Common Core is not what you think


I’m going to provide some push back against the narrative that Common Core is designed for the lowest common denominator to make children more equal.  I do not dispute that it is ineffective nor that it is insane,simply the purpose for which it was created or serves.  While I cannot get into the heads of the people who support Common Core I can speak to the theories behind its creation.

The essence of the thought behind Common Core is the Cargo Cult.

Common Core was designed to imitate the way mathematicians think.  It uses mental shortcuts that many mathematicians use as a way to teach children “critical thinking”.  I have and still use many of these shortcuts myself.  This is not to say anyone taught me, nor that I am amazing at math but that these are relationships that many people with a modicum of talent for math rediscover as they practice.  The thought process went a lot like this: people who are good at math use these techniques, therefore if we teach children they will be good at math hence cargo cult.  The problem will be immediately obvious to anyone who does not ascribe to Human Neurological Uniformity.  It’s not the techniques (cargo) which make mathematicians good at math it is a combination of their innate genotypes and being exposed to enough mathematic material (perhaps a few good teachers).

Now if the Cargo Cult elements weren’t bad enough there is an extra layer of insanity added on top of it.  What I just explained to you is not explained in the material provided in Common Core.  It is a mind game in which the teachers, who are supposed to be exercising their judgement are not in on it.  Now a few in tune teachers especially those who follow educational trends know what Common Core is about, but it is not common knowledge.  Secondly, these teachers are in many cases not necessarily great at math themselves.  That is they may be too stupid, or unpracticed to utilize these techniques themselves.  Without training, an explanation or competency these teachers, even if the Cargo Cult actually worked, had no chance of helping the children.  It is as if a plane dropped cargo on an island and a cargo cult built a straw plane.  Then the first cargo cult dies off.  Then a second one comes along sees the straw plane fetish and the cargo and builds an even cruder imitation of a plane on their own island.  The saddest part about Common Core is not that it could never work in the first place, but that it was so poorly implemented that it demonstrates the carelessness with which the education system is governed.  The education system as a whole is a Cargo Cult (trying to make dumb kids like smart kids) of  a Cargo Cult (trying to copy the things dumb people do to try and copy the “methodology” of making kids smart).  Occam’s Butter Knife strikes again.


Common Core is not what you think

7 thoughts on “Common Core is not what you think

  1. This is correct.
    I have tried teaching math to my own kids, and quickly fallen into the trap of trying to teach them to do it the way I do it, or to show them “neat things you can do with numbers!” This just gets confused and frustrated looks from them. They are not grownups and they can’t think about numbers yet the way grownups can. They have to learn the fundamentals first.

    I see common core math problems that look exactly like math examples I tried and failed to teach, so I know exactly what these people were thinking. The only difference is that I realized that I was doing it wrong when the kids didn’t understand and STOPPED. Then I went back and taught it the regular way, and the kids got it.

    Kids need to understand very basic things about how numbers go together and how to line up the numbers for multi-digit addition and subtraction before you can get to fancy things like breaking up and re-combining the numbers in the midst of a math problem.

    Simply consider the number of items the average person can hold in their short term memory at one time: about 7, more or less. A math problem like 17 + 23 already has 4 digits, plus the concept of addition (kids easily forget whether they are supposed to add or subtract,) and the concept of “find the answer,” for 6 things to keep in mind, before you even start working out the answer, which involves three more digits (including the regrouped one.) Writing down the problem helps immensely by reducing the need to keep all of the digits active at once in the working memory, but Common Core actually expects students to solve such problems in their heads, without writing them down! Teachers are actually not allowed (in my area, anyway) to teach students how to write down the problem and add the numbers. Instead they are supposed to “recognize” that 7+3 = “a friendly 10” and then that 1+2 = 3 and then add 30 + 10 in their heads.

    Oh, but they are allowed to use a number line or tickymarks or some bullshit to keep track of their work.

    I’ve watched kids trying to do this in the classroom, following teacher’s instructions, and seen the looks of sheer incomprehension on their faces.

    I assume the teachers know the method is shit, but have been told they have to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Agent J says:

    “Common Core was designed to imitate the way mathematicians think.”

    This might work if the average IQ of the student population was the same as the average IQ of mathematicians. Because it’s not, Common Core is going to be really good at getting frustrated kids to say, “F*** it. I give up.” Rote work used to be the way the low-end kids could get by, but CC strips most of that out, so the low-end kids are left with nothing they can do. And since the SAT is being redesigned to CC standards, school districts won’t be able to switch from CC, lest even their best students get wiped out on the SAT. If I wanted to destroy US education, so maybe, I dunno, I could have ALL tech workers be H1B visa types, I’d design Common Core. You’d think Bill Gates was behind it all—oh, wait…


  3. JMSmith says:

    Thanks for stopping by the Orthosphere and leaving a comment. Cargo cult behavior is found throughout the educational system, where mimicry of the outward forms of good scholarship is thought to legitimate scholarship that is dubious or downright bogus. Get yourself a couple of journals, an annual meeting with paper sessions, and a toehold in the university racket, and you’re good to go. Put a young men in a desk in a room with a whiteboard, and voila!we have a “student.”


  4. Johan Schmidt says:

    Dare I suggest that “Computer Science” education also falls into the same trap?

    You start learning to program by hacking imperative languages.
    You start to get good at it.
    Eventually, you get the idea to write a domain-specific language and an interpreter.
    This requires you to learn all sorts of stuff about grammars and abstract syntax trees.
    You start thinking “Hey! This is a really concise and elegant way of thinking about programming!”
    And then you become a CompSci lecturer and start teaching your students LISP and combinatorics instead of the fun stuff, like how to write a Roulette simulator in C.


  5. M Rapp says:

    Thanks for revealing the logic here behind our Cargo Cult. Maybe of parallel interest, here’s an essay published by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry:

    “It is naive to expect social-science education, natural-science education, or education in general-at least in their present forms-to elevate critical thinking to something more than a pedagogical fashion that everyone applauds but few conceptualize very deeply.”

    Humans naturally think more alike with sponges than with truth seekers. By teaching the “facts” and not the principles, our education system is an excellent ecosystem for sponges.


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