Short answer: I want to help students transform from remedial and demoralized to math stars, from students who cry over their times tables to success in university engineering. Many say they want this but then insist on racing towards Math Hell while denying they are doing so. I refuse to partake.

Long answer: See below.

A fitness client speaking to their trainer: “I don’t care if I can only bench press 30kg now. I don’t care what you think about vastly excessive weights, bad form, or injuries. Maybe *other* people should slowly raise the load from 30kg to 200kg, but I am a unique individual. Just teach me to bench press 200kg **now**!”

Nobody in the world of fitness is this stupid and any trainer hearing this would quit immediately.

So what does this have to do with math? When students are 12 or under, very little. If a student can only count as high as 10, there’s no point in trying to master 43+18, and everyone knows the student should learn how to count *no matter what the teacher is doing with the rest of the class.* Prerequisite skills and knowledge matter. In most fields, this is generally accepted.

Would any sane person contradict the gist of the above?

Sanity says no.

But reality says yes.

In fact, people say yes, *by the millions*.

Something about math education makes people go coocoo for Cocoa Puffs.

Example Precalculus 11 student: “I don’t care about equivalent fractions and I don’t want to simplify the square root of 12. I don’t care what exponents mean. Just show me how to simplify this because I have to pass. I’m NOT going to summer school.”

Example Precalculus 12 student: “I don’t care if 5÷3 equals 3÷5 or not. I don’t care about multiplying or dividing with zero. I don’t care about long-term damage of cramming. Just show me how to find vertical asymptotes NOW. My test is tomorrow and I need to maintain a 91% average just to apply to the University of XYZ!”

Whether it’s back flips before standing on skates, lifting 200kg before learning to lift 100kg, or mastering vertical asymptotes before division, these requests are equally stupid and harmful. If this characterizes what you want – and most students and parents do as soon as there’s an imminent test or deadline – then I will refer you to another tutoring service, but I will send you there with a warning: You are paving your way to Math Hell.

Yes. Hell. “Hell” is the right word.

Many students memorize and hack their way through tests for years, yielding good grades, but never mastering or understanding anything. For example, hundreds of thousands of community college students don’t know that 0.03 and 3% are the same. Here is an example from physics education, where students solve 2000+ *calculation *problems but then appear to say that *gravity pushes up*.

Eventual consequences include not graduating, failing, mandatory summer school, extreme demoralization, emotional meltdowns, inadmissibility post-secondary programs, dropping out of academic programs or school entirely, career options closing off, financial illiteracy, permanent math hatred so bad that one passes it onto their children, etc.

This is Math Hell.

And I won’t be part of it.

In other subjects in school, issues of prerequisite knowledge matter much less. If you’ve forgotten all about your grade 8 socials studies unit on the Roman Empire, you can still do just fine studying World War II in grade 9. Many students can get away with learning little in English 10 and 11, but if they apply themselves in English 12, they can get the marks they need for university. The idea that buckling down *now* will improve marks *now* is sufficiently true in most courses.

But not in math.

In math, there are no shortcuts.

A student who caught a cold in grade 4 math during their division unit might learn *nothing* related to division *for the rest of their lives*. They’ll completely miss out on the two meanings of division, that it’s the inverse of multiplication, fraction as division, division with negative numbers, rate as division, etc. But they can fake mastery on assessments by memorizing and cramming *reinforcing the idea that shortcuts in math work*.

Then when they face conceptual questions about slopes, the student has *years* of division content to learn before they can even *begin* to understand slopes and rates of change. Eventually, there is *no way* to master the content on tomorrow’s quiz and working hard all weekend improves marks from 22% to 24% and leaves students demoralized.

I feel bad for students and parents in these positions. I really do. I feel especially bad for those who can’t even tell they are insisting on harmful cramming. It is terribly painful to hear that hard work won’t be enough to save the next report card, that you need to remediate years worth of content instead, that everything they’ve believed about learning math was wrong, that the marks they’ve earned in the past were not really earned.

But I’ve also learned that it is easier to talk a hungry dog off a meat truck than it is to talk people off the path of Math Hell.

And that’s why I refuse so many students.