Friday, February 20, 2015


In contrast to sustentative criticisms, as opposed to political criticisms, of the Common Core (CC) program bothers me. Our state (North Carolina) passed a law to prevent its application in our school system based on the argument that it “usurps state sovereignty”. At least one member of the Google discussion group,” Education Revolution” voiced opposition to my criticism of a person who was complaining about Common Core. As with others, he focused his criticism on two things; one; teaching mathematics, and two, the lack of recognition of teacher professionalism. If one person is moved to write a complaint, it probably means many people did not agree with me but chose to remain silent.

In respect to criticisms of the CC approach to teaching mathematics, in his mind it was apparently sufficient if a student came up with the right answer. One of my favorite sayings is Maya Angelo, who said, “If you learn teach.” However, that falls short. There should be an extension, which says, “but, first learn how to teach”. Apparently, like teaching mathematics, people seem to think knowing “how to teach is” intuitive; it is not! We see this in the argument of homeschooling; parents assume “anyone can do it”. I had an experience in my life where I unexpectedly learned this lesson.

The scene was a classroom in the school of electronics in the U.S. Navy training center. The Navy selected a group of young engineers to teach electronic equipment repair to intelligent young Navy recruits, fresh out of high school. They selected students for the class based on their above average intelligence and not by any prior knowledge of electronics. The Navy tasked the young highly educated engineers to teach these students how to analyze component by component assembled into extremely complex instruments: communications, radar sonar, everything electronic. Those responsible for the program gathered the young engineers into a classroom to teach them, “how to teach”. The introduction in that class was simple; the teacher’s teacher handed an unopened package of cigarettes and matchbook to a volunteer from the class and asked him to teach him how to smoke a cigarette. Everyone knows how to smoke a cigarette so what is the challenge? You just do it. It is an insult to think otherwise.

The teacher’s teacher played the role of student. He opened the demonstration by asking “his volunteer from the class” to teach him how to smoke a cigarette. The “new” teacher asked his student to take a cigarette and put it in your mouth. By the time the demonstration was finished, the package was torn open with bits and pieces of cigarettes on the floor and in his mouth; this was all before he got to the matches. The obvious point was that a college-educated person could not even teach and intelligent student how to do something as simple as smoke a cigarette if he relied on what he “assumed” that person knows.

You cannot teach mathematics addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication unless you teach theory of numbers. Each one of these processes is a laborious step-by-step process on the way to learning higher mathematics and a “good” teacher has to know his or her students know the steps in this long, long path. Of course, everyone knows “theory of numbers” is a graduate course in college and you are dealing with young grade school students. Common Core teaches teachers and parents, who are willing to listen, how to bridge that gap. The result is that some take this as an insult to their intelligence; unfortunately, even some teachers see it this way.

Criticisms of CC remind me of how often I see references to Einstein in the Google discussion group; all indications are that this great theoretical physicist, just as a graduate engineer teaching Navy recruits electronics, was a rotten teacher unless trained to teach. Parents, administrators, politicians, etc may not appreciate what you as a teacher do; however, you should respect yourself for what you know and what you do—respect your profession. Criticize Common Core if you must but do it only to make it better.     

URL: Comments Invited and not moderated

No comments:

Post a Comment