Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award

We probably don’t know what we’re talking about

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Yesterday I was reading the newspaper while waiting for my daughter to get out of ballet class. To my right were two women engaged in a typical conversation between parents whose only true connection is that they feel the same activity—in this case ballet—benefits their kids.

One woman was from England, the other Mongolia: they said as much to each other. I couldn’t tell a thing about their social class, except that they paid for a lot of activities. Their cliched conversation—unaware of its bragging and ironies—meandered typically. The kids liked ballet but not gymnastics, karate but not horseback riding, skating but not soccer—or maybe it was soccer but not skating, maybe diamond cutting but not glass blowing.

Whatever. There just wasn’t enough time in the day anymore for all these activities! And school! The homework! Argh!

It was excessive. Truly excessive. Several hours each day. How could their daughters, seven year old girls, get transported from their ninja training to their preparation for the Bolshoi when they also had several hours of daily reading and math?

Soon enough, the women came to the magical discussion: Common Core. All of this was the fault of Common Core. The math was too difficult and the reading too excessive and the numbers funny and the words arbitrary. To quote: “This Common Core is asking them to find the cumulative. Why do they need a word like cumulative?” Then she bragged: “I didn’t even learn that in college.”

I tried to ignore the conversation, as my blood was already boiling just from reading the news. But they kept at it with their Common Core and the meddling and the funny numbers and strange bubbles and the several hours and frustration about why learning couldn’t be fun. (As opposed, I guess, to cumulative.)

I finally interrupted them. “Excuse me,” I said as politely as I could. “I didn’t mean to be eavesdropping, but your conversation leaves me curious. What actually is the Common Core?”

Shishwish wang dabble and frockfrack too complicated. Frigmack moof mackle and ploopluck weird methods. Agwack mick mickle. Zeepopeepopuck. No, impossible, shippity pippity, Because parents can’t do the math.

The women spoke their shishwish wang dabble with conviction and passion. They were so certain of their frigmack moof mackle that their eyes opened wide as entrances to mansions. By the time they got to zeepopeepopuck, they had already built an eight wonder of the world, and there it stood before me in the shape of a Pippity.

The point of this post is not to defend the Common Core. America has long ago burned all of its books and sold off the ash as truth. At attempt to unify what all American kids should know at the end of each grade is bound to present problems, but that’s a discussion for another day.

My point is that these women were guilty of the very thing education should be built to fix. They had no idea what they were talking about but pretended they did. Their evidence was that their daughters’ math homework was unfamiliar, more difficult than they could bear. They did not ask the questions any educated person should know to ask: If as a professional adult I can’t figure out a 2nd grader’s math homework, is it because the problem’s too difficult or my skill level too low? If I don’t know what the Common Core is, how do I know it has something to do with these math problems I don’t like? 

Maybe the reason we can’t figure out our kids’ math homework—um…2nd grade arithmetic—is because we never learned any math at all, just a method to get to an answer within the context of a particular kind of exam. We remove that method and context and find ourselves lost; the cumulative effect of our “education” leaves us spewing nonsense in public, blaming something we don’t understand, have not even bothered to read about, and yet we speak confidently, presenting our ignorance as a paradigm, all while our daughters plié before a polished mirror. Maybe the point of this education reform was to keep future generations from turning into us.

With less than 48 hours left before our polling places open, we can rest assured. The reason we find ourselves in the mess we face is not because of something outside us. We’ll be in this mess so long as we believe that spewing ignorance with confidence is everyone’s right. Because we’re all entitled to our opinions, all our opinions are correct.


Photo from Wikipedia

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