kitchen table math, the sequel: too much knowledge

Monday, August 3, 2009

too much knowledge

Comment on Curriculum Matters:
My problem with any of these standards is that they are too focused on knowledge learned rather than basic learning process skills. Learning these 100 things about algebra or these 100 things about American history is not the point and just forces kids to learn a bunch of stuff that they may not be interested in, or that prevents them from learning other stuff they might be interested in.

Meanwhile Core Knowledge has apparently called the draft "Dead on Arrival," though you can't read the post because the Core Knowledge blog is down.

I'm taking my cues from E.D. Hirsch.

31 comments:

concernedCTparent said...

Learning a "bunch of stuff" is what allows critical thinking to even have a fighting chance. You need to know *stuff* to even begin to think about that *stuff*, or most anything else, for that matter. Content matters! Or else, what exactly are you supposed to be able to think about?

I just don't get it. How can you ever be too focused on knowledge?

concernedCTparent said...

The Core Knowledge Blog has been down for days. What gives???

Niels Henrik Abel said...

Learning these 100 things ...prevents them from learning other stuff they might be interested in.

Are you serious? Exactly how does telling students "You have to learn X, Y, and Z" prevent them from learning other things that interest them?

That is a non sequitur.

Anonymous said...

"Exactly how does telling students 'You have to learn X, Y, and Z' prevent them from learning other things that interest them?"

*Telling* them doesn't actually prevent anything, but requiring them to spend the time learning X, Y, and Z does. That time is unavailable to learn the other stuff.

As an example, we can imagine a standard that required the kids in 4th grade to memorize very detailed log tables out to 5 or 6 decimals. This is clearly going to take some time, and that time is also clearly not available to do anything else (say, watching Scooby-Doo reruns).

The tradeoff is real.

-Mark Roulo

Niels Henrik Abel said...

Of course taking care of what is required leaves less time to other pursuits, but then that holds whether one is 9, 99, or any age in between. Whatever one is interested in, one finds time to do. "Where there's a will, there's a way," etc.

Weighing trade-offs is a major component of setting priorities. It would be more accurate to say that "Learning a set of required facts leaves less time to pursue other interests," rather than "prevents students from pursuing other interests."

Besides, the idea behind core knowledge is that there is a body of knowledge, or facts, that is fundamental (i.e., forms a foundation) to education. Learn the basics first, and then the ideas and concepts behind the other interests will make more sense. My seven-year-old will sometimes ask questions that would require background knowledge to understand the complete answer. Of course, such information is generally beyond her ken, so I have to do some hand-waving and ratchet the explanation down to her level. Consequently, things don't always make perfect sense. Core knowledge helps make these types of situations easier, by putting everyone on the same page.

Learning a table of logs (which strikes me as being somewhat of a straw man) would indeed be rather tedious, but it hardly falls under the category of "core knowledge." Learning the rules for manipulating logs, on the other hand, would be considered core knowledge (at least I would categorize it thusly, at the pre-calculus level), and is hardly an onerous task.

Anonymous said...

"...which strikes me as being somewhat of a straw man..."

It isn't a straw man because I wasn't claiming that this was real. It is an illustration of something that is time consuming, and borderline academic/educational. I could have picked "memorize the names of all the passengers on the Titanic" just as easily. Or, "learn Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha" by heart.

"Weighing trade-offs is a major component of setting priorities."

Yes.

And the people who don't like Core Knowledge tend to:
(a) dislike the Core Knowledge priorities, or
(b) dislike the idea of a common set of learning priorities.

The point still stands that learning X, Y, and Z takes time away from K, no? And for any prioritized list of things to do, if someone adds new things that *must* be done, then the things at the bottom of the list will get pushed off.

Assuming that there already was a prioritized list, the new stuff bumps the bottom of the list into the "won't get done" category.


-Mark Roulo

Catherine Johnson said...

Learning a bunch of stuff is good.

Catherine Johnson said...

Weighing trade-offs is a major component of setting priorities.

I still have not mastered this lesson.

Catherine Johnson said...

Maybe they should put it in the standards.

Catherine Johnson said...

the idea behind core knowledge is that there is a body of knowledge, or facts, that is fundamental (i.e., forms a foundation) to education

Exactly, and that is the problem. The edu-world, on the whole, does not agree that core knowledge exists.

Anonymous said...

"The edu-world, on the whole, does not agree that core knowledge exists."

Yep.

And this attitude is very, very bad.

What would scare me just as much would be if they changed their (collective) mind. I don't think I'd be very happy with the "core knowledge" list that would come out of the leading ed-schools.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

BTW, spending time in school acquiring basic core knowledge in a variety of disciplines doesn't prevent students of any age from learning more about what interests them, outside of school. They certainly have and have had time to play games, listen to music, watch sporting events/TV, spend time with friends and even do chores. There were and are kids who don't know their multiplication tables, but who can spout baseball stats at the drop of a hat. Libraries are good places to use to learn new things, but some need a push to get started. Kids' preferences should never be allowed to drive the curriculum. That has been happening far too often, and kids aren't learning the core stuff - like basic math (including fractions, decimals and percentages), geography, history, civics, spelling, composition etc.

Catherine Johnson said...

I don't think I'd be very happy with the "core knowledge" list that would come out of the leading ed-schools.

It's getting to be time to post my district's 21-page Strategic Plan.

Catherine Johnson said...

Kids' preferences should never be allowed to drive the curriculum.

I agree.

As usual, I'm perfectly happy to support schools where kids' preferences DO drive the curriculum ---- JUST SO LONG as people also support schools that teach basic core knowledge.

Catherine Johnson said...

The truth is, as far as I can tell, that the only interests driving the curriculum are those of the edu-world.

I don't know how many kids wake up in the morning and say, I WANT TO DEVELOP GLOBAL AWARENESS TODAY!

Catherine Johnson said...

Is this the Adams article?

The Three Cueing System

Catherine Johnson said...

I think the closed-circuit, thought-world quality of all this must contribute to the difficulty of parents (or nonparents) trying to make reforms.

That struck me today, suddenly: when I make what sound to me like perfectly reasonable observations, to our administrators & board members I probably sound like SAVAGE NATION.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm often struck by how little 'democratic space' there is in school district politics: no one thinks there IS or SHOULD BE any politics!

Ed likes to say there's a difference between an opponent and an enemy, but within school district politics that distinction is, shall we say, NOT robust.

This makes things difficult, too, because when you oppose a superintendent, you are seen as heading a lynching party.

That's a quote, by the way.

"lynching party"

Exo said...

"The edu-world, on the whole, does not agree that core knowledge exists"

I just came back from Brooklyn. If I get to go there, i make sure to get to Brighton Beach - there is a large russian bookstore. And they have all the school textbooks from Russia (what is actually used in schools). Now, there is a CORE CURRICULUM (and always was)and the textbooks are written to present that core - grade by grade, in all subjects. Even more, nowadays, for those who wants to dig deeper - additions to core books are available (called somewhat like Intriguing problems in Geometry or Algebra, grade 6, for instance). Even more - the Summer and Out-of -Class Reading Volumes, again by grade. Exactly WHAT you child MUST read during Summers.
(I've purchased Math for grade 4,and Russian Language and Literature for Grades 1 and 2).

Catherine Johnson said...

If I get to go there, i make sure to get to Brighton Beach - there is a large russian bookstore. And they have all the school textbooks from Russia (what is actually used in schools).

We have GOT to get someone to translate these books.

Probably the best math-ed experience of my life was working my way through "Mathematics 6."

Amy P said...

Catherine,

That would be a very good project to get a grant for, especially if it were possible to get the Russian publisher to agree to allow the English text to be published on the internet. That would be well worth bugging some foundation for a grant. You could even wrap it up in some sort of we-are-the-world multicultural sugar-coating--wouldn't it be cool if Americans had access to the textbooks used in other countries!

The translator actually wouldn't need to be a native Russian speaker--I'm thinking there are probably lots of English-speaking math people who have studied a bit of Russian. My dad was a math major back in the 60s and his college foreign language was Russian. Likewise, my husband was born in Poland, did a PHD in probability in Canada, and taught himself Russian partly in order to do math research.

rocky said...

Mark Roulo, you crack me up. I laughed out loud. Log tables or Scooby-Doo: "The tradeoff is real." Ben Stein couldn't have said it better.

But seriously, I have two objections:

1. Unless kids are driven, challenged, rewarded, punished, or naturally curious, they will not put lots of effort into learning. Even Scooby-Doo will fade from memory if not tested.

2. All knowledge is not fungible except in game shows. You probably won't get a "Cartoons for 50" question in your next job interview. Established core subjects come with a body of knowledge that is generally recognized by experts. The experts know the fringe knowledge too, but they agree on what is central.

I sometimes wonder if teachers, who have seen this stuff year after year, get bored, and want to include more fringe material for their own sakes.

Catherine Johnson said...

Unless kids are driven, challenged, rewarded, punished, or naturally curious, they will not put lots of effort into learning.

I had a VERY interesting conversation with the mother of a middle-school swimmer so good she may be Olympic-calibre.

She told me that she's getting up every morning at 5:30 am to take her daughter to swim lessons, and that her daughter was mad about it!

Then the other day they were driving with two other swimmers, whose moms **didn't** take them to 5:30 am lessons this summer --- it became obvious to the kids that her daughter is going to be better than they are in the fall.

I asked the mom: Would she have preferred not to take lessons and practice this summer?

The mom said that she thinks her daughter is so committed to swimming that if she **hadn't** wanted to do the 5:30 am trip, her daughter would have asked her to. The protests are about protesting, not about swimming.

Still, I thought it was very interesting that a middle school athlete so good she's in contention for Olympic competition eventually would be complaining about having to take swimming lessons.

I think this story supports Rocky's point.

Catherine Johnson said...

The mom told me a great story. She said she saw their old coach the other day at a swim meet, and he said, "Welcome to the world of free college."

Catherine Johnson said...

Amy - good point.

Apparently there are zillions of fantastic Russian math textbooks POSTED ON LINE.

The Singapore Math teacher here in the Dobbs Ferry program (at Westchester Math Lab) takes problems out of those books.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think I can see why Russian mathematicians have "chops," as Carolyn said.

Here's a Russian textbook problem the teacher gave to the class I attended:

If it takes 12 minutes to cut a rope into 3 pieces, how many minutes does it take to cut the same length rope in 4 pieces.

I got it wrong.

So did the kids, thank God.

Allison said...

My three old says every morning that he doesn't want to do what we're going to dod: go to the zoo, go to the library. If I ask him, he'll also say he doesn't want to eat chocolate pudding.

This does not change materially between 3 and 23.

Children protest because they are children. Young adults, too. It doesn't mean they even dislike the thing they are protesting. It certainly doesn't mean they understand the longer term consequences of having their protest work.

Allison said...

oh, and the answer was 18? because we could be wrong, too...

Anonymous said...

"If it takes 12 minutes to cut a rope into 3 pieces, how many minutes does it take to cut the same length rope in 4 pieces."

Mr. Chekov, active the snark torpedoes.

I think the answer is, "12 minutes."

To cut the rope into 3 pieces takes two cuts. You can cut the rope into 4 pieces with two cuts also (hold the two pieces from the first cut together ...).

I *love* the smell of real world problems in the morning!!!!

-Mark Roulo

Allison said...

I thought about this but it would depend on the curvature of the rope and the segment length, and as lengths weren't specified, i figured it wasn't general enough. was i wrong?

Anonymous said...

"I thought about this but it would depend on the curvature of the rope and the segment length, and as lengths weren't specified, i figured it wasn't general enough. was i wrong?"

Well ... two things to keep in mind:
(a) I was going for maximum wrongness for the question they were *trying* to ask, while still answering the question that they did ask, and

(b) I didn't want to make any assumptions (but then they can't have any hidden requirements, either).

Curvature of the rope doesn't matter because my solution doesn't require the rope curve, just that the two pieces from the first cut be placed next to each other. This could also be done with a length of pole.

Since the lengths don't matter, I should be able to deliver any four pieces (this is the 'no hidden requirements').

If we assume a fairly long, flexible rope, then *one* cut works, right? Just loop it around as needed and cut away :-)

-Mark Roulo