Friday, March 06, 2015

Epistemology for Second Graders

Justin P. McBrayer:

But second, and worse, students are taught that claims are either facts or opinions. They are given quizzes in which they must sort claims into one camp or the other but not both. But if a fact is something that is true and an opinion is something that is believed, then many claims will obviously be both. For example, I asked my son about this distinction after his open house. He confidently explained that facts were things that were true whereas opinions are things that are believed. We then had this conversation:

Me: “I believe that George Washington was the first president. Is that a fact or an opinion?”

Him: “It’s a fact.”

Me: “But I believe it, and you said that what someone believes is an opinion.”

Him: “Yeah, but it’s true.”

Me: “So it’s both a fact and an opinion?”

The blank stare on his face said it all.

I noticed a variation of this on one of Vivian's infamous weekly Pearson reading quizzes. There was a sentence in an "informational text" that stated (roughly):

Amelia Earhart is the most famous woman in the world.

The relevant question was: is that a fact or opinion? with "opinion" being the correct answer. But it is no more or less an opinion as any of the other assertions of fact that make up most of any "informational text" aimed at an 8 year old, e.g., Amelia Earhart was born on July 24, 1897. Pearson is calling it "opinion" because it is an incorrect assertion of fact. That's different than an opinion.

I don't buy McBrayer's larger argument about kids today "not believing in moral facts" as a result of the Common Core, but he is absolutely right that the Common Core encourages teaching an incomplete and truncated epistemology.

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