How Much Is Really Essential?

Posted: January 6, 2014 in Articles


Decimal Place Value Strips

Today, we went outside into the freezing cold (tonight it’s going down to 0˚F) and got the mail, one item of which was a catalog that advertised “essential learning products”. When we opened the magazine, we found out that exactly 100% of the items within were completely non-essential. For instance, one product advertised was “decimal place value strips”, which help to “reinforce the value of digits, ordering numbers, and computation.” Here’s a picture of the decimal place value strips.


A pictorial approach to making 10

There were dozens of other products that were questionable like “A pictorial approach to making 10”. This product is supposed to help students see how to make 10, or in the magazine’s words, “Give students the visual support they need to understand number bonds for 10.” We didn’t need these cards when we were first learning our numbers. We just memorized the numbers that, when added together, made ten.

Intelligent people around the world know that you don’t need these gimmicks in order to learn. Once upon a time in America, people learned some basic math, learned how to read, and learned how to write. They also learned how to live – how to farm, hunt, fish, etc.  And there was no shortage of common sense either.

In this  Huffington Post article,, we read that “The three-yearly OECD* Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.”

Well, we aren’t sure how the United States ranked many years ago, but we know one thing. The United States was the freest and most prosperous country ever. Its citizens were moral, inventive, and ambitious. All the gimmicks in the world aren’t going to bring that back.

*OECD stands for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.


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