Can You Do a Sixth Grader's Math Homework?

by Maggie Murphy
Originally Published: 

Oh, the humiliation. It really doesn’t matter what you’ve achieved in life: There’s nothing like a sixth-grade math sheet to bring you to your knees. We must have learned this stuff, right? Maybe it used to be lodged somewhere in my temporal lobe, taking up space since grade school, only to be kicked to the gray-matter curb by my total recall of every Friends episode.

I love that my daughter loves math. She actually seems reasonably good at it, but I think this has everything to do with how she’s being taught—and who is doing the teaching. I am convinced I would still know the definition of the distributive property if I had the patient teacher my daughter has (yes, you, Mr. Clare) versus the ruler-wielding Sister Lawrence who cracked a knuckle with every wrong answer I gave.

A few other things I believe? No one should ever utter the words “You will never use this stuff again” in front of a school-age child. And because we need more kids interested in math and science, we should replace all singing competitions on television with math and science competitions. (You don’t have to be a multiplication whiz to realize that 14 seasons of American Idol and seven seasons of The Voice means there are a reasonable number of Americans who can sing well. Especially when you divide by the fact that the music business is dying.)

The math below isn’t that hard … once you stop being afraid of it. Or figure out what x or y is. (My colleague Melissa did it in 20 minutes—she is now a genius in my eyes, and I will pick her as my partner at all company retreats.) But at the end of a long day, when you’re hungry and tired and just want to watch Chris Matthews harangue a congressman, you will secretly pray you have a child who can get it on their own. But if you don’t, you will do what I do, which is email Mr. Clare to ask if you can stay after school to brush up on your math skills.

I know we all want to look at our kid’s homework and say, “Good luck with all of that.” But since we can’t, maybe we just need a refresher course. Test yourself on my daughter’s homework, below. If you find yourself struggling, it’s time for a tutor. I promise I won’t take out the ruler.

Definition: The Distributive Property is …

When would you use a distributive property?

a. 5 (x-8)=15

b. 12 + 3 (n+2) = 27

c. -4(x+3) = 8

d. 1/2(x-14) = 3

e. 4+2 (1 + x) = 12

Answers: a. x=11; b. n=3; c. x= -5; d. x=20; e. x=3

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