Can You Prove 3 x 4 Equals 12?

August, 2013

Nothing like finding out you’ve been wrong all your life. Here I’ve been offering personal, slightly biased opinions on life in the Salt Marshes when I should’ve been engaging in “conversations” all along. Time to evolve, I guess, from rigid, self-expressive thinking that has shackled my mind to the intellectual freedom of questioning the obvious.

Something called Common Core is being implemented in our schools. It teaches kids that tests and obvious answers are out and assessments, alignments and implementations are in. Like most people in my generation, this sounds like the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. But, hey, we need to get away from that archaic kind of groupthink and embrace the new kind. The system was developed by organizations generously funded by the Gates Foundation (as in Microsoft), although, apparently, not generously enough since they’re already short on cash. No matter, they’re doing it anyway. Schools that don’t cooperate won’t get funded. One critic says, ‘politics and money are the motivators, not the best interests of children.’ ¬†Commissioner Corleone must’ve made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Common Core, they say, will shift priorities from mindless memorization to computer-graded analysis, innovation, creativity and application. It will equip students with skills for college and careers, like talking problems to death instead of solving them. Proponents praise it for “raising the bar on educational academic vocabulary.” That means we get more words. They don’t say much about raising the bar on intelligence. In fact, Linda Dilger of the Monterey County Office of Education offers this encouraging prognosis: “academically, Common Core will be more difficult, challenging, even scary for some students. Test scores are expected to fall in the first few years until students and teachers acclimate to the new approach. The curriculum is one with more rigor, more life engaging problems.” So, it’s half-baked, underfunded, scares kids, lowers scores, computers do the grading and the first year doesn’t count. Sounds perfect.

Take math for instance. A long time ago, billions of us memorized big multiplication tables that included, for example, 3 x 4 = 12. That little datum was cruelly drilled into my head but has served me well whenever I’ve had to consider, say, the numbers of quarters in a year. Now, I’m supposed to have an endless conversation with myself about whether there ought to be four quarters, or three thirds or who know whats. One genius says, “the lesson is not 3 x 4 equals 12. We know that [how could we know anything in this system?] ‚Ķ now prove it.”

Let’s try it out in an evolved, 21st Century sort of way. Say, hypothetically, that one person is engaging himself in a discussion about the cost of 3, 4 or 12 cans of soda at the 99 Cents Store but can’t multiply 99 x 12. Another engages him in a philosophical conversation about math that creatively segues into the meaning of life. The shopper feels uncomfortable when the interloper offers a rigorous opinion about the relative value of his life. They assess and compare their feelings in light of new information, perhaps in the form of a headlock and a knife. To complicate their free exchange of ideas, the person promoting a less aligned viewpoint chooses to impose his life or death positions on the other. The discussion ends abruptly when the one with the weapon empowers the other to explore the vagaries of existentialism on his own.

Apparently, Common Core says this is not a problem, since there are no problems, and solutions are creatively restrictive. There should only be conversations about rigorous life engaging experiences like the one described above. On the other hand, one posits that this would greatly reduce the need for law enforcement, since archaic laws have no jurisdiction over personal conversations and opinions, at least insofar as the State permits them. No problems, no solutions, get it?

Now prove it.