Monday, October 13, 2014

The "clear and present danger" posed by bureaucracies

The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger argues that our bureaucracies’ ineptness pose a “clear and present danger” and that the more money we throw at them the more dangerous they get.  This reminds me of our education spending record.  I think in the early 1980’s a Reagan administration report said that if a foreign power had imposed on us our educational system, we would consider it an act of war.  Fast forward to now and the trend has continued.

Henninger proceeds to make a convincing argument that the complexity of the biggest bureaucracies make them impossible for humans to manage.  He cites numerous examples of large entities, public and private, struggling to keep up with the complexity.  Relating these ideas to our education system, I think of the multiplication unit my my third grade son is learning.  His common core curriculum (complex by nature in that it has been deemed to be suitable for every student in our country) has him studying “math vocabulary words” and making posters related to multiplication facts (like 5 x 3 and 8 x 5).  Not seeing him memorizing multiplication tables caused me to Google the following:

Google Search - “Is memorizing multiplication facts part of common core?”

Second Search Response:

From the “Common Core State Standards Initiative” -

Grade 3 » Operations & Algebraic Thinking » Multiply and divide within 100. » 7

Fluently multiply and divide within 100, using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division (e.g., knowing that 8 × 5 = 40, one knows 40 ÷ 5 = 8) or properties of operations. By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers.

I am sorry if I am being picky but classifying times tables as “operations and algebraic thinking” and the reference to “using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division... or properties of operations” seems like bureaucratic doublespeak to me.  How can “the relationship between multiplication and division” be a strategy?

I am all for asking “why” a formula works.  But I do hope our bureaucracy remembers to hold our students accountable for knowing 8 x 5 is 40.  If not, no “strategy” will make up for it.  And the educational bureaucracy will continue to reinforce the trend Henninger describes.

To be sure, it is quite possible that the memorizing of multiplication facts are properly stressed in our common core curriculum guided schools.  I am no classroom expert.  I am hopeful that teachers will resist the push towards bureaucratic tendencies and be creative in teaching our children.  And I am optimistic to see this teacher’s plan for executing this common core standard.  As you can see, Mr. Yattaw believes his students should know their multiplication facts, and he has devised and shared with us his system for teaching them.  Hopefully our schools are filled with Mr. Yattaws.

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