The Common Core & Classical Education

One of the best ways to learn certain things is by not thinking very hard about them.  If these things are over-thought, the returns on learning immediately begin to go down.

For example, a valid outcry against the Common Core is its attempt to make young students "think conceptually" or to "think critically," or even to "think independently" in every possible setting, and way too soon.  The Common Core wants students not just to know their multiplication table, but also to know how numbers "relate to each other."  Here's what Diane Briars, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics says about it:

"Part of what we are trying to teach children is to become problem solvers and thinkers . . . We want students to understand what they're doing, not just get the right answer.''

Now this is an admirable vision, one we should all be happy to get behind.  But it has to have its place.  What if I asked a 1st-grader what the 9 planets were in order, and she answered correctly, but then I also said, "Now tell me how the proximity of Mars and Jupiter to the asteroid belt affects their respective environments, and whether you think it more likely that a terrestrial or Jovian planet might impact Earth's climate in future evolutionary epochs?" Maybe this is a good question for a high-schooler (then again, maybe not), but it certainly has no place in an elementary curriculum.  In the same way, we shouldn't muck up kids brains with the fact that numbers are really ideas and not things, and that "numeral" is really the proper word, and that even then, numerals are just adjectives.  No, they just need to memorize their multiplication table and go outside and climb a tree.  This is the old way, the way of our parents, and it works.

Too much of a good thing is a bad thing, and that goes for education.  This is precisely why we make our ACA littleuns memorize lots of stuff, good and solid, and why we only start asking them critical-thinking questions in the 5th-grade range. Why?  Because that's how their bodies work.  That's how God wired them up.  Slamming a 1st-grader with demands to "understand" and "conceptualize" all the time is like giving them a bottle of wine and expecting them to be able to handle it.  Jesus turned water into wine, and adults drink it, so it must be a good thing for all ages. Right?

To everything there is a season, said Solomon.  And as my mother always said, "A place for everything, and everything in its place."