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The Common Core ‘Conspiracy’

I might be the only conservative who doesn’t have a strong opinion on Common Core, simply because I don’t know enough about it to be confident in my judgment. NCLB made me generally suspicious of standardization, but I’ve also seen some crazy stuff claimed by anti-Common Core people. So I just don’t know. Enlighten me.

Ryan Booth, a Louisiana Republican, former public school teacher, and owner of Mathnasium [1], a private math instruction business (in fact, I’m writing this post from one of them now; my children get their math instruction here), has a piece up today ripping into Common Core conspiracy theorists [2], and, more broadly, the way conspiracy nuts are hurting conservatism. Excerpts:

Conspiracy theory is a self-justifying epistemology, consigning those who don’t agree with its premises or conclusions as either dupes or closet conspirators. In this way, conspiracy theory sets its adherents up to proceed into the political arena with only the dimmest idea of what makes people act in the ways that they do.

Contrary to the imagination of conservative conspiracy theorists, all the major accomplishments made by progressives in the last 100 years have come from convincing the public that their ideas were better than ours. The New Deal, the Great Society, even Obama’s stimulus spending – the Left accomplished all of these things not behind closed doors, but out in the open.  Conspiracy theory thus reflects a losing mindset.

Like the sports fan who blames the referees for every loss, conspiracy theory succors the hurt feelings of conservatives who simply can’t accept that we have failed to persuade the electorate to vote for us.

Which brings us to the Tea Party. It arose admirably in opposition to the big government policies of the Obama administration, but it is now descending into outright conspiratorial crankiness. Facebook friends fill my feed with breathless screeds about things like billions of rounds of ammunition purchased by the Department of Homeland Security or the “fact” that President Obama is a secret Muslim — all of which serves absolutely no purpose and is unnerving to people whose knowledge, expertise, and just plain common sense teaches them otherwise.


This is personal to me. As a professional educator – I own and manage a math tutorial company – it drives me nuts to see my fellow conservatives fall into the fever swamp over the Common Core State Standards for English and math.  In a May article on this website, I explained exactly why Common Core is a conservative idea [3], and why liberals hate it.  To date, no one has challenged the central assertions of that piece.  But conspiracy buffs apparently want to believe that Common Core is a liberal plot, so the hysteria has spread unabated.


Read the whole thing [4] to see Booth’s case against anti-CC conspiracies. I invite your commentary on his essay and on Common Core — but please, no conspiracy theorizing. Of course, They told me to say that…


87 Comments (Open | Close)

87 Comments To "The Common Core ‘Conspiracy’"

#1 Comment By Ryan Booth On November 15, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

Jonathan, Everyday Math was introduced in 1998 and is now used in over 185,000 classrooms in the U.S. In the ongoing “math wars” between those who stress a model of discovery and conceptual understanding on the one hand, and those who stress computational fluency on the other, Everyday Math stands on the far edge of the “discovery” model — what critics deride as “fuzzy math.” Everyday Math goes out of its way to teach concepts in unusual ways, making it difficult for parents to help kids with homework.

Fortunately, the CCSS now prevents the extremes in the Everyday Math curriculum. Common Core requires the memorization of multiplication tables by the end of 3rd grade. It requires kids to learn the standard algorithm for multiplication and division, instead of simply being taught “lattice multipliaction” and “partial-quotients division.” The Atlantic article you link is incorrect in stating that students “will not” learn standard algorithms until later grades; CCSS simply doesn’t mandate them in earlier grades, so different curriculum manufacturers and schools can make their own decisions.

The truth is any decent math curriculum needs a balance that stress both conceptual understanding and computational fluency. The CCSS does that. Everyday Math or Investigations can be used in CCSS, but there are also curricula available which are far more balanced.

#2 Comment By CK On November 15, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

As for English Language Arts (“ELA”) there has been a push to read much more non-fiction. We’ve seen vocabular textbook publishers take the Common Core to be an opportunity to push leftist ideologies when dealing with such “non-fiction” subjects. Our fourth grader has a vocab work book that introduces the following non-fiction topics:
FBI, US Military, UNICEF, Environmentalism and Greenpeace, and ends with Eleanor Roosevelt. My wife’s initial thought was that it read like HuffPo, my initial thought was that it read like Mussolini, “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

#3 Comment By Roger II On November 15, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

CK — Although I have no opinion on Common Core, since my kids have graduated from high school, the problem with mastery of basic math facts is not solely linked to Common Core. While I’m pretty sure that Common Core is not some liberal conspiracy, we had the same issues when my kids were in grade school a decade ago. The teachers’ response was that drilling math facts was something to be done outside of school. Parents were supposed to have flash cards and computer programs for that purpose. I thought it was silly at the time, because kids would say, “But I’ve finished my homework, why do I have to do more math,” and the resistance would make it harder to get them to learn the math facts. I think it took longer than it should have, but the kids did finally learn them.

One other comment — someone mentioned teaching cursive. While kids probably need to learn cursive to be able to read it, I don’t think that schools need to spend as much time on it any more. In fact, I think it would make more sense to spend that time drilling math facts and avoid the endless repetition of writing each cursive letter (upper and lower case) until each child can do it perfectly. The truth is that very few people spend much time writing by hand anymore. I don’t quite understand why cursive has become a conservative cause du jour.

#4 Comment By alkali On November 15, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

A lot of these comments are comments about teaching practices that aren’t called for by Common Core standards. Standards address what children have to learn; they don’t require any single teaching method or set of textbooks.

@CK: This is one of the hallmarks of Common Core. They detest ‘rote memorization’ and give little attention and emphasis to learning times tables.

The following come right from the Common Core math standard:

“By end of Grade 2, know from memory all sums of two one-digit numbers.”

“By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers.”

#5 Comment By JB On November 15, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

Look, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I’ve seen some of the junk being peddled as Common Core and it is insidious. A question asked of 8 year olds goes something like this: “A woman sits on her bed and notices a hair clip in the bed that is too big to be her daughter’s. What do you think she is feeling right now?”

Seriously? Education is not agenda-free.

#6 Comment By Annek On November 15, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

I agree with what Jonathan said about Everyday Math. My son is in 2nd grade and having to learn how to come up with a ballpark answer when adding 2-digit numbers together. He already can add 2-digit numbers the traditional way – his class learned how to add 3-digit numbers in kindergarten. Since he can do this, why does he need to waste his time “learning” how to come up with a ballpark answer?

Education Realist, When people say that math isn’t taught well, what do they mean? I think I had good instruction in math in K-12. What is it the determinant of whether or not math is being taught well? Is it based on test scores? Does it have to do with how many people develop a love of math so that they want to pursue math in college and apply it in some way as a career?

#7 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 15, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

Education theory is not something on which I can comment directly, not having the academic training to support it. I have what many people have (thought rarely in total): I am K-12 public school educated, all three of my children the same, my wife is a recently-retired teacher (masters in English and Special Ed) of 40 years tenure, and I had a parent who always directly and personally engaged with my teachers, to the point that they saw in me in high school a partner in my education, not just a recipient of it.

Keep the caveat and grains of salt handy. 😀

Early education is the process of identifying the natural strengths and weaknesses of a student, and applying the necessary attention to each. It focuses on “learning how to learn” as a skill set, not something to be measured or used as a goad. Middle education is the process of utilizing, practicing and honing that skill set with an increasing (over time) exposure to content. My analogy is that you can teach anyone to boil water, but knowing how to use an egg timer and eating the cooked eggs with an understanding of what they should taste like is necessary to give the cook confidence in the task. 🙂

Secondary education is preparation for the first phase of adult life. It doesn’t dictate the details of that phase, it helps the student identify what he or she wants to do in rational balance to finding in what he or she is capable of excelling. The vast majority of students see little gap between the two. It’s the students at either end of the spectrum that need the most help.

Post-secondary education is at its weakest in human history, I opine. College-level quality is still rather good, but the other choices have faded or been muscled out by a delusional focus on making a lot of money as the only priority. We used to have craft trades with apprenticiship. Trade schools are more like diploma mills than ever before. A high school diploma is still the rational requirement for “unskilled” jobs like retail, food service, etc.

What changed in all of that is the clear view of overwhelming evidence that when children are taught to excel at standarized tests, that is all they will be capable of doing well. Don’t ask them to be critical thinkers, to recognize the value in research before drawing conclusions, or to have any confidence in solving problems of logic.

#8 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 15, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

Glaivester asks: We seem to think at least partly that kids are blank slates. What do we do with kids who can’t learn at the rate demanded?

The answer is simple and of long and distinguished application. We permit such students to learn at the rate demanded by their limitations, try to identify the root causes of those limitations, and apply one of three possible solutions to the findings:

1. Determine methods to mitigate the limitations, a simple example being teaching a deaf child ASL and encouraging mastery of lip-reading.

2. Determine that the limitations are “hard” — structural defects or damage in the brain or one of the cognitive pathways (like that deaf child) — and simply cannot be fixed with current technology or methods, and encourage the child to have a rational and realistic outlook from them.

3. Simply give them enough time, measured sometimes in years, for their optimal pace to carry them to competence. This is often a parallel awareness with number 2.

#9 Comment By Annek On November 15, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

There’s clearly a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about the Common Core Standards. Sounds a bit like Obamacare.

#10 Comment By sk On November 15, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

[NFR: Would it kill you to read Booth’s entire column before making such a bitchy comment? There’s a reason hyperlinks exist. — RD]

After your summary, I have no desire to.


#11 Comment By Myron Hudson On November 15, 2013 @ 2:55 pm

Reading comments about Everyday Math reminded me of my son’s dismal experience in middle school. He always had an aptitude for it and was fortunately instructed in the basic algorithms. He was identified by grade school teacher as a match whiz, i.e. could arrive at the correct answer quickly in the classical fashion.

In middle school he came up against a curriculum that did not award getting the right answers but focused entirely on getting the answers several different ways and proving them through much busy work. This was not a good fit and he was held back by one teacher despite his real math ability; I could not help him because the work made no sense to me at all, and I work in a math-heavy industry. Finally the principal intervened, moving him and another student into a workshop arrangement wherein they ripped through the rest of curriculum by providing the right answers to the problems.

What this illustrated was a flawed program that, while recognizing that one size does not fit all, attempted to make all sizes fit all. That things like this actually get into common usage floors me.

Currently my wife is a special Ed EA in the middle school, dealing in ‘language arts’ i.e. English. I sat in on a class. For the most part they are providing instruction in things like sentence diagramming, and the rules of spelling and punctuation – for the first time. To his credit, the teacher makes it plain to the students that that is what he is doing, providing the encouragement that all they need to do now is spend time working with it, and then they will have it. And, they spend that time. He is appalled that students can come that far through school without having been taught the fundamentals that they need. Much time had been spent on things beyond fundamentals instead.

I bring up these anecdotes as basis for my belief that any program which requires that fundamentals be instructed by the teachers and retained by the students is a good thing. To the extent that CC would at least attempt to address this, I would like to be optimistic. However, knowing that any horse designed by a committee will turn out to be a camel, I am not.

#12 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 15, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

Myron, my favorite Heinlein quote: A committee is the only known form of life with 12 (alt. multiple) stomachs and no brain. 😉

Judging from my school experiences (1961-74) and the perspective of longevity of the teachers with whom I shared it, teaching fundamentals was the expectation, the prevailing wisdom, the raison d’etre, the… need I pile on more ways of putting it? The shift towards what we have since NCLB is the politicization of education based on outcomes which are never clearly defined according to reality. Every child can/will/must “succeed” (criteria for success being a constantly moving target, but compensation potential being the ubiquitous justification of standardized test results as the primary measurement, complete with cross-cohort comparisons used to validate intra-cohort results*) in the most arbitrary logical construction I’ve ever encountered in dealing with my fellow humans, including pre-verbal toddlers.

* I’ve yet to see any official at any level respond to the delusion that the test results for an 8th-grade cohort are valid comparisons to the test results of the next 8th-grade cohort. The closest I can come to describing the delusion is expecting this year’s newly-arrived immigrant 8th-grader to construct a perfect English sentence because last year’s native-born 8th-grader did so, and a criterion for success being that this year’s child can do so with equal facility and in as short a time as last year’s.

#13 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 15, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

SK: Congratulations. You’ve just provided compelling evidence that everyone should ignore your posts. I plan to do so.

#14 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 15, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

In elementary school (1962-68) I learned without anxiety or tension that my talent for arithmetic was a gift similar to the boy who excelled well beyond his age in gymnastics, and to the girl who could already play beautiful music on an instrument. Our differences were in kind, not in value judgment.

I enjoyed watching him “perform” amazing exercises in acrobatics and such, and applauded with everyone else after watching her perform on a stage. Alas, their attempts to help me be better within their talent areas were in vain — my physical type and constant awkwardness suited me more for immitating Dorothy’s Scarecrow, my instrumental facilities similar to having blocks of wood for hands and fingers — and both asked for and gratefully received my help with math problems. These were hardly unique relationships, though my memory of that time is not vivid enough for me to cite other examples.

Find me a school, public or private, that still fosters and encourages that instead of replacing it with “competitive spirit”. Please? It would improve my mood right now.

#15 Comment By Jim On November 15, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

“One other comment — someone mentioned teaching cursive. While kids probably need to learn cursive to be able to read it, I don’t think that schools need to spend as much time on it any more.
The truth is that very few people spend much time writing by hand anymore. I don’t quite understand why cursive has become a conservative cause du jour.”

I don’t know whether, and if so, why, cursive has become a “conservative cause du jour,” but I am a small-c conservative, and this type of logic applied to education drives me crazy.

Education involves several aspects, one of which is the idea that there are tasks that are developmentally important. Learning how to write properly by rote method is one of these important developmental tasks that have more to them than just preparing someone for a somewhat anachronistic task.

The same logic is often used to denigrate the teaching of spelling as a subject (everyone has spellcheck), rote memorization of math facts (just use a calculator), and Latin (everybody speaks Spanish, not Latin).

As for Common Core, I am ambivalent as to the contents. I do bristle at the notion of one federal standard to rule them all. Fortunately, since kids don’t learn about federalism or subsidiarity any more, we are only a generation or two away from the education establishment having to worry about us pesky contrarians.

#16 Comment By Annek On November 15, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

In 1st grade my son had a math problem that showed two lines of different lengths. The problem asked: Which line is longer and how do you know? How the hell are you supposed to answer a question like that? Are you just supposed to say that you looked at it, and it was obvious which was longer? I don’t know if that was the answer or not, but why should a 1st grader be asked to answer such a dumb question? Why should anyone be asked such a question, unless you’re perhaps some kind of scientist and are trying to determine the exact mechanism by which people can determine by sight which line is longer.

#17 Comment By Glaivester On November 15, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

Franklin Evans: The answer is simple and of long and distinguished application.

I pretty much agree with your assessment. I suppose my concern is, how much of your proposed solution is actually being considered.

In other words, the concern isn’t so much “what can we do in theory about the ‘slower’ kids, but is there a plan in place to deal with them?”

#18 Comment By Erin Manning On November 15, 2013 @ 5:38 pm

This may surprise a few people, but I’m going to say it anyway–on the Bradly letter, even though it was signed by people I respect and even though I agree with some of the general principles re: Catholic education being needed to form the whole person and thus not being a good fit with this particular set of standards, I have only one comment: where the hell have you people been for the last 40 years?

I was educated in Catholic schools all over the country from first grade until tenth, when my frustrated, exhausted, and financially drained parents began homeschooling us. If you think we were getting a “values and virtues” education permeated throughout with deeply Catholic understandings of literature and history and the liberal arts, if you think our science courses were filled with ethical considerations, if you think our math instruction was modeled on Euclidean geometry–you have no idea what a diocesan Catholic K-12 school looks like today or has looked like for the past 40 years.

To put it bluntly, diocesan Catholic education then and now is nothing but a public school education with a lightly Catholic veneer (but nothing too extreme that would cause discomfort among the parents of the non-Catholic students, who are not just welcomed but aggressively courted when they can contribute generously to the school’s fundraising efforts). Many of the textbooks used for literature, history (or “social studies), science etc. are the exact same books being used at the public schools down the street. Oh, but the teachers are Catholic, right? Some few of them may be–and God help them if they are, as I know a former Catholic school teacher who was fired for bringing up the topic of abortion during the human reproduction unit in an eighth grade biology class–this was about fifteen years ago.

When I was a student, one of the things I remember most vividly about my schools was the open and blatant hostility and contempt my teachers had for my parents’ openness to life (there were nine of us all together). Pretty nice for a seventh-grader to hear a supposedly Catholic teacher snickering to another teacher about how my parents clearly hadn’t figured it out yet (as if I wouldn’t understand what they meant). Virtues, values, the deep nurturing of the human person, a shining witness to the Catholic faith? Nothing of the sort–in the Catholic schools I experienced class warfare, bullying, dissident Catholicism, leftist political teaching, and not much else; and as for literature, apart from “To Kill a Mockingbird” we read nothing but junk in grade school and could select our own books from a list in 9th grade (I always picked the classics, but there was no indication that anybody had to read them in favor of trendy novels). My 10th grade teacher finally started giving us the real thing, a bright moment in a series of disappointments overall.

And for the privilege of sending us to these schools my parents forked over thousands of dollars a year. That problem has only gotten worse. Catholic schools in *most* parts of America today are for the upper middle class and up. All the poetic waxing about truck drivers reading Milton in the world can’t change the fact that the future truck driver’s parents can’t even begin to dream of an education that will cost them between $5 ad $15 thousand dollars per year, per child.

Common Core is probably nothing more nor less than the latest trendy federal mandate designed to make the lives of the teachers in the trenches and on the ground worse than they already are; what good does it do to command solemnly that third graders shall know their times tables when the third grade teacher in an inner-city school is desperately hoping to reach a goal of postponing cannibalism among her feral charges? But it will not and cannot be the ruin of American diocesan Catholic education. That was accomplished a long time ago.

#19 Comment By Fred On November 15, 2013 @ 6:27 pm

“In 1st grade my son had a math problem that showed two lines of different lengths. The problem asked: Which line is longer and how do you know? How the hell are you supposed to answer a question like that?”

Here is the place in Principia Mathematica where Russell and Whitehead are finally able to assert that 1+1=2:

Which line is longer?:



Notice it occurs on page 362. They had a lot of groundwork to cover first. Notice further that they hadn’t even defined addition yet.

Many comments on this thread confirm what every working mathematician knows – namely, that what is taught in schools is called “math”, but it is not math, and nobody – parents, students, teachers, principals, superintendents, DOE officials – knows this. If you are interested, I posted earlier in this thread a cri de couer by a research mathematician explaining this.

#20 Comment By T.S.Gay On November 15, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

I say again more forcibly this time. You are all considering the pluses and minuses of the common core curriculum. It is entirely secular. You all make no comment, and possibly believe this is the direction a society should take. I’m saying it is scandalous. Religion, morality. and its knowledge being necessary to the government and happiness of mankind shall forever be encouraged. I know many of you really at heart believe that students can make best sense of the world in exclusively secular categories. In fact, many think religion has been properly put in its individual place, and will be better marginally placed in the future. I am not talking about indoctrination here in a particular religion. Our neurological and cultural regard for sustainable values, as dealt with by moral and religious people throughout history…..here education is illiberal and superficial. Martin Luther King was not mainly influenced by Thoreau and Gandi( a common core postulate). Our world shows evidence of the hazards of a purely secular education AND a fundamental religious one. Washington’s quote in the middle of this blog post by me has wisdom attached to it.

#21 Comment By Loudon is a Fool On November 15, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

No doubt Common Core sucks, but I would think the idea of common standards would be appealing to conservatives. Frankly, I would prefer that Californians be required to learn geometry, algebra and calculus and to read the great books of the Western Canon. If they did they would be less Californian. It would be great if every high school student read Homer, Shakespeare and Austen instead of Amy Tan, Sandra Cisneros and Chinua Achebe (not to pick on foreigners, a curriculum containing Knowles, Vonnegut and Salinger would be equally worthless). And if the CC maths is too conceptual you can always send your kid to Kumon with the Asian kids.

#22 Comment By Cole On November 15, 2013 @ 7:42 pm

Just saw the comments about memorizing multiplication tables by third grade. I work in a fairly decent county, with not too many troubled kids, and I still have to say, it’s just adorable that they think that’s a feasible goal for the majority of students. Conditions “on the ground” simply won’t allow it. Too many home problems, too much to cram in–especially with standardized testing putting heavy weight on “test-taking skills” and gouging weeks out of the school year–too much general dysfunction.

Yes, I’m a pessimist. Grump grump grump.

#23 Comment By Annek On November 15, 2013 @ 7:59 pm


I really appreciate your comment. The two lines in my sons problem were not optical illusions, so it really was very obvious which was longer.

Anyway, what you posted is absolutely fascinating to me, because I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. I guess that’s your point – that nobody really knows what math is. But in first grade, shouldn’t kids just be learning basic, practical ways of applying math? (I’m going to re-read your previous comment!)

#24 Comment By Fred On November 15, 2013 @ 8:49 pm


Thanks for your generous response to my cranky comment. I think if you read at least a few pages of Lockhart’s (in)famous rant, you’ll get what I’m talking about.

I say this as a former pure mathematician now toiling the fields of urban public ed.

#25 Comment By Annek On November 15, 2013 @ 10:18 pm

Fred, I’ve almost finished reading Lockhart’s Lament, but I still don’t understand your comment regarding the question my son was supposed to answer regarding the two lines of different lengths. With regard to geometry, Lockhart says that you should not make a production out of something that is simple because it can make people doubt their own intuition. I still have a little more to read, but could you explain how your answer and links relate to my son’s question? Thanks!

#26 Comment By Peter H On November 16, 2013 @ 1:44 am

JB, re. comment posted at 1:27 p.m.

Got any proof to go with your assertion that the quoted question is part of Common Core?

#27 Comment By Marleigh On November 16, 2013 @ 10:54 am

@ Loudon—”Frankly, I would prefer that Californians be required to learn geometry, algebra and calculus and to read the great books of the Western Canon. If they did they would be less Californian.”

As a Californian who matriculated from the public school system, I have to point out that we did (back in my day, fifteen+ years ago) take geometry, algebra, calculus and trigonometry; we also read Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, Chaucer (in Middle English), Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway, and many others. The curriculum could have been better, but it also could have been much worse, though being required to take those things didn’t prevent most of my classmates from manifesting their “Californian” tendencies.

As for Common Core: just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you. In general, all consensus results in is lower standards, and being from California I can assure you that we don’t need lower standards.

#28 Comment By Education Realist On November 16, 2013 @ 11:26 am

The idea that the standards are lower is absurd. They aren’t lower. They shovel more math in earlier, and the kids won’t be able to learn it. (Or, as a poster said, isn’t it adorable that kids are supposed to memorize facts in third grade?) Most of the people here are only thinking of their own kids or own experiences. I can’t even begin to tell you how irrelevant they are to what matters to you as a taxpayer. If you’re capable of posting here, your child will be just fine in any public school you choose, or private, or homeschooling the snowflake. Whatever. So if all you think about is that, then the Common Core standards are almost entirely irrelevant to you and you can opine away. Assure yourself you have no idea what you’re talking about.

As for Lockhart–oh, please. Math isn’t just beauty and this little chewtoy for “real” mathematicians. Lockhart, like Milgram and Wu, ignore that math is a tool as well as an objet d’art. Its beauty is maybe relevant to 5% of the population. Pretending that the rest of the population could appreciate the beauty of math save the failure of their neanderthal teachers is every bit as delusional as pretending that anyone outside that 5% would be thrilled to read Sophocles, Henry James, or James Joyce, if only their parents didn’t let them watch TV.

#29 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 16, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

Glaivester, I wish I had a constructive answer to your query — hell, I wish I had just one solid example — but the only correct answer is that it depends on how much the politicization of local public education has suppressed the professional educators’ use of their training to actually do their jobs, instead of playing the political game out of simple necessity if they want to keep their jobs.

T.S. Gay: I grew up in a community that consciously and explicitly looked at the boundaries between what a secular education means and how a solid grounding in morality should be taught. The overlaps were exclusively at the personal level, meaning that teachers were fully integrated members of the community and not outsiders to be viewed with caution if not suspicion.

The community was (during my K-12 years and for a long time after) over 80% Catholic, and nearly 100% Christian. Our sports rivals and neighbors were parochial schools. The high schools were less than 1/2 mile apart. The parochial schools were filled to capacity, the public schools crowded (not egregiously so). I attended one elementary school designed for 600 students with nearly 1,000 children, and they made it work.

We had no prayer in any public classroom. We had serious classes in high school about belief systems as things to be studied and understood, and hardly a peep of protest from anyone in that Christian majority. We few non-Christians were not outsiders, we were neighbors they didn’t see in church.

Anyway, I’m reacting to your eloquent pleas, not arguing them. I believe that the community as a body of faith is just as much a victim of the politicization of public education as the schools themselves, and any secularization per se is not the cause but a comparison point of how arbitrary (and ignorant of reality) political decisions harm us all no matter where we live. My proof is what we already had, not in what we might have. We can bring it back — not without major battles on several fronts — and it can be that place in which I grew up again.

I don’t see that as a good-old-days fantasy. I fully acknowledge the flaws in any system, and I saw plenty. But in the end if a system is in general solid and consistent, if its efficacy is acknowledged by all even while some have complaints, the flaws are fixable, or at least manageable. With NCLB, the flaws are the norm, or so I see it.

#30 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 16, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

Education Realist, in my working lifetime and emphasized during my 24 years in IT, the most effective worker is the one with a solid grounding in algebra and competence in the principles of symbolic logic. What we see is at least two generations of parents whose grounding in that was minimized or absent. One cannot expect them to understand what it means if they are ignorant of its existence.

#31 Comment By Education Realist On November 16, 2013 @ 3:01 pm

Franklin, I had nearly 20 years in IT before I became a teacher, and until Google came along, few cared about algebra skills or “symbolic logic”– and those who did were often considered absurdly precious, and not in a good way. And Google just does it to be absurdly precious, which it thinks is a good way.

The final two sentences of your comment are incomprehensible, bringing up a related point: corporate America care much more about its workers’ writing skills than the knowledge of symbolic logic (although it doesn’t care much about either).

In any event, I think you are saying that you think Lockhart’s bleat about math is important. You’re wrong, but even if you want to argue about that, it doesn’t change my point: perhaps 5% of students each year are capable of that particular kind of thought. Creating standards that pretend all kids are capable of it won’t change a thing.

#32 Comment By Glaivester On November 16, 2013 @ 5:32 pm

Franklin, I think that learning “the principles of symbolic logic,” heck, even learning mathematical theory in terms of the difference between a number and a numeral, should be secondary.

Things like counting and arithmetic can come first, and things like understanding the philosophy of math can come later, just as people tend to learn to speak before they learn grammar, even though they get a general idea of such things as person and number without learning it per se.

#33 Comment By Ryan Booth On November 16, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

Realist, you are right that the Common Core standards are much harder than the old standards in most states, but there are fewer of them than most states’ old standards.

In Louisiana, for example, elementary students no longer spend time learning to count coins. When I taught 6th grade math, I actually had to teach a state standard that said my students needed to be able to state which 2-dimensional shapes would tessellate and which would not.

Removing a lot of standards that teach minor concepts means that kids do have more time and practice to learn the big things that they really need.

#34 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 17, 2013 @ 10:07 am

As far as I recall, by 4th grade, everyone had memorized the multiplication tables. That would have been June 1964 latest, and most of us got them down earlier. This was a public school, with a mixed lot of kids whose parents included academics, all kinds of white collar and retail jobs, a few professionals like CPAs, paper mill and textile mill workers, etc. etc. etc. I don’t know what anyone thinks is so impossible about it — unless “teaching to the test” leaves no time for essentials.

#35 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 17, 2013 @ 11:14 am

The reader is invited to take my recent posts at face value, and not attempt to read into them any assumed arguments to previous points. The abstract-level argument is public education and the various and ongoing battles to either destroy it in favor of profit-making models that care little for producing educated young adults, or see it as the common, economy-of-scale method of giving the most children the best grounding in basics, from which any of them can achieve more advanced education or training.

The clarification that seems to be missing, by my own lack of posting it clearly, is that I don’t give a rat’s ass about blanket education philosophies and theories, especially when their only use is politically-driven propaganda and fear-mongering. NCLB played to parents fears about their children being “left behind” in a world that never promised that all children would finish their educations at the exact same age, and firmly placed all blame for every cause of any child’s difficulty on the teachers. I have no intention of paying attention to Common Core or any such effort until making teachers scapegoats is widely acknowledged as ridiculous. The very existence of “Conspiracy” in this thread’s subject line is the only red flag I need.

ER, problem solving skills simply don’t exist without symbolic logic. Perhaps I’m trying to be esoteric, but not consciously so, but the dreaded “word problems” from my K-12 generation were hated because they challenged the student to think, not because they were too theoretical or philosophical in their purpose… the latter point being, from my POV, ridiculous to state and impossible to make, but that’s my view.

Arithmetic will carry one through the bulk of mundane life, from balancing a check book to making sure one has the correct change from a retail purchase. Algebra is the core language of computers — one doesn’t need to know about registers and buffers — and all structured programming requires it. Object oriented languages don’t abandon it, they add onto it.

It’s true that one only needs an adequate understanding of algebra for most applications. My anecdotal view is that those IT pros with only that adequate understanding are less successful than those with at least competency. Expertise at the beginning is nice but not required; it comes with experience.

I can’t help but see (thinly-)veiled ad hominem from you. I can only assume your commentary is aimed at the post I addressed to you, so I must question your comprehension skills in not seeing the contextual connection between the last two sentences and the rest of the post. You are welcome to actually critique with direct reference, or just ask for me to clarify.

#36 Comment By Franklin Evans On November 17, 2013 @ 11:25 am

Glaivester, I have a clear bias. Mathematics just always came much more easily to me than to the vast majority of my peers. I’ve tutored in various subjects, and Math has always been the most frustrating to the most people with whom I’ve dealt.

It’s not about anything being of primary or secondary importance. It’s about — or should be about — a path of knowledge, of increasing complexity, and letting any person proceed down that path as far as they wish, must or are motivated to go. Arithmetic is just the first step. Algebra (in my not-a-professional opinion) is the second step. My analogy to language: Mastering the 500* minimum words to be conversant in a language is the first step, mastering the grammar rules the second step.

We don’t expect our children to become fluent in English on their own, that minimum word list being about what they can acquire on their own. If we coddle them because learning grammar is too hard, then expect them to be fluent, who is at fault, eh? 🙁

And I believe my point about symbolic logic covers both Algebra and Grammar & Syntax.

* I know that every language has that minimum-conversational list, and that each language has a different number for it. I didn’t look up that 500 number, but I think it applies to English. Shrug.

#37 Comment By Non On May 20, 2016 @ 7:59 pm

Booth: going from 36% growth one year to 20% growth the next does nothing to show that CC has hurt your company. If you don’t understand the difference between growth and level, don’t understand that % increases don’t go on forever, then you lack the logic to even discuss topics like this.

CC feels a lot like NCLB. Neoliberal standards with no pilot, with clueless aspirations, with huge costs. What a joke. And I could care less if Coleman was a Rhodes who did time at The Firm. I was there and saw those types. Young, neoliberal, didn’t even know what they didn’t know. Very much swaddled in being part of the elite.