My daughter is 5 years old. She’s in kindergarten. Today she received her first report card.
One of the categories was shapes. The teacher assessed her knowledge of shapes for the past 9 weeks with a single 9-question test.
My daughter got 7 of the questions right, but somehow managed to earn a score of 2 out of 4.
Anyway, the two questions that she got wrong were box and can.
My daughter called the box a cube and she called the can a cylinder.
So instead of 4 out of 4, she has a score of 2 out of 4. Definitely, my daughter needs to improve her geometry skills.
It would be a shame if our students were to learn the precise terminology. How awful the world would be then.
The better thing, education seems to advocate, is for everyone to know just the material that will be taught on standardized exams. Let’s dare not learn something more or better, which may result in selecting incorrect answers on those precious multiple choice exams.
(It’s not a point I will debate with the teacher. It might make matters worse for my daughter in other ways. You have to be reasonable to be reasoned with. By the way, I am myself a teacher.)
* * *
This reminds me of another story. At the time, I was coach of a high school quiz bowl team at a math & science school for gifted juniors and seniors.
The team was competing in the state finals at the local university. The event was open to the public, and many parents and friends were in attendance.
One of the questions was a physics question. In case you don’t know, I have a Ph.D. in physics and I’ve been teaching physics for a dozen years. (I presently teach at the university.)
One of the students on the team was among the best students in my class. He answered the question promptly.
The question asked for the direction of centripetal acceleration.
My student answered, “Inward,” with a big smile, knowing that his answer was correct.
The judge said it was incorrect. The correct answer was “toward the center,” not “inward.” A little piece of paper with the words “toward the center” printed on it proved her point.
To complicate matters, the scorekeeper spoke up. It turns out that the scorekeeper was a math teacher. The scorekeeper indicated that she felt that inward and toward the center may both be correct answers.
But the judge decided that nothing was better than going by the exact answer printed on her sheet of paper, so inward was, in fact, incorrect.
What’s really funny is what happened immediately after the student said, “Inward.”
The judge stalled for a moment. After this silence, the student added to his answer, saying, “Negative r-hat.”
I just about slapped my forehead when I heard that. He was in the calculus-based physics class, where I had derived the equation for centripetal acceleration using polar coordinates and polar unit vectors. The mathematical way of expressing the acceleration vector in uniform circular motion is with “negative r-hat.”
He was right, but it probably didn’t help his cause.
(I kept my mouth shut the whole time because nothing good will come from complaining to a person who is in charge and showing signs of stubbornness. The last thing you want is to get disqualified, dismissed, not invited back, or to build a bad reputation for the school.)
* * *
Now for my peace of mind I shall have to read one of those treasured classics that foretell of a world that nearly succeeds in eliminating creative free thought, but, fortunately, doesn’t quite.
Please forgive my rant. If you’re familiar with my blog, you know that I prefer to write something that may be helpful and usually don’t rant. But tonight I could think of nothing else, so rant I did. 🙂