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Opening Arguments

Repeat after me

Sorry, fad-a-day education "expeerts," it's still memorization and repetition we need.

Time after time, professors in mathematics and the sciences have told me that building well-ingrained chunks of expertise through practice and repetition was absolutely vital to their success. Understanding doesn’t build fluency; instead, fluency builds understanding. In fact, I believe that true understanding of a complex subject comes only from fluency.

In other words, in science and math education in particular, it’s easy to slip into teaching methods that emphasize understanding and that avoid the sometimes painful repetition and practice that underlie fluency. I learned Russian not just by understanding it—understanding, after all, is facile, and can easily slip away. (What did that word понимать mean?) I learned Russian by gaining fluency through practice, repetition, and rote learning—but rote learning that emphasized the ability to think flexibly and quickly. I learned math and science by applying precisely those same ideas. Language, math, and science, as with almost all areas of human expertise, draw on the same reservoir of brain mechanisms.

I've been asking all the school board candidates I'm interviewing for the editorial board what they think of Common Core. The reaction has been lukewarm, at best. It seems just like another one of those cure-alls that come along about every five years. One candidate who has also been in the classroom told me teacher seldom get excited about these "innovations," because they know they on't be around for long. I don't know about the language part of Common Core, but the math part is defiitely long on the "understanding" of math and short on actual math.

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