Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The real reason I fear the Common Core

The reason that I fear the Common Core State Standards, as it turns out, isn't that the Standards are so vague that they further enable the Powers that Be in education to promulgate practices at odds with controlled experiments and peer-reviewed research on how children learn, or that the Standards impose expectations that are unreasonably high for most students while providing no strategies to help teachers and students attain them, or that the Standards' one-size-fits-all expectations end up depriving both gifted and special needs students of appropriately challenging material. No, apparently the reason I fear the Common Core State Standards is loneliness.

At least, that's what the New York Times says in an Op-Ed piece it chose to publish this past Sunday by the writer and English professor Jennifer Finney Boylan. In Boylan's words:

It occurs to me that what enemies of a Common Core — by any name — have come to fear is really loneliness. It’s the sadness that comes when we realize that our children have thoughts that we did not give them; needs and desires we do not understand; wisdom and insight that might surpass our own.
Yes, it really makes me sad when I hear my children expressing original opinions. And it makes me feel tremendously insecure when they show wisdom and insights that I don't think I'm capable of. And I'm sure many of my fellow parents feel the same way. After all, as Boylan explains:
For some parents, the primary desire is for our sons and daughters to wind up, more or less, like ourselves. Education, in this model, means handing down shared values of the community to the next generation. Sometimes it can also mean shielding children from aspects of the culture we do not approve of, or fear.
Nor does she merely assert this. Rather, she cites another heavyweight expert who has even bigger credentials that she does. That would be novelist Richard Russo:
My friend Richard Russo, in a commencement address 10 years ago at my college, Colby, noted that “it is the vain hope of middle-class parents that their children will go off to college and later be returned to them economically viable but otherwise unchanged.” But, he said, sending “kids off to college is a lot like putting them in the witness protection program. If the person who comes out is easily recognizable as the same person who went in, something has gone terribly, dangerously wrong."
Personally, what I fear the most (beyond the prospect of my children expressing intelligent, original thoughts), and what I really, really want to shield my children from, is Lattice Multiplication:

Lattice Multiplication is a feature of Everyday Math, the curriculum used by school districts in many large urban areas. But Boylan quotes Bill Gates as saying that "It's ludicrous to think that multiplication in Alabama and multiplication in New York are really different." Now I'm really, really scared.

Lattice Multiplication is part of what Boylan refers to as "the Common Core’s presumed progressive bias." That's apparently why Republicans are the only Common Core Enemy she explicitly names--along with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley:
“We don’t ever want to educate South Carolina children like they educate California children,” said Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, presumably because doing so would result in children in the Palmetto State riding longboards and listening to the Grateful Dead.
If, rather than presuming to presume, you look at the full quote, you can infer that Haley also fears what's going on in Alabama--and pretty much everywhere else:
“We don’t ever want to educate South Carolina children like they educate California children. We want to educate South Carolina children on South Carolina standards, not anyone else’s standards.”
Presumably, Haley fears Lattice Multiplication--along with all the scary new ideas it will open up to today's children--at least as much as I do.

And, equally presumably, we can guess which mindset Boylan prefers: the Fear Mindset of the Republicans, or the Unlocking the World mindset of those on the correct side of the Culture Wars, who bravely proclaim that:


C T said...

If her argument (scaredy-cats don't want the Common Core because their kids might turn out "different" from their parents) is the best Common Core advocates can do, I think she just pushed me from my neutral position to being against Common Core.
Who does this person think she is, telling us it's just dandy for educational establishments to turn our children, whom we risk our lives to bear and sacrifice so much to raise, into strangers? Yes, let's just rip apart the bond that would otherwise be the strongest supportive bond in the life of someone entering adulthood because Boylan thinks no minor should be sheltered from what she personally thinks they should be taught. Diversity and culture issues ueber alles! And she likes it that government power is being used to coerce parents and society into accepting her brand of secular evangelism.
She provides fodder to those who worry about schools intentionally brainwashing kids and does a disservice to the teachers who are focused on teaching academic skills, not gaining converts.

lgm said...

This is what nclb and full inclusion brought to my child's classroom:
http://www.multiplication.com/teach/teaching-tips-and-tricks#_HAND-Y_NINES_ Take a look at the nines finger trick. Once the children have this mastered, the 9s table is done. There is no discussion at all of any of the properties. Might as well bring in the abacus if the goal is turning little kids into human adding machines.

Katharine Beals said...

lgm, thanks for sharing! What a lost opportunity to teach the 9s properties!

What bothers me about the Common Core isn't that my kids will end up indoctrinated in anything I don't like (I think it's harder to indoctrinate kids than many people fear!). As far as questions of ideological agendas are concerned, my main worry is that "multiculturalism"/"diversity" will trump quality/rich content and prevent kids from learning a systematic body of core knowledge that they will be able to recall and make use of in the long term.

lgm said...

Exactly. The diversity, whether it's economic or inclusion, means that the pace and depth are limited to the amount that the most needy, and in some cases brain damaged, student in the classroom can handle..many of these children begin more than two years behind the 'average' grade level expectations, even with the dumb down to common core's minimum path and they don't have a Royal Road to catch up, even if the magic wand could be waved to fix the brain issues. The affluent flee this situation quickly. Maybe that's the intent..to get more affluent, capable children out of public ed in order to get more federal special needs funding.

Deirdre Mundy said...

OK, I'm tired, and I'm not an 'Everyday Math' kind of mom. Can someone explain the point of Lattice Multiplication to me? Because the 'deeper understanding before the algorithm' way that MY daughter learned (Saxon first edition)is

x 15

This takes longer than the regular algorithm (which she's since learned), but lets the kid see what's really going on when she multiplies out.....

Not sure why the lattice is an improvement on this, though.

(*Note- my daughter does like using this slower way to check herself when she thinks that she made a mistake in the regular algorithm.... so she hasn't shifted entirely to the algorithm yet-- she's a 4th grader.)

Deirdre Mundy said...

Ugh. Formatting issues. In the real world, on paper, it lines up right.

Auntie Ann said...

I think doing the non-carrying version of multiplication is a good place to start to teach the algorithm, but once kids do a couple problems that way, they can be taught how to compress it by carrying. I think it does help kids see what they're doing. However, it is not something they should continue doing. The more numbers you right down, the more errors you can introduce--especially with kids who are still developing their handwriting skills.


As for lattice...

This is from a letter we sent our EM school:

"Many of the algorithms taught (lattice multiplication being a prime example) are not robust enough and do not scale to more difficult problems. Try doing a lattice multiplication problem with four or five digit numbers, or with decimals; it quickly devolves into a mess. Using the classic algorithm for such problems—or even harder ones—is straight forward, and you don’t have to waste time drawing the lattice. The Everyday Math Teacher’s Reference Manual actually states that the lattice method was originally added for its “recreational value and historical interest,” not it's mathematics value, and that, “It is not easy to understand exactly why lattice multiplication works.” (K-3 Edition, 2001, pg 107.) In other words, it’s something to play with, but is hard to understand and not worth spending the kind of time that Dot School spends on it—time which could be spent actually working to master a robust algorithm. Obviously, Singapore doesn’t teach this at all. I won't even talk about long division, the problems with Everyday Math are well known."


Yes, we are the type of parents who get and look at the teachers manuals! Many are available on abebooks. They might not be the latest editions, but they're out there.

lgm said...

Lattice Multiplication is a alternative for those who don't understand and can't remember the traditional algorithm by rote. Take a look at Napier's Bones.