I volunteer at a nearby elementary school helping a kindergarten teacher (my daughter) with filing, bulletin board decorating, and whatever else she needs done. Last week I was deciphering student writing and placing graded papers and parent correspondence in student folders while she was introducing one of the vocabulary words, decompose. I had noticed the word displayed on the black board “word wall” because it seemed out of place, far too advanced for kindergarten students to grasp. She asked the circle of students on the alphabet rug, “Who can tell Mrs. Faulk what ‘decompose’ means?” Three hands went up. She called on Amir, a handsome youngster who came and stood before me, looked me in the eye, and said some words. It was not a coherent communication. He did not know what the word meant, which is not surprising since it is a three syllable word describing an abstract process. Amir sat down. She called on another student who promptly stood, walked over to me and hemmed and hawed. That student sat down and the third came, but with no better results. They were eager but unable to define so complex a term. Perhaps if it had been a simpler word they could have been successful…
She said, “Decompose’ is a math term. Remember we talked about the number 4 and the numbers it decomposes to? Today we will look at the number 5 and the numbers it decomposes to. She opened a plastic tub of interlocking plastic cubes. Each child got 5 blocks which she encouraged them to “decompose”. The children pulled the interconnected cubes apart and talked with their teacher about what combinations of numbers five “decomposes” into.
I feel certain none of the students went home and explained “decompose” to adults in their homes and communities. If any of them did, I think the adults would have had a difficult time following the math meaning. Most of us think of decompose as a process of breaking down organic matter, rotting.
Who came up with this lesson? Is it part of the Common Core Curriculum? If so, who wrote it? Were teachers involved? Anyone who has taught children knows they are not able to grasp abstract concepts like decomposition (unless they see and smell rotting organic matter) or space, nuclear fission or anything else that is not concrete, observable, literal. Does this constitute a violation of the child’s civil right to a good education? And don’t we learn addition before subtraction? It was the 7th week of school for these 5 year olds.
I did a little research and discovered a wealthy Manhattan man, David Coleman, wrote the Common Core Curriculum. My sources indicate he has no classroom experience or any other experience with children that would give him an understanding of their age/stage development. Why would someone other than a team of educators create standards for education? What other field has an outsider create its standards?
The above article says he is also redesigning the SAT and expanding the Advanced Placement program. Doesn’t that constitute a monopoly? Does he actually use ‘decompose a number’ in a sentence? Is that how they talk in Manhattan? What is the recourse for an educator who has feedback on the Common Core or SAT? Standards are fine and necessary, but they should be reasonable, age appropriate and reflect some regional experience. More reasonable educational materials drawn from our children’s direct experience would be a great start.