Common Core Pushes Abstract Topics Too Early

Many thanks from DEY to William Crain for publicly saying what needs to be said!

William Crain, author of Reclaiming Childhood: Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement-Oriented SocietyProfessor of Psychology at The City College of New York and DEY National Advisory Board Member, wrote the following letter to the Poughkeepsie Journal in New York:

Letter in the Poughkeepsie Journal, June 21, 2014

“Common Core Pushes Abstract Topics Too Early”

The Common Core sets its sights on children’s future needs.  Specifically, it wants to ensure that all children are “college- and workforce-ready.”  This goal seems worthwhile, but the Common Core also needs to consider the ways in which children grow and develop.

Seeing that children will need “high order” conceptual thinking in college and the workplace, the Common Core introduces such thinking early on.   For example, it introduces mathematical place value, an abstract topic, in kindergarten and the first grade. But before the age of 7 or so, children’s minds aren’t inclined toward such conceptual matters. Young children are more naturally motivated to develop their powers through the arts, play, and the exploration of nature.  They are enthusiastic about these activities, which enable them to develop their imaginations and sense of wonder.

Our educational system needs to resist the impulse to take up young children’s time with abstract material that is beyond their years.  Such instruction is unlikely to be effective, and it can cause children to dislike school and learning. Instead, educational policymakers need to pay greater attention to the capacities that children themselves are ready and eager to develop at their present stages of development.

William Crain

Professor of Psychology, The City College of New York

Poughquag, NY

3 thoughts on “Common Core Pushes Abstract Topics Too Early

  1. Where in the kindergarden Common Core State Standards does it say to use an “abstract” method to teach place value? Where does it even say the specific phrase,”place value,” in the kindergarten standards? I would appreciate knowing how this article is accurate.
    After combing through the kindergarten standards, I can only find references to ones and tens. Can my kindergartener tell me the difference between a one and a ten – absolutely! Does she know that it’s called place value? She doesn’t have to…yet. It’s not in her standards. She, and the other 24 kids in her kindergarten class, can do this because they learned about ones and tens by using concrete manipulatives and later pictures, not abstract methods.
    Thanks for clarifying.

    Amy Francis


    • William Crain offers the following response:

      Thanks to the reader for writing and asking a probing question.

      The Common Core Standards may not use the precise phrases “abstract” and “place value,” but in Point 5 below the statement refers to place value. The number 2 in 29 is not a 2 but a 20 because of its “place.”

      In addition, in Point 4 a “teens number” uses a 1 to indicate a 10 by its “place.” The entire concept in Point 4 is pretty abstract. Students cannot be expected to understand the words in Point 4 (I hope), but this is the concept the Common Core wants to teach–in Kindergarten!

      The effort only comes about because adults want 5-year-olds to know such things. As I said in my letter, young children are more naturally motivated to develop their powers through play, the arts, and the exploration of nature. In fact, given a chance to develop, the drawings and artistic works of children between 5 and 7 routinely blossom in breathtaking ways. But our schools are more than ever focused on academics, leaving little time for the arts.

      I am glad that the readers’ school is using manipulatives, but I question the need to try to introduce subject such as place value so early on. I wish schools would pay attention to children’s own spontaneous interests.

      –Bill Crain

      Base Ten Computation

      Core Standards ⋅ Students understand that:
      1. Ten ones make a tens unit (ten things can be thought of as bundled into a single unit).
      2. Decade words refer to groups of tens units. For example, thirty refers to a group of three tens units.
      3. A teen number is a ten and some ones. The number 10 can be thought of as a ten and no ones.
      4. Any teen number is larger than any single digit number. Teen numbers are ordered according to their ones digits.
      5. A two-digit number is some tens and some ones. For example, 29 is two tens and nine ones.


  2. Pingback: DEY’s Nancy Carlsson-Paige interviewed: Common Core is it ‘Developmentally Inappropriate’? | Defending the Early Years

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