People have been demanding an education reform in the US for as long as I can remember. And rightly so– because in case you’re not aware, the education in the US is… less than spectacular. So, people demanded a change in education. And we got one! Enter stage left: The Common Core.
Let’s start by discussing exactly how sucky the American education system is. Depending on which source you go to, in 2015 we’re ranked anywhere from between number 20 to number 30 worldwide in math and science. 20 to 30! We’re one of the richest countries in the world, and we have to go to sleep with the knowledge that a random kid chosen from any of a minimum of 19 other countries could probably kick our kid’s ass when it comes to math homework. Hell, most kids in those countries could kick our kid’s ass at a spelling bee that includes only English words. A large portion of those countries are places I haven’t even heard of (probably because I was brought up in the American education system).
So. Now we come to the Common Core. People have been demanding a reform in the education system so the we might be able to eventually catch up with other countries who currently laugh their asses off when we apply to go to one of their colleges. And then those same people that demanded a reform lost their collective shit when the education system actually… you know. Changed how we were teaching students math and science.
Have you seen the people freaking out over how “stupid” and “ridiculous” the new math homework is? Have you heard them screaming at the top of their lungs how we need to go back to how things used to be? Well, I have. And every time I hear someone say something like that I want to shake them while yelling incoherently. “How things used to be” is exactly what got us this awesome 20-30 ranking we’re currently shackled with. “How things used to be” is the very reason why you are unable to help your kids with their math homework. “How things used to be” is synonymous with shitty, and you should be glad it’s gone. Because it means your kids are probably going to be smarter than you. And I don’t care who you are– every person should want their kids to be smarter and more prepared than they were.
Are you still with me? Good, because now we’re going to actually look at the Common Core itself. Now, before one of you starts screaming: “Well of course YOU understand it! You’re a teacher!” Don’t. Just don’t. I teach English. I have never had to look at the lesson plans or standards for Common Core math. And I never thought I would look at them, because honestly, I hate math with every fiber of my being. But you know what I did? When people started freaking out about the Common Core, I looked into it. I read about it until I understood it, and then I determined how I thought about it. You know– exactly what we’re supposed to teach our kids to do.
Anyway, as it turns out, the reason I hate math so much is probably because of how it was taught to me. I never understood it because I was taught to memorize formulas rather than why those formulas work. I was taught that memorization is preferable to understanding theories. And then when I got to the age where I started algebra and had to actually apply those theories (you know, the ones I didn’t learn), to less concrete problems, I fell behind, got depressed, and turned away from math forever.
Common Core seems to help with that. It helps students understand the theories from the get-go, so they never hit that roadblock down the road. If you’re having trouble helping your student with their homework– it’s probably because you hit that same roadblock as I did and never got past it. But fear not! I think I can still help you understand the idea behind CC now with a quick and easy example:
Without using a piece of paper, a calculator, or any other tools, please figure out what 12×11 is. Just right now, in your head. I’ll wait.
Okay. I’m still here. How long did it take you? You were probably able to figure it out, but I’m guessing you did it in one of three ways: 1) You used the vertical multiplication line up in your head. You know, the one where you have to carry the one. If you were able to do that in your head in under 20 seconds, then I am incredibly impressed. Good on you! 2) You still remember your Times Tables from childhood. Again, if you were able to do this, then well done! 3) You grouped it. You did something along the lines of multiplying 10×12 (120) and then adding 12 to it (120+12=132). Or, if you’re like me, you added 10 and then 2 to it and still got the same answer.
These are the three most common ways students are taught how to multiply 12×11. Out of the three, which method do you think is easiest? For most people, number 3 is the quickest and easiest route. It doesn’t require more than about 10 seconds, it requires no paper or calculator, and you don’t have to spend days or weeks memorizing times tables during the 4th grade. Seems like a good deal, right? If you answered yes, then Congratulations! You now understand one of the reasons why common core math is an improvement over old teaching techniques!
I think we can all agree that something needs to be done to help our students. And the only way we’re going to make their education better is if something changes. But we hate change. We fear it. We despise it. That’s why our kids and grandkids will probably still be learning the imperial system rather than the metric system for years and years to come (which is stupid as hell, but I’m not going to cover why here).
As long as we fear and fight change, then our students don’t get the option to become better than us. As long as we continue to impose our own insecurities onto their education we will just continue to shackle them to our own crappy level of experience. And that’s… sad. So don’t fight the changes that are made by experts. Study them. Learn to understand them…
…and if you feel like you still need to fight against them, then for the love of God, please do so with proper grammar and spelling. Nothing makes you seem less qualified to talk about the American education system than looking like you were brought up in the American education system.