Part 1 - Urban Legends
I want to be a lifelong learner. This is a long email, so after you finish reading it you might feel like you are a life long learner, whether you wanted to be or not. For the last four years I have taken eight different classes from the same teacher. She is a wonderful instructor, and always uses creative analogies to reinforce her point. One of the analogies she uses is that of a duck. There are over 100 species of ducks. Three categories of ducks, with a total of 13 species, are deep diving ducks. These ducks forage for their food under water. They are not content to eat the
food floating on the surface. They dive deep, some as much as 65 feet, and go for the richest food at the bottom...the food that takes some work to reach, but that provides the greatest reward for their effort. My teacher encourages us to dive deep into our studies and realize what is on floating on the surface is not the most fulfilling. She cautions us from making decisions based on our preconceived notions, or the clichés we have heard. She wants us to find out answers through in-depth study. When we dive deep, we understand the big picture as we learn the intricacies of the smaller parts comprising it. I would encourage you to follow my teacher's advice and dive deep and find out the truth about Common Core for ourselves.
If we are going to judge Common Core based on someone else's anecdotes, we need to know where they got their information. We need to validate their statements. Information that has been passed on from person to person, even if said earnestly, can be absolutely wrong. Think of the telephone game. I remember sitting in circles and whispering a message to the person next to me, who would then pass it to the next person in the circle. The object of the game was to see if the message came around clearly or if it was garbled beyond recognition. What begins as "Carly would like to have a rose" ends up as "Marty said you have twelve toes." It could be that no one felt they were changing what they heard, and all felt they were accurately representing the statement. However, from person to person the information was reinterpreted and ultimately misstated. As you hear statements about the Common Core, hold them up to the light; scrutinize them. Dive deep to the bottom and find out the facts for yourself. Don't take my word for it. Don't settle for "studies show...," verify the study. Don't accept "I have a friend whose brother has a friend...," make your decisions based on more than rumor, on more than a sound bite, on more than three people removed from the speaker. You may find out what is really being said is "Marty said you have twelve toes." Do your own research; make up your own mind.
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear presentations on the Common Core. There were differing opinions and all were said with great conviction. There was one person who spoke about textbooks and the messages the Common Core was promoting. I have to pause here and say textbooks are not common core standards. It would be like saying the residential building code and electrical wiring are the same. One is the standard tobe met, while the other is a piece needed to achieve the end result; a house. Common Core are standards, textbooks are pieces needed to achieve the end result; an education. They are not one and the same; they are not interchangeable. The woman speaking gave examples of the Common Core indoctrinating our children into a certain political mindset. The first example was in an elementary math book. The student in the example was six years old (first grade) and the speaker received the information from her friend's brother's friend. The math problem in the textbook listed five various animals in a petting zoo, all livestock. Each of the animals received varying numbers of pats while in the petting zoo. The cow received the most pats and the goat the least. The woman said the question was "How do you think that made the goat feel?" She felt the Common Core Standards wanted to reinforce socialism to six year olds; that it was suggesting all the animals should be petted equally.
CLICK HERE for PTA's parent's guide for an overview of all the standards for math and language arts, by grade level. If you would like to read the actual Alabama mathematics standards CLICK HERE for all grades. You will find what I found; no socialism; only addition and subtraction, fractions, multiplication and division. I don't think any of us want our children being imprinted with a political mindset by a textbook. I think all parents want to share their own political ideals with their children, explain why they feel that way, and encourage their children to think the same way. I would strongly object to my children being swayed by math curriculum or a standard that is put in place with the intent to influence them politically. However, what should my first "deep diving duck" instinct be? Which teacher? Which school? Which school system? Which city? Which textbook? Which publisher? I know we don't live in Missouri, but I would have to say "Show me." If this is here, in my school, my city, my state, I want to know. If my children are being subtly indoctrinated by a textbook; again, I want to know.
Well, this particular duck has been diving, and I can't find the book. I have found in Michigan for grades 3-5, not first grade, a livestock petting zoo word problem. The question was about the fractions involved. CLICK HERE and go to page 28 for the word problem. No socialism and no goat feelings were discussed. A similar excerpt can also be found with the Florida Department of Education. My search unearthed a lot of other random things about goats and petting zoos. (For example, never underestimate the need for hand sanitizer!) Finally after sifting through information overload from Google, I found a textbook. This question is from A Survey of Mathematics with Applications, published by Pearson, CLICK HERE to see the publisher's description of the book. It doesn't indicate the grade level it is written for, just that it is a math class for liberal arts students, and the authors are community college professors. That leads me to believe it is a college text and not a text for first grade students. The word problem in the textbook is:
"Dorian and Dingo have a petting zoo with 12 animals, and all of them are either sheep or goats. They have twice as many sheep as goats. How many goats do they have?"
I don't see any socialist agenda in question. Fractions, yes. Lowest Common Denominator, yes. Socialism, no. As I reflected back to the reason for my search, the statement by the woman at the Common Core event, it seems more and more like she said ..."Marty said you have twelve toes." Somewhere along the way, an anecdote from the friend of a brother of a friend, was distorted. In case you were wondering, there are four hypothetical goats, which translate to 4/12ths or 1/3rd of the animals, and eight sheep which equal 8/12ths or 2/3rds of the animals.
The other math textbook story relayed at the Common Core event was about tanks. Not gas tanks, not think tanks, but military tanks. The word problem spoke of the number of military personnel in the multimillion-dollar tank. The question posed to the students was "Is the cost of the tank vs. number of personnel it protects, worth the expense?" Not a math problem at all, but rather a deeply political question about defense spending. It doesn't take into consideration that the tank is not merely protecting the people in it, but the troops behind it; the nation behind it. If the math question was one posed to my children, I would be offended too. Like many of you in Huntsville, there are military ties in my family. We have a rich family history of military service. I have ancestors who fought in every branch of the service and in every war to include the Revolutionary War. They were wounded vets, decorated vets, and all honorable vets. Their service is the reason I can openly attend church on Sundays, vote in elections, fly a flag from my front porch or even write this letter. Based on that anecdote, where do I go from here? Campaigning against the Common Core because of a story I heard from someone, who knew someone, who knew someone. No, I go deep diving. Which teacher, which school, which city, which state, which textbook? When I went diving all I could find was the loud sound of silence. No tank word problems in text books. No Shermans, no Abrams, no Bradley fighting vehicles, no LAV's (light armored vehicles). So far as Google knows, there is nothing in a textbook with armor on it, except maybe an armadillo. If you can find it, let me know. If, like me, you don't find it, let me know that as well. There goes Marty with his twelve toes story again.
There is a joke about lawyers that goes "Why use one word when four words will do." I would have to argue that Southerners also have those tendencies. I am very willing to admit I do. While we may be inclined to be colorful and long winded in our stories, let's make sure the stories we tell about Common Core are not Southern yarns. Let's make sure they are grounded in fact. The children of Alabama depend on it.
Huntsville Council of PTAs