Common Core frustration and ignorance

March 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

I read in Yahoo a comment on a Facebook posting going viral. The title: ” Read Parent’s Facebook Response to ‘Ridiculous’ Common Core Math Homework.

What this tells me is that Yahoo is siding against CC. Not only the title but also reading the text of the article confirms that. What I see in the assignment and the comment is a profound disrespect on the part of the parent for the teacher and for knowledge, as well as bewildering arrogance in imagining that a bachelor degree in Engineering establishes  authority beyond discussing the actual content of the assignment.

Even without knowing the full idea behind this assignment, it seems to me that the question goes further than learning how to solve a simple subtraction, for which most people today would sadly turn to a calculator, or repeat a simple formula or technique (which the parent does). It offers the possibility of using a visual approach to allow students to dive into more abstract mathematical concepts.

One key difference between undergraduate and graduate education, is that in college (and before) students have been taught what we know about all kinds of things. Graduate school is about creative solutions to what we don’t know. This assignment seems to prepare students better for life-long learning and advanced intellectual inquiry than the traditional approach which conversely has resulted in the US lagging behind the industrialized countries of the OECD in many instances, and math in particular.

I can see how a person who dismisses being challenged to think through a new approach would be a technology user and information consumer, while the one who trains his or her brain to go deeper, could be a technology and knowledge maker.

Whether this precise approach should or not be part of CC is a discussion worth having, but it does not undermine the concept of CC in its entirety. It is crucial to realize that CC is not only an instrument of accountability. Specifying what one particular course or level has to cover, enables advanced classes to build on previous ones and frees them from having to re-teach again core concepts that not every student in the class has mastery of. It frees classes from being remedial, reduces the chances of students being bored to death when they have to review fractions for the seventh time throughout their k-12 years, and also allows them to get to more complex and sophisticated levels of intellectual practice. The fallacy of freedom for one program or teacher to teach only whatever he or she feels like, dooms the system to stay remedial and US k-12 and undergraduate education to be locked within the superficial.

This does not imply either that CC is all students have to learn. CC as I see it is a minimum not a maximum. Setting the minimum at preparing students to enter a non-selective community college is certainly too low, but inferring that kids in general are not prepared to enter college because of CC is such not only a fallacy, it seems to be an intentional strategy to mislead and deceive, which is much worse.

Stating the importance of a common core does not pretend to imply of course that extensive standardized testing, and linking teacher’s pay to student’s performance is not wrong. It does not mean either that CC solves the central problem of pervasive inequality in the distribution of resources in education and how the system reproduces class and socioeconomic differences across generations. It only means that common standards are indispensable to achieve higher levels of education for the nation.

My kids will be starting kindergarten soon and I find disheartening that ignorance finds so many pundits who rally behind such poor and arrogant attitudes. I really hope the parents in my kids classrooms will be more respectful of the teaching profession,¬† curious intellectually and willing to accept that the first principle of learning is to recognize there is something we don’t know.

 

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