Too Much Knowledge Should Be Punished, Right?

Too much knowledge

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. πŸ™‚

Chris McMullen

24 comments on “Too Much Knowledge Should Be Punished, Right?

      • I shared this story with my husband and I thought his head was going to explode. I know you want to stay out of it, but we both think a trip to the school for a sit-down with the teacher and principal might be best for your daughter. Hearing from you that the teacher was wrong is one thing, but hearing it directly from her would make a world of difference. At that age, kids have a hard time believing their parents over their teachers. I seriously can’t get over this.

    • Actually, this comes directly from the teacher during the parent-teacher conference. That’s when the report card was handed out. She even volunteered that cube and cylinder were technically the correct answers, but insisted that they weren’t correct answers. (Hence, I feel that, with her at least, there is nothing to debate.)

      Other parentsβ€”both who still have their kids at this school and those who no longer doβ€”have suggested speaking with the principal. But I wonder if it will just make my daughter’s life more miserable in other ways (keep in mind, I have a host of other stories that I haven’t shared). The teacher seems to have been there for some time and to be on the verge of retirement.

  1. I had continual problems in school with this issue. I was told that I “must” be cheating because I had turned in a page of math problems dealing with adding mixed fractions (like 1/3 + 2/7 = 13/21) without showing my work–by which she meant going through the goofy process that they wanted me to do. She simply refused to believe that I could do the problems in my head and get them all right.

    I was told that I couldn’t be reading as fast as I did, that I gave the wrong answer when I included information in history tests that wasn’t in the book (that I had learned through my own reading.) At a school-wide math Olympics the prizes were cancelled at the last minute because the teacher running it thought that it wasn’t fair for me to win all of them.

    My response to all this was simply to leave school at 16 and never go back. Amusing that years later I found myself working at a university. Even more amusing that the faculty inevitably assumes that I must have at least one college degree myself.

    • I was very fortunate to have mostly excellent teachers. Anything I may do right as a teacher I probably owe to them. If instead I’d had experiences like those you describe, I may have had a similar fate. If you just write in the right ending for your story, you ought to get a movie deal. πŸ™‚

  2. *head shake* My daughter’s preschool (which took kids between three and five) always referred to those shapes as cube and cylinder. Why confuse kids? They’re smart enough to get it.

    I must admit, it sort of reminds me of my Maths exams. My answers were always right on one particular section, yet my working was forever wrong because it was also a shorter and easier equation to remember than the mess they taught us.

    I’m also wondering how you can get a “4 out of 4” score with 9 questions. Even on half marks, that makes no sense however you slice it.

    • Your daughter’s preschool deserves a nice round of applause. πŸ™‚ I’m certainly a fan of teaching kids precise terminology, especially when they can grasp it (and when the material isn’t unsuitable). The scoring is one more sign suggesting that we need to supplement my daughter’s math instruction this year.

  3. First of all, I’m upset about the teacher marking your daughter’s answers as incorrect.

    But … am I the only one who was reminded of A Wrinkle in Time?

    Maybe that’s just me. But don’t apologize for the “rant!” If that were one of my kids, I’d be incredibly upset. Especially my OCD, which still can not figure out the scoring of the test – lol!

  4. Which is precisely why I homeschooled – I have CFS, and had neither the energy for keeping my mouth shut, nor the energy for coping with schools and teachers.

    It is NOT more work – not if you would have been supplementing your kids’ education practically every day, and reteaching everything. We just skipped the school and homework part – spent our time doing things more efficiently, and when Mom’s energy was used up for the day, they each had a computer and a pile of books.

    Rant away – you will have to draw your own lines in the sand for your kids. If you don’t advocate for them, who will?

    I remember the one year the kids went to schools – it was like sending them off to prison every day: your reward for learning something quickly is to listen to the teacher explain it over and over to your classmates. Glad I’m through with the whole thing.


    • I’ve considered home schooling. It seems that the instructional aspect can be optimized this way. My greatest concern there is missing out on the social skills.

      Sometimes, the reward for finishing early is extra work. πŸ™‚

  5. I couldn’t believe this when I read it – it is mind boggling that those answers that your daughter gave could in any way be interpreted as incorrect. Sure, she used terminology that they were not expecting, but she still gave the right answers – we all know that pretty much everything in this world has more than one name and she gave the geometrically correct answers! Perhaps the teacher didn’t understand them! Do let us know how this one pans out. πŸ™‚

    • The great thing about language, I think, is that if you ask everyone in the world to describe an object, you would get millions of different responses. This is a big issue in kindergarten. There are a lot of worksheets that have pictures, and the kids are expected to know what the picture is called. But how do you tell whether the word is “person” or “man,” or if the word is “head” or “face”? It’s pretty clear now that there is only one “right” answer in this class.

      • BTW I just did a huge Boost campaign on Facebook to reader and author groups, and friends and family. Hope it helps. Encourage others and we can really get the word out to non-bloggers. πŸ™‚

        I posted this message:Authors Interested in signing up for promotional event? December 10th! One day only! Many Huge Discounts. 99 cent and free books for one day. This is going to be HUGE! Sign up is easy! Gift Givers: Support the Indie Author and give the gift of books for Christmas this year. This is going to be HUGE! December 10th! Mark your calendars. Free and 99 cent books. HUGE discounts.

        and the link brings up a gold bow and the page link. Way cool πŸ™‚ let me know if the “boost” post helped.

    • That’s great. πŸ™‚ I also have some ads running on various sites. (If you want to run an ad, if you send me a message with the site, I can tell you if RT already has an ad there. It would be a little ironic if, for example, two different RT ads were bidding against one another.) Definitely, RT can benefit from any help. Thank you.

      • I’ve got one there, too, but hopefully the targeting is somewhat different. πŸ™‚ I was hoping for authors to help with free marketing, but wasn’t expecting anyone besides myself to do any paid advertising for RT (though I figured a few may pay to promote their individual books on RT). I had considered the possibility of starting an advertising fund, but didn’t feel comfortable collecting; my hope is that the event will be a huge success for both readers and authors, without authors needing to invest in it. But I’ve placed some ads and will place more because I feel strongly about RT’s cause. πŸ™‚

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