Parenthood and education share common denominator

Some parents may need a refresher course in elementary school education
Feb. 14, 2013 @ 02:12 PM

Irony and circumstance have odd ways of reminding us how funny, and so often challenging, life can be.
Sitting in Brandy Reeder’s fifth grade classroom at Brier Creek Elementary School Wednesday morning, I found myself thinking how nice it is not having to worry about adding fractions without common denominators. With two children rapidly advancing through their academic careers, helping with homework is becoming increasingly difficult.
Assisting my ninth grade son with his math already is an act of aging futility.
How I got through Calculus II is beyond me.
With my fifth grade daughter, however, there seems to be hope. We often watch the Jeff Foxworthy show “Are you smarter than a fifth grader” and I can hold my own.
Sort of.
Once the questions get into fourth grade science and fifth grade social studies, it’s 50-50. As for math, normally I’m pretty good.
So I thought.
On Wednesday evening, I found Jasper sitting on the couch looking upset. Given, it doesn’t take much to upset my daughter, but I could tell frustration had got the better of her. When I sat down beside her and asked what was wrong, she pointed to a work sheet that required, you guessed it, adding fractions with uncommon denominators.
I’m not sure if the feeling was panic, fear or a sudden drop in IQ points, but in that moment, I couldn’t remember how to do it. My brain locked up so fast, the numbers looked more like an encryption Indiana Jones would find in the deserts of Egypt.
Surely this wasn’t human mathematics. Fifth graders must be learning some new alien formula of adding fractions that recently was revealed to mankind.
This was a moment. Parents have them. A moment when you say “I need to be a parent right now and help my child.”
How? It wasn’t coming to me. Numbers seemed to dance across the page, cascading in a silhouette of mockery that had me questioning the very fabric of my being.
Taking a deep breath, I tried to slow my mind down. This is intended for a fifth grader not NASA.
Multiplication is involved, I thought. If multiplication is involved, division probably is too. Common denominators. What is the easiest way to find a common denominator between two fractions?
Multiply them, maybe? Try there.
Pieces started falling into place. Numbers looked more like numbers.
Divide the common denominator by the original and multiply it by the numerator. Add them together.
And just like that, we had an answer.
All of this took less than five minutes, of course, but when time stands still in a moment of intellectual doubt, who’s really counting?
Never again will I doubt the importance of education. I’ve always been proud of my college degree and earning it is something no one can take away from me. In this economy, however, I’ve found myself maybe slightly seeing the point presented by people who say college is a waste of time. A large majority of my friends never graduated college and they’re doing just fine. Some of my friends with college degrees are unemployed or making much less than their counterparts.
Obviously either route in life can work and no one should judge the other. What can’t be argued is the importance of a high school diploma. The numbers speaks for themselves in that respect, but educating yourself goes beyond dollars and cents.
A person with any notion of being a parent should want an education, if not for themselves, their children. Teachers can‘t do everything all the time. Most of them, like Mrs. Reeder, go above and beyond their call of duty, but they still need the help of parents. A parent should be able to sit down with their child and help add fractions with uncommon denominators or identify state capitals.
A lot of stuff we learn in school we may never use. The point is to learn anyway. Irony and circumstance require it.
Learning something and never using it is not nearly as bad as needing something you’ve learned and not being able to use it.
Needless to say, I will be brushing up on my math from now on. I may never catch up in time to help my high school son, but maybe I can be a little more help to my soon-to-be middle school daughter.
Isn’t it funny how ironic some circumstances can be? Or maybe it’s ironic how funny some circumstances can be?
Life is challenging either way, especially for parents who need a refresher course in elementary school education.

Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or