Curing the Common Core

Untitled design (2)Many, many years ago, in an all-but-forgotten world where Merlin was considered an innovative gaming device and razor blades in Halloween candy went undiscovered until you’d sliced open your esophagus, I passed second grade.  Easily, if memory serves.  I loved my teacher, whose name was Mrs. Ellenberger.  I also loved school, because apparently “getting good grades with minimal effort” was one of my gifts.  I’m grateful for it, I really am, despite the years of wishing I could trade it for more desirable gifts such as “being able to participate in small talk without coming across as a total weirdo” or “the ability to move my physical body in a way that might in some cultures resemble dancing.”  But, you know.  You get what you get and so forth, and what I got was a perfect score on every spelling test ever.  As for math, no problems there either – I didn’t get sent to Math-a-thons (whereas I still have the dictionary I won at a spelling bee), but I did well.  It was school.  I was good at it.

The key word, in this case, being was.

If you have young kids, you know about it, and even if you don’t, you still may have heard:  math has changed.  And it turns out it doesn’t come quite as easily to me as it did back in the 1970’s.  In fact, I might not be able to do it at all, if it weren’t for my son Joey’s (increasingly rare) patience in explaining to me why 7+8 can no longer just equal 15.  I mean, 7+8 obviously still equals 15.  But due to the much discussed Common Core set of educational standards, it’s no longer quite that simple.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Common Core, you can take a look at the details of the Pennsylvania standards here, or find a more general description of the nationwide program here.  Or, you could simply follow along with my illustration of a math problem that used to be simple and now is not:

Math2_0

Common Core advocates argue that in math, knowing the answer is not enough.  A child must also understand why the answer is the answer, and, I mean, I get that.  I do.  What I don’t get is how the Common Core answer to 7+8 provides any deeper understanding than my own explanation, which is if you have seven things and then you get eight more things, now you will have fifteen things, and that is why 7+8 = 15.

According to the Common Core method shown above, 7+8 = 15 because 7+3 = 10, and 8-3 = 5, and 10+5 = 15.

Sigh.

Clearly this is almost criminally stupid, but the fact that it’s stupid is not really the problem.  The problem is that by stressing “core concepts” over rote memorization, Common Core proponents are asking kids to think critically without giving them any facts.  It’s like asking them to create a sculpture out of smoke, or draw a picture of infinity.  Without knowing basic arithmetic – learned easily enough through play, repetition, and real world examples – we’re giving them nothing to work with.  And then wondering why more and more U.S. kids hate math with every fiber of their little second-grade beings.

Some Common Core supporters have said that rote memorization is not good; some have gone so far as to say it’s harmful.  Others have said that it’s our job as parents to take the time to learn the new ways, because our children’s education should be our top priority.  I don’t disagree with that, on the surface.  However, I do believe our children’s education should be just that:  our children’s.  Not our own.  I want to know what my kids are learning, and I want to help them when they need it.  But the thing is – and this is kind of a big thing – having passed second grade once already in this lifetime, I really, really, REALLY don’t want to have a re-do at the age of 44.

I don’t know.  This whole thing makes me angry, mainly because it seems to me to be nothing but a heavily bureaucratized attempt at getting U.S. test scores to compare more favorably to better-performing countries such as Finland and Singapore and Japan.  Like our national “We’re #1!” mentality is suffering at the hands of our underperforming children, and so we’re scrambling to fix them without thinking about what might actually work.  And then we subject them to hours of standardized tests, forgetting that the human brain has yet to be standardized.

Seriously.  Imagine giving the exact same skill test to Beethoven and Thomas Edison.  Or Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan.  Never mind that three of the four of them are dead, you know what I’m saying.  Or maybe you don’t.  Actually even I don’t know exactly where I’m going with this, but I can see I have a lot of reading to do before I can form any kind of opinion regarding potential solutions to this problem.  And you know what, I totally intend to do it.  Right after I download this second grade refresher course I’ve been meaning to take.

Oh.  One more thing, consider it a parting gift for having read this far.  It’s an interesting bit of Thomas Edison trivia taken from thomasedison.com:

“At age seven – after spending 12 weeks in a noisy one-room schoolhouse with 38 other students of all ages – Tom’s overworked and short tempered teacher finally lost his patience with the child’s persistent questioning and seemingly self centered behavior.  Noting that Tom’s forehead was unusually broad and his head was considerably larger than average, he made no secret of his belief that the hyperactive youngster’s brains were ‘addled’ or scrambled.”

After that, Thomas Edison abandoned his formal education and instead, learned at home with his mother.  I suspect she did not subject him to standardized tests each spring.

As for the educator that called him “addled” – I sincerely hope that he lived long enough to see the light.

To My Kids: Believe It Or Not, Yes, Daddy Can.

Family 2_0

Hello, Children!

As our fiscal year draws to a close, I’d like to take the opportunity to express my immense gratitude and appreciation for everything you do to make our family a happy and successful, if not necessarily profitable, organization.  The truth is that I love you like my own children, most likely because you actually are my own children.  I love you so much that it sometimes takes my breath away.  Like, you know how much I love cinnamon toast?  Well, that’s how much I love you.  Actually, way more than that, because if someone told me I had to give up either my kids or cinnamon toast, I’d say, I’m keeping my kids, thank you very much.  And now that I am writing this, I realize it doesn’t sound like such an awe-inspiring love.  “I’d pick you over toast.”  But you know what I mean.  Let’s move on from this before it gets any worse.

So, kids:  I am writing to you today because I believe that in order to achieve the greatest synergy within our enterprise, we need to ensure full utilization of all available resources.  With that in mind, I’d like to take a moment to reacquaint you with one of our most valuable and yet least relied-upon team members:  I call him Jim.  You may know him as “Daddy.”

I say “reacquaint,” because I realize you’re already fairly familiar with Daddy, most notably in his role as Director of Telling People to Turn Off TVs and Chief Shower Coordinator, as well as in his occasional stint as Liaison to the Great Outdoors.  I know you’re also aware that when it comes to things like “swimming in a pool,” “being allowed to operate a gas-powered vehicle at the age of three,” and “putting up as many holiday decorations as we can fit on our property,” Daddy is by far the more fun parenting associate.  However, I’ve noticed lately that the two of you may not be encouraging Daddy to realize his full potential, and I think the time has come for a change.

A Sensible Equation.
A Sensible Equation.

Let’s recall, for a moment, a recent incident where I foolishly thought I could close the door to my room and get through a 30-minute workout video without anyone needing me.  First, one of you called me to ask a question, on the telephone.  From the living room.  Next, the other of you climbed two flights of stairs to say, “Mom!  I’m ready!  I know what I want for breakfast!”

This confused me, because it was Saturday morning, and I was pretty sure your father hadn’t gone anywhere.  “Wait a minute,” I said to you.  “Isn’t Daddy home?”

And your response, so precious and priceless:  “Yeah.  He’s home.  But, Daddy’s sitting.”

That’s right.

DADDY’S SITTING.

Let me ask you:  do you remember the last time someone said, “Oh, let’s not bother Mommy!  MOMMY’S SITTING!”

No.  No, you don’t, for the simple reason that those particular words have never been spoken.

The trouble here is that when we over-utilize one department, we create an imbalance of effort that I’m fairly certain our organization cannot sustain for the long term.  In other words, there are certain days – primarily Sunday through Saturday – where if the word “Mommy” is spoken one more time, I fear my response may border on the unreasonable.

So let’s talk about some of the ways in which we could make use of the Daddy Division a bit more effectively.  For example, did you know that Daddy is just as capable of opening a bottle of Gatorade as I am?  That’s right!  He’s actually better at it, come to think of it, due to his superior upper body strength.  For the same reason, he can also retrieve giant Rubbermaid containers full of Matchbox cars from the guest room closet, and move furniture when you have shoved a hockey stick too far under to reach.  Furthermore, he can throw actual high flies to you in the backyard, as opposed to the “lame pop-ups” that I’ve been accused of delivering.  I know that with Daddy, you might not get the snappy response time you’ve come to expect.  But I believe that working together, we can help him to greatly improve his service levels.

As a fun exercise, take a look at the following list of common household exclamations:

  • Mommy! I can’t find the right Lego Batman walkthrough!
  • Mommy, do you know where my blue Under Armour shirt is?
  • Mommy! Guess who my favorite 2013 All-Star players are!
  • Mommy, can I have a snack?
  • Mommy, how old do you think SpongeBob is?

Now, I’d like you to take each of these statements and repeat it out loud, replacing “Mommy” in each of them with “Daddy.”  Try it now.  I know it may feel unnatural and strange at first, but with practice, I know we can optimize our teamwork skills and thus bring our morale to new and greater heights.

A side note:  As the sole representative of the Mommy Department, I want to assure you that your contributions are greatly appreciated, even when those contributions make me feel like my head might explode.  Nothing in this communication is meant to imply that I don’t want to be bothered by you.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth, because I know these years are fleeting, and you won’t be six and seven forever.  I really do want to take it all in and appreciate every little thing that comes with having six- and seven-year-old boys.  It’s fun and funny and I love everything about it.  I do.

And I guess it’s because I love you so much that I want to give you this gift:  the gift of resourcefulness.  Because to me, resourcefulness is second only to a good attitude when it comes to living a happy and successful life.  We don’t need to know everything, or how to do all the things, or which remote to use to get to Netflix.  We don’t need to have all the answers – we only need to know how to get them.  And the smartest of us, the most successful of us, have more than one way of finding the things out.  Or finding the double A batteries.  None of us can rely on one source for everything.  Otherwise, do you really think they’d have bothered inventing Bing?  My point exactly.

In closing, I’d like to reiterate that I only want what’s best for our operation, for today, and as we look to the future.  And I think we’d all agree that it’s best if Mommy doesn’t accidentally become an arsonist, or other type of public menace.

Also, I love you.  Super much.

Hugs and kisses,

Heart_0Your Mommy