Oh, yeah, it’s the loneliness

“What enemies of a Common Core — by any name — have come to fear is really loneliness, writes Jennifer Finney Boylan in a New York Times commentary.

It’s the sadness that comes when we realize that our children have thoughts that we did not give them; needs and desires we do not understand; wisdom and insight that might surpass our own.

. . . For some parents, the primary desire is for our sons and daughters to wind up, more or less, like ourselves. Education, in this model, means handing down shared values of the community to the next generation. Sometimes it can also mean shielding children from aspects of the culture we do not approve of, or fear.

Oh, yeah? responds Katharine Beals on Out in Left Field. It’s not that the standards are vague, unreasonably high or one size fits all. It’s the loneliness.

Yes, it really makes me sad when I hear my children expressing original opinions. And it makes me feel tremendously insecure when they show wisdom and insights that I don’t think I’m capable of.

Beals fears Common Core’s pedagogical biases, she writes in another post.

. . . the bias towards lofty, everyone-can-do-it, one-size-fits-all goals; the bias towards an abstract version of “higher-level thinking” that probably doesn’t exist; the bias towards the supposed virtues of explaining in words one’s reasoning in math problems; the bias towards an abstract, information-aged, multi-media conception of “text”; and finally, via its abstract goals and its leaving up to schools and teachers how to meet these goals, the de facto bias towards the dominant pedagogical philosophies of the Powers that Be in education.

She’s not worried about ideological bias. “It’s harder to indoctrinate kids than many people fear.”

Teaching politics in Obamaland

In the last election season, Mindy Schiller asked her sixth-grade history class to develop a fictional candidate and create a commercial persuading classmates to vote for him (or her). Teaching at a Jewish day school in Barack Obama’s very liberal Hyde Park neighborhood, she wondered whether students might deviate from their parents’ beliefs, she writes in The American Thinker.

How to explain the concept of a graduated income tax to a 6th-grader? Badly-shaped pies scattered the whiteboard alongside percentages and proportions. . . . We tackled welfare, immigration, and national security . . .

Things got interesting when we discussed the candidates’ views on health insurance.  This I defined as putting money into a communal pot so that someday, if we need it, there will be enough money in that pot to help individuals through a difficult time.

“But where does that money come from?” asked one boy.

“From our salaries,” I told him. “Every time we get paid, there’s a deduction for insurance.”

Students were dubious about that  and even more critical of unemployment insurance. They worried about freeloaders.

 One girl got up and pointed at a leftover pie on the board.  “If you give away enough of your paycheck to welfare,” she said, “then pretty soon won’t you be the one who needs it?”

“Well,” I said, measuring my words, “that’s why some people are against raising taxes.  But others would argue that most of the taxes are paid by people who can afford them.”

The next day, they took an online quiz produced by the nonpartisan ProCon.org that asked a range of questions. “Should abortion remain legal?” “Should felons be allowed to vote?”

The quiz generated a student’s preference of candidate from a choice of five: Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, (Green) Jill Stein, (Libertarian) Gary Johnson, and (Constitution Party) Virgil Goode.

During class, several students learned their views were closest to Virgil Goode. Only one was closest to Obama. Schiller told them to finish at home, asking their parents for help understanding any tricky questions.

By the next day, all were Obama supporters.

My daughter, then 15, was indignant when I explained why money was missing from her very first paycheck (as an assistant Sunday school teacher.) “I worked for that money!” she said. “I earned that money!”

And now she’s an Obama voter.

To be employable, study philosophy

Would-be journalists (and others) who want to be employable should avoid journalism programs and study philosophy, advises Shannon Rupp, a Canadian journalist, in Salon. She majored in political science and English, but also took philosophy classes that taught “something applicable to any and every job: clarity of thought.”

While “vague, trendy subjects” go out of fashion, philosophy stays relevant, writes Rupp. The University of Windsor is closing its Centre for Studies in Social Justice, possibly because “no one can actually define ‘social justice’.”

. . .  the importance of defining terms to ensure we all mean the same thing when we’re talking is one of those skills I picked up in philosophy.

I spent a semester defining ordinary things. Hats. Chairs. It’s harder than it looks. And I remember a classmate’s resistance to it. He kept ranting that it was stupid — everyone knows what a chair is! — before dropping out.

Of course, everyone only thinks she knows what a chair is. Or social justice, for that matter. Politicians, CEOs of questionable ethics, and all PR people count on exactly that. They will say something vague — I find the buzzwords du jour all seem to have some reference to “social” in them — and leave us to fill in the blanks with whatever pleases us.

Voila: we hear whatever we want and they get away with whatever they want.

Epistemology — the study of what we can know — teaches how to distinguish beliefs from facts, Rupp writes. Many people confuse the two.

The philosophy of science teaches about objectivity, which journalists often confuse with “being fair or denying personal bias.”

As newspapers began introducing advertorial copy and advertiser-driven sections, they retrained their staff to talk about “balance” instead of objectivity. As if printing opposing opinions somehow makes up for running half-truths.

What objectivity really means is to test for accuracy — regardless of what you suspect (or hope) might be true. In science they test knowledge by trying to poke holes in each other’s research. News reporters were taught a variation summed up by the cliché, “If someone tells you it’s raining, look out the window.”

The version I’ve heard is: If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Teaching “critical thinking” (as opposed to uncritical thinking?) is all the rage these days. Should K-12 teachers study philosophy?

‘Gifted,’ unemployed and living at home

A proud father responded to Matt Walsh’s radio show to tell him he’s  “the sort of person who never should have been a parent.” Unkindly, Walsh reprinted the email on his blog.

Nick starts by objecting to teaching children “how to think,” writing that imposing your views on a child is “tantamount to child abuse.” Instead, “let them think FREELY.”

Chores aren’t important, Nick writes.

Also, the idea that a kid should be forced to “get a job” is abhorrent. My son was very gifted so we gave him all the tools to succeed academically. This meant we didn’t turn him into slave labor and we certainly didn’t tell him he needed to go work behind a cash register. He concentrated on his school work, and we did our job as parents and financially supported him.

. . . My son is almost 29 and he’s been home with us since he graduated. Unfortunately the job market isn’t the greatest (maybe you hadn’t heard) and I’m not going to let him starve on the street. He has a college education, it’s pointless for him to be out working in a retail store or some other menial job. I will be here for him until he is able to get the job he deserves.

Nick advises Walsh to “grow up and get some life experiences.”

Children need guidance, Walsh responds.

 How ’bout I blindfold you, drive you out into the middle of the desert at night, and then leave you there without a map or a GPS? It’ll be great. You can just travel FREELY.

Walsh wonders how Nick knows his son is gifted if he he’s never accomplished anything and would “starve” if forced to take care of himself.

News flash, Nick: Junior ain’t special. He graduated school, good for him. Anyone can do that if they’ve got money, time and no pressures or responsibilities from the outside world. Your little pumpkin doesn’t “deserve” a job.

Walsh,  two years younger than Nick’s son, is married with two children.

No work experience, no respect for “menial” jobs, a sense of entitlement . . . I wonder why nobody wants to hire Not-so-Young Nick. After all, he’s a college graduate!

You’ve probably heard about the Philadelphia mother who advertised for a “sugar baby” to deflower her socially awkward 18-year-old son before he leaves for Harvard. I hope it’s a hoax.

Writing is thinking

Education Realist is teaching Book Club/PSAT, aka “Asian summer school” to a class of straight-A students. Writing is thinking, she tells them.

 “See, when you say you don’t know what to write, you are actually saying…..”

“I don’t know what to think.”

“Bingo.”

“Crap.”

“Indeed. How many of you google other essays and, please god, don’t copy them directly but take the ideas and rewrite them?” A few hands go up. “Yeah. DON’T DO THAT.”

“But I have no idea what to write.”

“Okay. So when you say you want to become a better writer, you are actually expressing the need to…”

“Become a better thinker?”

Her students want to know what their teacher wants them to say. She tells them to say what what’s on their own minds.

“But what if there’s nothing there?”

“. . .  if you don’t know what to think, then I’d rather you write articulately and carefully about why you don’t know what to think, instead of making something up.”

“And that will help my vocabulary?”

Only, if they learn to think about the meaning of words, she replies.

I agree. Clear writing requires clear thinking.

Understanding why algorithms work

Children need to learn algorithms to understand math, write Alice Crary, a philosophy professor, and W. Stephen Wilson, a math professor, in the New York Times.

. .  it is true that algorithm-based math is not creative reasoning. Yet the same is true of many disciplines that have good claims to be taught in our schools. Children need to master bodies of fact, and not merely reason independently, in, for instance, biology and history.

Mastering an algorithm requires “a distinctive kind of thought,” they write. It’s not “merely mechanical.” In addition, algorithms are “the most elegant and powerful methods for specific operations. . . . Math instruction that does not teach both that these algorithms work and why they do is denying students insight into the very discipline it is supposed to be about.”

Some commenters claimed math reformers advocate a “balanced” approach that includes algorithms, writes Barry Garelick in Education News. He is dubious.

I am reminded of a dialogue between a friend of mine—a math professor—and an public school administrator.  My friend was making the point that students need basic foundational skills in order to succeed in math. The administrator responded with “You teach skills. But we teach understanding.”

. . . The reform approach to “understanding” is teaching small children never to trust the math, unless you can visualize why it works. If you can’t “visualize” it, you can’t explain it.  And if you can’t explain it, then you don’t “understand” it.

According to Robert Craigen, math professor at University of Manitoba, “Forcing students to use inefficient procedures that require ham-handed handling of place value so that they articulate “meaning” out loud in every stage is the arithmetic equivalent of forcing a reader to keep his finger on the page and to sound out every word, every time, with no progression of reading skill.”

The power of math, however, is allowing for exploration of concepts that cannot be visualized.  Math is what takes over when our intuition begins to fail us.

Garelick, who’s launched a second career as a math teacher, links to a 1948 math book’s illustration of different ways to do mental multiplication:

Figure 2 (Source: Study Arithmetics, Grade 5)

Thinking deeply about … um … what?

Students will read more short informational texts under the new Common Core Standards and have less time for complete books — fiction or nonfiction — writes Will Fitzhugh, editor of the Concord Review.

Among the suggested texts are The Gettysburg Address, Letter from Birmingham Jail, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and perhaps one of the Federalist Papers, but no history books, writes Fitzhugh.

In the spirit of turnabout, English teachers could stop assigning complete novels, plays and poems, Fitzhugh writes.  Instead of reading Pride and Prejudice, perhaps Chapter Three would do.  “They could get the ‘gist’ of great works of literature, enough to be, as it were, ‘grist’ for their deeper analytic cognitive thinking skill mills.”

Teachers will have to “to wean themselves from the old notions of knowledge and understanding” to offer “the new deeper cognitive analytic thinking skills required by the Common Core Standards,” Fitzhugh writes, perhaps with a touch of sarcasm.

In 1990, Caleb Nelson wrote in The Atlantic about an older Common Core at Harvard:

The philosophy behind the [Harvard College] Core is that educated people are not those who have read many books and have learned many facts but rather those who could analyze facts if they should ever happen to encounter any, and who could ‘approach’ books if it were ever necessary to do so….

That’s the idea, writes Fitzhugh.

The New Common Core Standards are meant to prepare our students to think deeply on subjects they know practically nothing about, because instead of reading a lot about anything, they will have been exercising their critical cognitive analytical faculties on little excerpts amputated from their context. So they can think “deeply,” for example, about Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, while knowing nothing about the nation’s Founding, or Slavery, or the new Republican Party, or, of course, the American Civil War.

Students will learn that “ignorance is no barrier to useful thinking,” Fitzhugh predicts. “The current mad flight from knowledge and understanding . . . will mean that our high school students [those that do not drop out] will need even more massive amounts of remediation when they go on to college and the workplace than are presently on offer.”

Via Jim Stergios of Rock the Schoolhouse, a Common Core skeptic.

Among Common Core exemplar texts are Evan Connell’s Son of the Morning Star about The Battle of Little Big Horn and Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, RiShawn Biddle points out.

Reading, ‘riting and coding

“I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think,” said Steve Jobs.

Code.org is launching a campaign to persuade schools to offer computer programming: Nine out of 10 high schools do not.

Less than 2.4 percent of college graduates earn a degree in computer science, fewer than 10 years ago, despite rising demand for programming skills, according to the nonprofit group.

Code’s site includes links to online apps and programs that teach programming. Some are geared to young children.

Should kids learn programming, as they might study a foreign language, to develop thinking skills?

Coding isn’t just for boys – but sometimes it seems that way – reports the New York Times.

Grit is good, but academics come first

Stressing character traits such as “perseverance, self-monitoring, and flexibility”  over cognition is a mistake, writes Mike Rose, a UCLA professor. Many so-called “non-cognitive” traits require thinking skills.

Some colleges and universities are trying to measure non-cognitive traits to find “diamonds in the rough,” but so far high school grades, backed by test scores, are the most accurate predictors of college success.

Dan Willingham writes on the challenge of measuring non-cognitive skills.

Thinking without knowing

Teaching thinking skills independently of the factual content of a topic is a  waste of time, writes Tom Bennett on The Behavior Guru. He includes some wonderful art.

Black Belt in Bloom’s. Can’t spell ‘Taxonomy’.

“Say you want a child to become more discerning in understanding the veracity of historical sources. You start them off by teaching them…well, some history, just to be controversial. Then you offer them a variety of sources. The next bit’s guaranteed to blow a few gaskets: then you tell them which source is better, and why. You heard me. Teach them. Don’t fanny about getting them to thought shower it in discovery clusters; tell them. Then work through more examples at the same time as you teach them the most accurate stories you can impart. Start asking them which sources are most attractive, and get them to justify their answers.”

Students need “facts about what happened, facts about which sources support the narrative; facts about which source is virtuous, and which vicious,” Bennett argues. “Knowledge is best learned in context.”

Via Stuart Buck.