The Morality of Math

Math tutoring for elementary school students is at the center of Pennsylvania’s continuing budget fights. The governor wants to raise taxes for new school programs, including math tutoring. The Republicans, particularly those in the Senate, are not interested in raising taxes.

One of the many things I have wondered in the midst of these debates is why we need paid math tutors for elementary school students. I am sure that our statewide math achievement could stand to be improved. But why do we need taxpayer-financed tutors?

Seriously, where are the children’s parents? We are talking about elementary school math, not calculus. Tutoring children in math sure seems like a parental responsibility rather than a taxpayer responsibility. What happened to parents helping their children with their homework?

I can hear the cries of protest now. And some of these protests would raise fair questions. The protests, however, would raise more questions than they answer. In situations where parents do not have enough time to help their children with their homework, what else do the parents not have the time to teach their children?

If parents cannot help their children with addition and multiplication, there must be many other basic life skills being neglected. Perhaps more money is not the solution to the math tutoring problem. Perhaps more money is not the solution to many of the problems faced by children today.

America has become a land where taxpayers are expected to foot the bill for other people’s problems, from math tutoring to drug addiction to poor job prospects for those who dropped out of school.

While taxpayers are expected pay for the results of these problems, we are called insensitive, and worse, if we suggest that such problems could have been avoided and that the people involved could change their circumstances.

As a nation we have made the public responsible for the moral failings of others while removing moral discussions from public conversation.

Morality has come to be viewed as rules the uptight have that prevent people from living full lives. Yet moral living is all about having a full life. When we teach people morals, we are teaching them to avoid trouble and pain that will detract from their lives.

Who do you think leads happier, fuller lives: parents who are able to help their kids with their homework or parents who, for whatever reason, cannot? Living morally helps people avoid drug addiction, out-of-wedlock births and bill collectors.

Moral living may at times be less exciting than the alternatives. Yet, over the long haul, moral living is paradoxically hedonistic. The moral life is all about a steady pleasure from making good choices.

Many of the parents who are unable to help their children with elementary school math are in such positions because of bad choices. As a society we have cheated these parents out the joy of helping their children because we have rejected public discussions of morality. People need to be taught how to live the good life.

Any lack of achievement in elementary level math in Pennsylvania is not the result of taxes that are too low. The lack of achievement is one of the many consequences we suffer because of our unwillingness to discuss and listen to good advice.