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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

If a Canadian walks 2 miles and 3.2 kilometers, how far is that in farsakhs?

Math is not "neutral," argueTori Trajanovski and Cristina De Simone on The Conversation. "Biases in math exist that are grounded in colonial ideals. For example, what is traditionally considered a standard measurement in a Canadian math curricula is only standard in western cultures."


Both are pursuing education doctorates at Canada's York University, yet their article on "evidence-based equitable teaching and assessment" presents no evidence that these practices are effective, writes Greg Ashman on Filling the Pail. "Instead, we are taken to one of those ubiquitous papers where teacher educators document their attempts to make trainee teachers teach mathematics badly." A teacher, blogger and author, Ashman has an education PhD himself.


The authors' zeal to teach different units of measurement from different cultures is "daft," he writes. He adds that "imperial" measurements have been replaced by user-friendly metric alternatives in most of the world. "It’s almost as if mathematics and science is not driven by colonialism but by something else such as the development of the most effective tools for the pursuit of objective truth. Who knew?"


In the tradition of educational progressivism, the authors expect novice students to figure out complex academic content for themselves, writes Ashman. Teachers are to "draw on students' existing knowledge" and "unique learning styles."



He advises teachers not to listen to the researchers unless they provide rigorous proof that their preferred methods lead to more learning. "If not, they should be politely — this is Canada we are talking about — shown the door."


Ashman also writes about a new math "syllabus" in Australia's New South Wales that he calls "new plans for teaching maths badly." Again, there's no evidence of effectiveness.


The plan is based on a "connectionist" approach, which apparently is "constructivist" teaching in sheep's clothing, writes Ashman. "Regular readers will be aware of the process whereby educational progressivists keep renaming their failed methods. . . . Constructivist teaching approaches are, of course, ineffective when compared to explicit teaching.


The creation of the smoot, 1958. Photo: MIT Archives

When I was in fourth grade, the advanced math group learned about units of measure. I reported on ells, fathoms and nautical miles, if memory serves. We never made it to the Persian farsakh, which is roughly equivalent to four miles. (The answer to the headline's question is ___. Show your work.)


Among other unusual units of measure is the potrzebie equaling the thickness of Mad issue 26, or 2.263348517438173216473 mm. This system, developed by 19-year-old Donald Knuth, who became a famous computer scientist, are the whatmeworry, cowznofski, vreeble, hoo and hah.


One smoot is defined to be equal to five feet and seven inches (1.70 m), the height of Oliver R. Smoot. An MIT student, his fraternity pledge in 1958 was to be used to measure the length of the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge, which turned out to be 364.4 smoots plus or minus one ear. Smoot later became Chairman of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and President of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).


I was surprised to learn that my husband, an engineer, is familiar with both the potrzebie and the smoot. It's his culture.

9 Comments


Guest
Feb 12, 2023

I lived rural when my children were in elementary, but with NY's school district boundaries, public school was a lot of urban transients with a few farmer, teacher, engineering, doctor, craft and trade children. Before NCLB, the measurement unit in first grade was a blast. The local children as well as the farm/construction helper's children from Central America were quite familiar with measuring tools related to their family's line of work...bushels, quarts, pints, dozens, hands and so on. The unit began with temperature, which most everyone was familiar with and moved to measurement of length by introducing/reviewing hands to measure horses. Then on to measuring with classroom objects...pencils, paperclips and so on and finally to a ruler. Points learn…

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Guest
Feb 09, 2023

The US had the opportunity to go metric in the 70's and due to a do nothing congress, that went absolutely nowhere... 1KM is .625 miles, btw

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Guest
Feb 08, 2023

My culture taught me the traditional system for my culture: inches/feet, yards, etc. Then I had to learn the metric system, and how to convert. I still like inches and feet, but accept that I have to use the metric system in order to communicate with people outside my culture.

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Malcolm Kirkpatrick
Malcolm Kirkpatrick
Feb 08, 2023

These people give educators bad name.

It's simple. Learn the language(s) spoken by the people you will meet. Teach your children or your students those languages. Learn the system of measure that people with whom you must deal will use. Teach your children or your students those systems of measurement. Teach unit conversion. They can translate units when they have to.

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superdestroyer
Feb 09, 2023
Replying to

But the U.S. using a mix of metric and non-metric systems. See the issues in responding to Fukushima. When 95% of the world uses one system, why does the U.S. stick with a different system for some issue. Americans have no problem purchasing a 2 liter bottle of soda. Then why not four liters of milk?

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Guest
Feb 07, 2023

1 farsakh. Because 2 miles AND 3.2 km = 4 miles


And that's why I was always second-guessing standardized tests. There's what they actually ask for, and then there's what you know they were trying to ask for.


Ann in L.A.

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