Stanford Professor Says Memorizing Multiplication Tables Is ‘Harmful’

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Several skills that every kid once learned in school are going the way of the dodo in a hurry. Cursive handwriting is dying, for example. Diagramming sentences is practically an extinct art.

And now, if a fancypants Stanford University education professor has her way, memorized multiplication tables could be next on the chopping block.

The professor is Jo Boaler, reports U.S. News & World Report.

She insists that teachers and parents are damaging America’s children by using math flash cards and repetitively drilling discrete arithmetic facts. She is especially against demanding that students perform math rapidly and under time constraints.

“Drilling without understanding is harmful,” Boaler told U.S. News. “I’m not saying that math facts aren’t important. I’m saying that math facts are best learned when we understand them and use them in different situations.”

Boaler published a working paper online laying out her theories. The title is “Fluency Without Fear: Research Evidence on the Best Ways to Learn Math Facts.”

The Stanford professor’s argument against thousands of years of evidence is convoluted. Among her main claims is the contention that students don’t need to remember math facts because they can instead develop “number sense” by solving “rich” mathematical problems.

Boaler also argues that students start to hate math because they think it’s about memorization rather than creative problem solving.

And she worries that putting students under time pressure causes math anxiety and causes stress in tender young minds.

“Some students are fine with” timed quizzes, Boaler told U.S. News.

“But when we combine those who are stressed with those who are turned away from math because of them, we have a large section of the U.S. population that goes across all achievement levels,” she said.

In a world liberated from the shackles of mathematical memorization, Boaler argues, students could use their super-awesome powers of number sense to solve remedially simple math problems. For example, a student might somehow hazily recall that 9 x 4 is 36. So, adding another 9 gets to 45.

The Stanford education professor worries that students who learn through memorization might never figure any of this number sense stuff out.

Actual scientists disagree with Boaler.

In the fall of 2014, Canada’s National Post reported that a group of neuroscientists issued a study finding that rote memorization of discrete math facts plays a critical role in mathematical development in young children.

In short, the study found, memorizing multiplication tables and answers to basic arithmetic problems is cognitively vital because, without such memorization, children will have a much harder time later on with complex math problems.

But Boaler, whose Facebook likes include Common Core Math Resources and Left Coast Voter, is undaunted.

“I never memorized my times tables as a child because I grew up in a progressive era in the U.K.,” she told U.S. News. “It’s never held me back.” (RELATED: Professor Says Kids No Longer Need To Learn Spelling And Grammar Because Of Smartphones)

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