Bruce Deitrick Price
Simplicity: how you know education is done correctly
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By Bruce Deitrick Price
May 14, 2019

"Keep it simple, stupid" is a famous formula for good writing. It's also a formula for good teaching. It works in every situation for every child.

The good teacher quickly explains the essence of something and adds details as students are ready to absorb them. For example, I'm now playing the role of a teacher explaining how to teach anything. I say: make your instruction simple. Am I not making my instruction simple?

Here is education's Golden Rule: start with the easiest facts (1+2 = 3) and build systematically toward more complex perspectives and generalizations. Why would anyone do it any other way?

Today, the destructive and horribly expensive pattern throughout K-12 education is to do things the hard way. Schools skip over the simple, and move immediately to the difficult, thereby destroying whatever confidence the students brought to the classroom. This pattern practically screams at us: the people concocting such counterproductive methods are hostile to education.

Here are some common examples of doing things the wrong way:

Today, Geography is ignored. But for thousands of years, Geography was called the Queen of the Sciences. There are good practical reason for learning geography first. You can't study history, science, or current events unless you know about oceans, mountains, rivers, cities, etc. If someone talks about the Gulf Stream, would that make any sense if you didn't understand that there's an ocean between Europe and America?

One of our Education Establishment's favorite sophistries is the word "relevance." You are supposed to teach things that are relevant to the child's life. But if you never teach children anything academic, nothing will be relevant to their lives except maybe what they're watching on TV that night. However, if a child knows geography and history, for example, then everything that happens every day around the world is relevant to the child's life. You see how it works? You starve the child for knowledge and then you use the starved state to justify further starvation. Only a cynical Education Establishment can think like this.

By not teaching geography, the schools make everything more cumbersome. Most of history, science, current events, and social studies will be harder to teach, because every time you mention a country or anything geographical, you have to take time to bring the kids up to speed. You can't talk about a tornado in Texas if the kids don't know what or where Texas is.

We see the same perverse tendencies throughout math instruction. If there is a standard algorithm for multiplying numbers, our education professors will come up with a difficult way to do the same thing. That is the whole story of New Math circa 1965, Reform Math 20 years later, and Common Core Math today. Simplicity is avoided, thereby turning every course into an obstacle course. In this way, you guarantee that fewer children love a subject or understand its basics.

Children can't do arithmetic because, we are told, they don't know the "deeper meaning." Can one even speak of the deeper meaning of 1+2 = 3? Common sense suggests that the deeper meaning of math is knowing how to do it. That's what children are not learning these days. They need a calculator to figure out even the simplest things.

Good examples of keeping things complicated are the infamous puzzles devised by Common Core witch doctors. There is a strange consistency in contemporary educational policies: learning is made laborious and success is pushed further into the future. We see this pattern in reading as well. Instead of teaching children to read with phonics, which is the simple way to read, many years are wasted trying to memorize so-called sight-words.

The goofy homework problems in Common Core are a giveaway that Common Core is fraudulent. If ordinary parents can't understand homework for fourth graders, you shouldn't try to excuse it. Go directly to the obvious conclusion: the people pushing this complexity are pretenders. They want to alienate parents and children from the educational process.

Here's where we are now: Dr. James Milgram Stanford mathematician and former member of the Common Core Validation Committee, stated that if Common Core standards are not repealed, America's place as a competitor in the technology industry will be severely undermined. Common Core will prevent students from moving into STEM careers.

Our Education Establishment now specializes in bogus testing. By way of contrast, let's consider for a moment what authentic quizzes look like. We want practical problems that probably occur thousands of times every minute in real life. Consider three examples:

A $6 dollar item is marked 10% off. What is the new price?

You drive 60 miles an hour for eight hours, how many miles do you go?

You work all summer at $250 a week for seven weeks, how much do you make?


The whole point of elementary school math is to learn to answer such questions quickly, almost automatically. I think we have kids in high school now who cannot solve these questions. This shows you quickly and conclusively that our Education Establishment is faking it.

Recently, Canada's National Post reported that a group of neuroscientists found that rote memorization of math facts plays a critical role in mathematical development in young children. Memorizing multiplication tables and answers to basic arithmetic problems is cognitively vital. Without such memorization, children will have a harder time later on with complex problems. QED: memorization is good. What policy do you think our Education Establishment has concerning memorization? They are 100% against it. They have been complaining about the multiplication tables for almost 100 years.

So there are two essential truths to guide education policy and reform programs. If you see something taught simply and elegantly, that's probably the correct way to do it. Support the people in charge; they are our best friends.

Conversely, if you see education conducted in a tangled way that makes children cry, makes parents frustrated, and makes everything take twice as long to achieve half the results, then you know you are in an American public school. The people in charge are our biggest enemies.


© Bruce Deitrick Price

 

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Bruce Deitrick Price

Bruce Deitrick Price is the author of six books, an artist, a poet, and an education reformer. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia, earned Honors in English Literature from Princeton, served two years in the Army, and then lived many years in Manhattan.

Price explains educational theories and methods on his ed site Improve-Education.org (founded in 2005). He has 400 education articles and videos on the Internet. More forcefully than most, Price argues that the public schools are mediocre because our Education Establishment wants them that way.

Price's literary site is Lit4u.com .

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