Math is on life support. Can we save it?
When is the wrong answer the right answer? Now. Today.
Reality alert: we have entered an alternative universe, thanks to Common Core. As people once scorned wrong answers, we will now learn to scorn right answers. Answer-getting (that’s the new jargon) will be held up for contempt, and slowly eliminated. That’s the plan.
This is not marginal nonsense. No, it is already mainstream nonsense. Phil Daro is one of the three principal writers of the Common Core Mathematics Standards. A 17-minute video about his ideas is promoted this way: “Phil Daro goes into detail on the problems of ‘Answer-getting,’ one of the practices that the new Common Core Standards intend to greatly reduce.”
As Phil Daro himself asks, “Are You Teaching Mathematics or Answer-Getting Strategies?” What sort of fool would think these were the same thing? No, they are now opposites.
Clearly, this new reality prefers the wrong answer. Here is a teacher’s blog post on edutopia: “When Teaching the Right Answers Is the Wrong Direction—‘Is this right?’ Admittedly, I flinch a little when I hear these words from a student. Why? They always serve as a reminder of the wrong turn education has taken. (Or maybe it's always been like this.) It's not their fault, but students are all too often on a quest for the Correct Answers, which has little to do with critical-thinking development, I'm afraid.”
Notice how ignorant this person is. “Or maybe it’s always been like this.” Yes, lady, it’s been like this for 99.99% of the history of mathematics and is still like this around the world. You are the tiny aberration that exists where Common Core has got its hooks into a community.
Amanda, a young woman making a Common Core presentation, enthusiastically explains: “Even if they said 3×4 was 11, if they were able to explain the reasoning, and explain how they came up with their answer, and really in words and in oral explanations, they showed it in pictures, but they got the final number wrong, well, we really are more focusing on the how.” Someone interrupts to ask, but will we point out wrong answers? The presenter quickly insists that it will happen, but “[w]e want our students to compute correctly but the emphasis is really moving more towards the explanation, and the how, and the why, and ‘can I really talk through the procedures that I went through to get this answer,' and not just knowing that it’s 12, but why is it 12? How do I know that?”
Another teacher writes on his blog: “‘Answer-getting’ sounds pejorative but it doesn’t have to be. Math is full of interesting answers to get. But what Phil Daro and others have criticized is our fixation on getting answers at the expense of understanding math. Ideally those answers (right or wrong) are means to the ends of understanding math, not the ends themselves.”
The spooky part is that this guy so casually says, “Answer-getting sounds pejorative.” Who thinks like that?
David Ginsburg, who “helps schools improve teaching and learning," notes on Education Week, “Of course, as with any longstanding practice, the emphasis on answer-getting isn't going away overnight. Teachers will need practical PD and coaching in order to make the change Phil Daro and his co-authors envisioned.”
Clearly, some of these teachers, if they keep insisting that three times four equals 12, will need to go to re-education camps.
Laurie Rogers, a tough critic of Common Core, sums up the present crisis this way: “The dearth of basic skills is bad enough, but graduates also continue to struggle. Without long division, how do they divide a polynomial? Many math programs have deleted it from the curriculum. Not necessary, they say. Long division, not necessary. Basic math facts, not necessary. Fractions, not necessary. What’s important to reformers are fuzzy concepts for which they can’t be held accountable: ‘Deeper conceptual understanding,’ ‘critical thinking,’ ‘collaboration,’ ‘real-world application,’ and ‘self-discovery.’ When you see those terms in your child’s math program, grab your babies and run.”
Two huge forces are converging on American students. On the one side, they won’t be taught to do math in any thorough or efficient way. On the other side, they will be virtually ordered to seek wrong answers, or at least be comfortable with them.
This is fairly terrifying. Some kids who have great innate math ability will survive and be able to do mathematics in the traditional sense. But everybody else will be math-phobic, math-ignorant, or math-helpless. You will learn to avoid answer-getting and become comfortable with truth-hating. All of which is going to destroy our efforts to improve STEM skills.
Columnist Michael Schaus laments that “Common Core will instruct teachers to praise wrong answers[.] … The left has long sought to bolster self-esteem by downplaying wrong answers in education. Everyone gets a ribbon; a truly disastrous lesson to teach when not everyone is capable of getting a job. And while the how is important in any lesson plan, in the end, the answer should still be correct. Amanda’s students are going to be in for a world of surprise when their first employer decides that doing the job correctly is more important than demonstrating ‘with words’ an employee’s fundamental failure to grasp the concept of their task.”
Who is fooled by any of this? Two guys commenting on the internet see right through the whole thing:
Hmmm...And doesn't Bill Gates also send HIS kids to an elite private school that he attended? YES, HE DOES (no ‘Common Core’ there!) Everyone getting the pic now???
You mean the picture where all the rich people educate their children to pretty much rule the world, while they teach our kids to be brain damaged obedient drones? Yeah, I see that picture.
It seems to be a question of might makes wrong. If the Common Core juggernaut can impose answer-avoiding, then children will avoid correct answers. It’s a preposterous idea. But you see that there are commissars ready to fight for the right for your kids to be wrong.
For our socialists, it’s the simplest way to fight elitism, meritocracy, superiority, or privilege. Simply banish the significance of getting anything correct. Let everyone wallow in wrongness and mediocrity.
Some parents try to fight Common Core math by teaching real math on the side. This is harder to do than it might sound. Common Core math is elaborately complex, in ways that defeat common sense, even on the simplest problems.
The smart strategy seems to be to stop this thing entirely before it’s locked in.
Never forget that Common Core is Obama’s baby. Democrats will feel they have to support it. First step is not voting for Democrats on November 4.
Bruce Deitrick Price explains educational theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org.