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by
Bryan Preston

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August 19, 2013 - 7:08 am

This is stupid.

“Even if they said, ’3 x 4 was 11,’ if they were able to explain their reasoning and explain how they came up with their answer really in, umm, words and oral explanation, and they showed it in the picture but they just got the final number wrong, we’re really more focused on the how,” August says in the video.

When someone in the audience (presumably a parent, but it’s not certain) asks if teachers will be, you know, correcting students who don’t know rudimentary arithmetic instantly, August makes another meandering, longwinded statement.

“We want our students to compute correctly but the emphasis is really moving more towards the explanation, and the how, and the why, and ‘can I really talk through the procedures that I went through to get this answer,’” August details. “And not just knowing that it’s 12, but why is it 12? How do I know that?”

We’re talking about mathematics here, not one’s interpretation of a James Joyce novel. What the instructor is advocating is either ignorance or sophistry, neither of which will help a kid nail down the basics of how to compute. Sophistry is great for coming up with tortured nonsense to explain wrong answers, though.

That this is coming from the same government that is wrecking our health care system in the name of insuring very few actually uninsured people, and which stopped calculating the national debt because, well, it doesn’t feel like calculating the national debt, is not at all surprising.

Bryan Preston has been a leading conservative blogger and opinionator since founding his first blog in 2001. Bryan is a military veteran, worked for NASA, was a founding blogger and producer at Hot Air, was producer of the Laura Ingraham Show and, most recently before joining PJM, was Communications Director of the Republican Party of Texas.

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Top Rated Comments   
“And not just knowing that it’s 12, but why is it 12? How do I know that?”

You know that because any responsible teacher made sure you had memorized the multiplication tables before letting you out of the second freaking grade.

Or am I just being hopelessly naive thinking that such a thing as a responsible teacher exists anymore?
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (27)
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LOL....reading jlanccombs comments reminds me of how often my kids tried to get me into a "why" conversation when I told them to do something.

That "why" conversation was ALWAYS at some level based on either they didn't want to do what they were instructed, or they didn't actually understand and were trying to dodge me finding out they didn't understand.

'Because I said so' is a perfectly adequate explanation until a mind matures enough to comprehend the background reasons for why things are the way they are.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Let me phrase my argument in another way. In order for math to make sense, in needs to have a real world application. Just memorizing tables and equations is teaching ABSTRACT numbers without any tie to real world application. This does not seem to me to be a very CONSERVATIVE approach to teaching. Why does 2+2 =4? Cuz my teacher says so does not strike me as a good argument. Don't tell me you're all advocating for these unionist indoctrinators to be the final authority on what is and isn't for your children!
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Except even that is not right.
If you insist on getting so esoteric, then the "real" reason that 2+2=4 is that someone chose those particular symbols to represent a particular grouping interpreted in a particular manner, not to mention those other particular symbols to represent particular manipulations of those groups for particular social reasons.
Yeah, that is REAL useful for pre-teens to understand basic math.
And guess what, it also happens to be another appeal to authority, "cuz those original mathematicians said so".

As for competing anecdotes, all you are demonstrating there is that a single method for teaching is not sufficient. I can offer up my own anecdotes, decrying all the times I had teachers demand I "show my work" while refusing to accept that no matter what the "answer" to the mess of symbols they had scrawled on a blackboard was still the number I was giving them. So do we now incite another round of committee meetings where educrats debate the value of being able to use formulas without being able to remember how to explain the formulas?

Ultimately, the reason 2+2=4 is because it is, and for most applications outside of theoretical mathematics understanding why is profoundly less relevant than knowing that everyone you will be dealing with accepts that it is, particularly the people who will be paying you and the people who will be taxing you.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
I didn't dismiss yours and substitute my own. I added my own to illustrate that everyone has one and yours isn't the end story. My own anecdote is no more or less valuable than yours. My point is that different people have different anecdotes, so they shouldn't be used to prove a point. I'm not against you. Common Core is stupid for many reasons, including the fact that it promotes faking it to get by (which is what I accused of being "faking it", not the tables; I accused the tables of being rote memorization). The biggest reason is that it gives the federal government a doorway to indoctrinate. Again, the quote "The former is simply being able to fake it good enough to get by and the latter is rote memorization." The former = common good, as it is what came first in the preceding sentence and the latter = tables as it is what I mentioned last.

""Why" is philosophical".

Not in this context. This is not "why are we here" why, but "taking it apart and seeing what makes it tick" why...which little boys tend to do by nature.

Again I am not against you, but I do feel you are against me, as your responses seem designed to dismiss my opinion rather than to argue the details of my position.

I wasn't "accusing you" of not reading my post. I assumed you skimmed over it, because you argued against something I never said. "There's no rational argument that makes 3x4=11 anything other than incorrect."

"Math at that level simply is," or any kind of "...simply is" is reasoning I will NEVER accept. I think we need to have minds of our own (starting even as children) and being taught "simply is" is no way to facilitate that.



34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
addendum: my statement "the former = common good" should read "the former = common core".
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
What the instructor is advocating is either ignorance or sophistry, neither of which will help a kid nail down the basics of how to compute. Sophistry is great for coming up with tortured nonsense to explain wrong answers, though. Yep - preparing the youth of America to be glib, double-talking apparatchiki in the service of Leviathan.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Cliff Claven method of education.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
So, you're allowed to be wrong, as long as you sounded smart doing it?
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
“And not just knowing that it’s 12, but why is it 12? How do I know that?”

You know that because any responsible teacher made sure you had memorized the multiplication tables before letting you out of the second freaking grade.

Or am I just being hopelessly naive thinking that such a thing as a responsible teacher exists anymore?
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
No no no. Multiplication table is a bad way to teach. The responsible teacher teaches you what multiplication is and HOW you come to 12...such as having 3 baskets of apples, each with 4 apples. So, in that part she's right...but she's not rights that 3x4 = 11 as long as you can explain it well, because 3x4 objectively does NOT = 11. Granted, she's focusing on the child being able to explain the answer, which isn't the point of math. But, the child really should understand the function of the math, so that they can understand how to multiply numbers that fall outside the comfort zone (of the tables). I've been told by children that they didn't know how to multiply certain numbers because it wasn't on the table.

This common core crap is wrong, granted. My point is, so is the multiplication table.

The former is simply being able to fake it good enough to get by and the latter is rote memorization. Real learning = understanding; neither faking it or memorizing the answers.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
So following your reasoning, it's also a "bad way to teach" that 2+2=4?

Same flawed logic....
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not flawed at all. You people are cherry picking my argument.
2+2 = 4 FOR A REASON.
IT IS IMPORTANT TO TEACH THE REASON.
The reason is that if you have 2 toy cars and then bring home 2 more toy cars, you have "added" 2 cars to an already existing set of 2 cars. Now you have four cars. You still get 2+2 = 4, but now you understand the real world application instead of just having an abstract equation that means nothing to a child.

Put your straw men away for a while.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not cherry picking at all.

By the time the kid is memorizing multiplication tables, that child already understands the basic concept behind 2X2=4.

They are simply at that point memorizing the facts so they can access them quickly and easily in real world situations rather than having to sit there and count.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Expecting your typical 1st grader to understand Bertram Russel's Principia Mathematica is a bit of a stretch, don't you think?
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
So you think an abstract set of numbers makes more sense to a child? Just because you can name drop something, doesn't make the principle too complicated for 3RD (normally not 1st) grade children.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
And, heck, I don't even know if the principle you're talking about has anything to do with my point, because I couldn't name drop that one. I looked it up though, and it doesn't seem to be what I'm arguing for. It seems to be a lot about mathematical symbolism, rather than framing math explanations in real world terms familiar to a child.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, the Jesuits that educated me disagree with you. Given my current employment as a financial advisor (which involves a wee bit of math) I'm going to side with them.

Besides, the multiplication table isn't the end of math education, it's the beginning.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Well, the Jesuits that educated me disagree with you. Given my current employment as a financial advisor (which involves a wee bit of math) I'm going to side with them."

This is only the appeal to authority fallacy. Not necessarily wrong, but not a good argument.

"Besides, the multiplication table isn't the end of math education, it's the beginning."

Perhaps you're right, but it didn't work for me...even a little.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
I can't agree. I went all the way through calculus and physics in my hs math career. The multiplication table served as the basis for me building mental shortcuts to enable doing the higher maths. It still helps me do figures in my head when others resort to calculators. You memorize the table so you don't have to think about the basics and can focus on the actual problems. There's no rational argument that makes 3x4=11 anything other than incorrect.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Of course 3x4=11, as long as you're doing base 11 math. In base 10, though.... not so much.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Do 3 baskets of 4 apples add up to 11 apples?
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
I assume that you didn't see the base 11 comment, or you wouldn't have asked that question.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
In base 11 math? Yes, they do.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Your anecdotal story aside, what is the point of knowing the right answer when you don't know why it is the right answer?

"There's no rational argument that makes 3x4=11 anything other than incorrect."

If you're saying this, then you must have simply skimmed over my post without reading it, as I said, and I quote "This common core crap is wrong, granted. My point is, so is the multiplication table.

The former is simply being able to fake it good enough to get by and the latter is rote memorization. "

Of course, you're right 3x4 NEVER equals 11 for ANY reason, but understanding the theory of 3x4 = 12 will teach you that fact better than memorizing tables will.

Here's MY anecdote, btw. My teachers (liberal run public school) tried to teach me in 3rd grade through the multiplication table. It didn't take. I did not understand it. My father (in extreme frustration once finding out they were even using the table), who happens to be a scientist, taught me the concept of multiplication and exactly what TIMES (x) means. I've been doing multiplication in my head ever since...much faster than most people do.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Your anecdotal story aside, what is the point of knowing the right answer when you don't know why it is the right answer?"

When a child is learning to speak you don't go over the etymology of every word with them. They have to take your word for it that the furry thing over there is called a dog and that thing you're sitting on is called a chair. Likewise you don't have to explain Newton's laws of motion to them in order to justify not letting them play in traffic. Moving cars are dangerous because I said so, case closed.

Of course we should seek out deeper answers to things as we grow older, but a lot of foundational things can (and should) be learned by rote.

I'm sorry that learning by rote didn't work for you, and I'm glad you had parents with both the intelligence and perception to address the problem. But dismissing something as crap when it has worked for millions of people over ten generations just doesn't make a lot of sense. You're not even appealing to authority, you're appealing to yourself.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
Besides, isn't learing HOW and WHY so you can find out the truth for yourself better than just taking your teacher's (often a liberal) word for it?
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
What worked for me didn't work for you, and what worked for you might not have worked for me. Big deal. You dismiss my anecdote and then substitute your own for it. Again, big deal. I didn't skim as you accuse, I was just unpersuaded by your reasoning. Memorizing the table isn't "faking" anything.

It seems to me that insisting on a "why" in math at that level is going about it all wrong. Math at that level simply is. "Why" is philosophical and in the case we're discussing here, may leave kids confused over what the right and wrong answers are. They don't need that.
34 weeks ago
34 weeks ago Link To Comment
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