didn't exist thirty years ago.
And, yes, I mean made up crap because, as I said, basic math doesn't change. There is nothing new to add to it, because, guess what, 2 + 2 = 4! Period (okay, exclamation point). End of story.
So, a few weeks ago, my daughter asked me to help her with her math. This not an uncommon occurrence, nor has it been an uncommon occurrence with any of my kids. I mean, I have spent time teaching both algebra and calculus so getting asked to help with BASIC MATHEMATICS should not be an issue, right? RIGHT? Except what she said was, "Hey, Dad, I need help with this neutral table."
Neutral table? What the heck? I'd never heard of a neutral table. Which is kind of what I said except it went more like:
"What are you talking about? There's no such thing as a neutral table."
"Well, I have to do one for my homework."
Great, my kid had to do some thing that wasn't even real for homework. So I had to take her math book and figure out what the heck she was talking about because, guess what, neutral tables are SO made up that you can't conveniently find them online.
Are any of you wondering, now, what a neutral table is? Well, I'll show you.
Pretend you need to figure out the answer to 7-3 and you can't work that out in your head and you don't have any fingers. Guess what! You can use a neutral table! It looks something like this
+ + + + + + +
- - -
only with a box drawn around it. You match the +s to the -s and remove all of those pairs. Whatever you have left is the answer to your problem, so the answer to this one is 4+s. The problem here is that doing it like this does not address something like 7 - (-3), because you still have to know to make that into 7 + 3. To be fair to my daughter, the problem she needed help with was slightly more complicated although not much more. My question was, "Why aren't you just using a number line?"
But I actually know the answer. It's an answer I don't much like.
You can't sell new textbooks without "new" math in them. There's no incentive without new material, after all, other than to just replace books that are falling apart, but how often do schools really need to do that? Judging by the texts I used when I was in school, not more than once a decade at best. But if there's new material... Well, that changes things, so you have to make up brand new "math" to convince schools to re-invest in new texts.
The problem is that it's not really math. I'm sorry (okay, I'm really not); neutral tables are not math. There should not be a section in a math book about how to use neutral tables. They are not a THING. At best, they are an example of a thing, a way of showing a kid who isn't getting adding and subtracting a way to figure it out. So, maybe, you give this info to teachers of 1st and 2nd graders (to the teacher) as a way to explain adding and subtracting, but it does not belong in a 6th grade math text as a THING that you need to know how to use to algebra.
Neutral tables are not the only thing my kids have asked me about that didn't exist in math a couple of decades ago; they are just the most inane thing they have asked me about. And they are inane. It's a waste of teaching, a waste of class time, a waste of brain space. And, now, it's a waste of my own brain space just knowing that these things exist.
Seriously, that our education system is tied up with textbook publishers is one of the reasons that our education system is suffering so much. The education system should not be allowed to become like the military, paying for gold-plated toilet seats and the like. But, again, the education system and what's wrong with it is another topic entirely.