I read with interest Quin Hillyer’s “Common Core’s Fuzzy Math, Other Problems.”

Maybe Hillyer and other smart critics of the Core are right to claim that the new standards will obstruct instead of improve learning, that the creators of the standards and aligned instructional materials are disconnected from pedagogical realities.

I myself have some problems with the corporate nature of the Core.

Nevertheless, I’m not blind to the positive curricular changes sprouting up since the adoption of the Core standards.

Take the “new math” my parish began employing three years ago in the transition to the Core: My child and his classmates are learning actual math and not just going through the rote paces.

Let’s compare that with how my generation was “taught.” As a Gen Xer instructed by boomers, my peers and I would’ve been “asked” to do things the way Hillyer is essentially “asking” us to do things: “Just do it the way I tell you, and don’t question why it works. It just does. And it’s good enough for the ACT.”

Take 11 + 9. I would’ve been instructed to “carry the 1” from what the 1 + 9 made, and then “add that 1 to the other 1.” “That makes 20. See?!” I didn’t see. As a physicist/math professor friend of mine replied to the example, “That’s math for English majors, who have a tenuous grasp of precision and accuracy.” My only critique of his statement is: I became an English major partly because of that sort of nonsense.

The “new math” requires students to fully comprehend place values (1s, 10s, 100s, etc.). Eleven is actually one 10 and one 1. Nine is actually nine 1s. So instead of learning half-truths and outright lies to produce the “correct answer” on the test, kids are now asked to grasp the fundamentals of numbers and mathematical operations, as well as to explain an answer in more than one way.

Now, if the case against the “new math” or the Core as a whole is going to be “That’s not the way we used to do it, which was good enough for us,” then there’s no point in arguing because such a stance demonstrates a closed, self-deceptive mind.

Even so, I don’t think it’s fair to curse upcoming generations with our shortsightedness. I want my son and his friends to know more and better than I do — that to derive the sum of 11 + 9, they need to carry the 10 they’ve produced from adding 1 and 9 to the 10 already there. If it takes dots, boxes and lines to reach such precise and accurate truths, then so be it.

Ben Lanier-Nabor

writer

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