the answer "that question is ridiculous" must be accepted

My friends who work in education of the young (the 'fuzz included) like to quote studies that show students answering without comment or concern questions like "Farmer Jake has 13 sheep and walks them 21 miles. How old is Farmer Jake?" There are many mixed-up reasons for this problem; some relate to rote learning; some relate to the artificial dichotomy set up between reading and math; some relate to the decontextualized ways we teach math; some relate to the testing environment that saturates schools; and so on. I feel all these things!

Imagine we want to see students using their common sense and their judgement with every question they consider and answer. I think that would be good. How do we foster this kind of thinking and exercise of common sense? I think we have to let the students call "bullshit".

Here's an example: "Johnny has twelve toy cars. He gives eight to Frances. How many does he have left?" Obviously we should accept the answer "four". But we should also accept the answer "No way! Who would give more than half of his toy cars to someone else?" If we don't accept that answer, we are saying to the students "calculate without thinking". That might be okay for quantum physicists (though I disagree), but it isn't okay for the rest of us.


  1. I love that, and I agree with you. While rote obedience and mindless, unquestioning adherence to formulae or scenario may be easier for both teachers and parents, it absolutely does not serve those who are being parented and educated. You know you've probably achieved some kind of parenting and educator sweet spot when your charges question everything you say and annoy the bejeesus out of you ... whilst making you proud and kind of awe-struck at the same time.

  2. Pippi and I agree, David: http://redderradar.blogspot.com/2013/01/what-seven-and-five-are.html