The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has come out with a new set of recommendations for the teaching of math. Headlines on the subject have said things like “Back to the Basics” and “No More Fuzzy Math,” but that is just the irritating way headlines fail to jibe with reality. In fact, the new recommendations merely suggest focal points for each grade. They continue to encourage problem-solving and algebraic thinking at every grade level, and continue to mandate basic skills in calculation and so on, but they are saying “If you can only get a few things across, let it be this group.” And “this” is the usual counting in kindergarten, adding in first grade, subtraction in second grade, multiplication in third, and division in fourth, along with the math topics (that’s stuff like measurement) as usual. The NCTM is, I think, responding not so much to the possible overdoing of the discovery method as to the test-driven panic over long lists of things like having kindergartners say “rhombus” and practicing all possible varieties of graphs each year in case one shows up on the test.

Education is very fashion-driven, and it is usual to behave as though every new thing were New! and Exciting! when it’s really just the hemlines going up and down.

Then Knitsteel was saying that geometry was the most important thing. If you are only going to teach your kids a little math, she said, let it be geometry.

The combination of these two discussions have made think about what little bit of math would really be the most important.

I have to say that I don’t ever favor knowing just a little bit. We live for a long time nowadays, and we ought surely to be learning every day, so we have time to learn a lot of things.

But if you were only going to have a little knowledge of math, for the sake of argument, what would you pick?

Now that Blessing (That Man’s new assistant) is on the force at work, there are accounting conversations going on. When That Man and I have conversations, they tend to be about music, politics, where mislaid items might be, and things like last week’s “Did you throw away the giraffe’s bottom, by any chance?”

He and Blessing say things like “So they overpaid #42763, but underpaid on the 9th, so they have a credit of 12 cents, reflected in the $10,724 on the second page.” I say, “What’s 12 cents between friends?” and they look at me uncomprehendingly.

Perhaps knowing about money would be handy. The accountants always use calculators, of course, but the way they throw around the names of all those numbers shows that they could do without them if they had to. Faced with piles of papers and people overpaying and underpaying, I would probably just cry. Is this a specialized skill, or something we all could benefit from?

Music involves math, of course. Our director once announced that it was “just math,” as thought that would make it easer for the choir to get the syncopation accurately. Our director loves syncopation, and works diligently toward crisp rhythms. And knitting is all math, in exactly the same way that music is all math. In both cases, it is probably mostly ratios and measurement of various kinds.

So we need to be able to calculate, estimate, measure, and comprehend ratios.

You need fractions for cooking. Sometimes for knitting, too. In fact, fractions and decimals are required for most calculations in the real world. Things are rarely so tidy that you can just go with whole numbers. And we have to be able to tell time and to work with time a little for cooking and for scheduling.

It seems to me that percentages are key for understanding the news, determining whether the latest Huge Sale is actually all that, and estimating sales tax accurately enough that you won’t be startled by your totals when shopping. They are also handy for reading in the social sciences.

For reading in the natural and physical sciences, you sometimes need quite complicated math, but that may be optional for daily life. Those who need to be able to do the calculations involved in reading about advanced chemistry probably have studied math more thoroughly than the rest of us anyway.

So, let’s see, we need basic operations, the math topics, some geometry, a bit of algebra… Pretty much the usual elementary and middle school math syllabus.

Not that all of us in Hamburger-a-go-go-land leave middle school knowing all these things. But that is another subject entirely.

Those of us doing the HGP will, this week, clean our bedrooms thoroughly. We will put a meal and a batch of “goodies” in the freezer. We will begin spending an hour a day working on homemade presents, and buy 1/8 of our store-bought presents. We also check our towels and table linens. I had planned on making some for my SewRetro project this month, though I notice that the month is slipping away without my having done so. Maybe this is the week.

Hqwanda has a countdown that involves buying massive quantities of luau foods. Sounds a bit jollier than the HGP.