Why Johnny Can’t Add

In the fifties I started to wonder why kids
Mathematics they won’t understand.
There had not been by then a great number of bids
For researching this lack in the land.

So I thought I’d go round and just take a good look,
To discover wherein were the lacks.
What I found was so clear but not found in a book,
‘Twas an obvious waste of our tax!

What I saw was that children learned maths all by heart
But without understanding a word.
All the children excepting the ones very smart
In the simplest of problems they erred.

Then I wondered what was so amiss in the chain
‘Tween the teacher and the children’s response
They would try and would try but so often in vain
Notwithstanding reciting for months!

The place value convention they could never face,
They knew not of the powers of ten.
To know powers you must know of exponent and base,
If you don’t it’s beyond all your ken!

So I thought I would teach them to count in base three,
And base four and base five and base six.
And I gave them some blocks for a good learning spree,
So they could understand all the tricks!

But there was yet another big problem at hand,
The distributive law they knew not!
So the use of the brackets could not understand,
Which to progress was clearly a blot.

Some material I made for the teacher who cares
In a box that would serve as a tool.
Balance beams and pegboards and some strips and some squares,
I provided them to every school.

They not only did learn how the brackets to use,
Polynomials they factored with ease,
There was one little trick that I used as a ruse,
I was trying the children to please!

Study maths it does mean study things that are NOT,
As the abstract is not really there!
To abstract what is not, from my box was the plot,
But my friends said: “How come that you dare?”

What is common to many a different thing
Is the abstract that’s hidden in there!
So the maths from the box will come out and will sing
Like the lass with a delicate air!

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