Quick! Don’t Think!

In America, we like things fast. And we like for other people to think for us, so we don’t have to.  That’s faster, see?  That’s why we Americans looooove the hasty generalization.  It’s quick (hey, it’s right there in the name!), and it doesn’t require us to carefully parse out the important data to get a clear picture of what it is we think we’re looking at.

Here’s how it works: A pundit or Facebook meme states a fact about something that has happened in these United States- usually anecdotal and almost always alarming.  Take, for example, one Common Core math test sample floating across the Internet the last few months:



Whether you can read everything in the graphic or not, don’t worry- you don’t understand the math problem.  Nobody does at first glance- not even the person with the “Bachelor of Science Degree in Electronics Engineering”!

The alarmist then usually calls for action (Q: Whoa, that quick?  A: Yup!!) against the “larger trend” occurring, which certainly might affect YOU and YOUR family!  In this example, Frustrated Parent draws the conclusion that Common Core is silly/misguided/evil based on the evidence given.  If he or she does not draw that conclusion, the beauty of the Internet is that dozens of people in the comments section will do it anyway.

The result is a fired up Internet user who has been mobilized for or against a particular political issue (Ok, let’s be honest.  Against.  It’s always, always, always against something.) In our example, you’ve just seen the awful frustration being doled out to real students in a real school in real America due to this Common Core thing, so you’re ready to catch up with your local school board for a helpful “discussion.”

The problem is, this cleverly constructed info-dump has ignored what’s going on everywhere else in America.  It has suggested that you also do the same.  Ignore the fact that Common Core is NOT a curriculum of what to teach (those are chosen individually by school districts).  Ignore that Common Core did not mandate any specific assessment design (those are chosen state by state).  Ignore that Common Core is only a set of standards- indications of things that kids ought to be able to do at certain levels in their growth, and this particular school district has simply chosen a way to teach math concepts that doesn’t make sense to you at first glance.

That is all that you’re seeing in that graphic.  I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate issues to fix with Common Core.  I have my own problems with the “tests” and with some of the lessons we’re rolling out.  But let’s not jump to conclusions about what we think Common Core “is” based on what one teacher is doing in one school in America.

But James!  It’s more fun to fight a monster than it is to sit down and try to improve an education system by reading all of the relevant data and working to gain a better understanding of what education professionals actually do (and it’s easier to say, too)!  We get to put on our bath towel capes, hop on our hobby horses, and ride down to the state capitol to yell at people!

Yes.  You’re absolutely right.  It is more fun to fight imagined monsters.  And that’s our problem.  Fixing things is hard.  It requires you to sort of understand them instead of just mobilizing political soldiers to fight against them.  That’s how substituting “Happy Holidays” for “Merry Christmas” became a War on Christmas.  It’s how, for all the nuance and variety in the field of economics, they only ask you “Are you Pro-Business or Pro-Government?” And yes, it how the implementation of an immensely complex set of national education standards for mathematics and language arts gets boiled down to…

“But this math problem is crazy, amIright?”


  1. Gwen

    Are readers of this math problem even noticing that the instructions state the problem is worked incorrectly to see if students truly understand the math? The process of using an empty number correctly s a simple, quick way for students to visualize how number operations work. Of course, THIS particular problem makes no sense because the solution is incorrect. Hence, that pesky hasty generalization. Who would want to actually take the time to learn the correct way to use this process? We might find it actually helps some students.

  2. jacomans

    Yes, Gwen- I takes a LOT of time to get our “old way” minds wrapped around this stuff. Might work, might not, but you’re absolutely right- We should be willing to figure out the math behind the math problem before assuming it makes no sense. 🙂


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