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Stuff I Argued with Teachers About

One of the great cynicisms in my life is the educational system, especially at the lower grades. One reason for the cynicism is my experiences when disagreeing with teachers. The educational system is supposed to be about learning the truth, but a lot of teachers can't handle being corrected by a student.

Then again maybe it's not the educational system but rather human nature that's the problem. Not a single time, not once, did a fellow student ever take my side whenever I publicly disagreed with a teacher. Maybe some of them privately agreed with me. I expect most didn't care one way or the other, and just wanted me to shut up so we could get on with it (which is understandable). But a few students were openly hostile to the fact that I would dare even question the teacher.

If, as a teacher, you are faced with a crowd who doesn't care if you're teaching the truth, and a few who are hostile to the truth, why bother even teaching the truth? You might as well go for forsake the truth for to keep things orderly, and it's not the vast majority of students are going to care.

But I can't help feeling that if the system encouraged students to speak up and have dialogue with teacher, rather than unilaterally accept whatever the teacher says, students would be more open and everyone would learn a lot more.

Anyway, here's a list of disagreements I can think of off hand.

  • In Kindergarten, the whole staff at my school insisted that my name was spelled "Karl", with a K. I protested that it was spelled with a C, and every time I protested they rebuked me for it. This went on for weeks, as far as I can remember, until one day my Mom came in for some reason and I got her to confirm that my name was spelled with a C. My memory is vague, but I don't remember being all that satisfied with their apology. They did correct the name tag on my desk though.

    Now, I'm not saying that you have to believe every five-year old kid who gets an idea to try to trick a teacher. But if the kid keeps insisting on it for weeks, don't you think it at least deserves a phone call to the parents? I guess not if you're a teacher who believes that students should obey anything they say--even if told to spell their own name wrong.

  • In third grade, I was taught that Mercury is the hottest planet. It's not, though; Venus is [1]. I took a moment to show our teacher a citation I had on hand (a little astronomy book I bought at a book fair) that Venus was actually the hottest planet; she looked at it and flatly told me that I was to just ignore that and learn the untruth she was teaching.

    I didn't, of course. Even at age eight I had a conception that the truth was something worth fighting and maybe suffering for, and I defiantly wrote down the correct answer, Venus, on the test. Of course, the had the nerve to mark me down.

  • Also in third grade, I was taught that snakes aren't vertebrates (and, moreover, that it isn't necessarily true that fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals were vertebrates--cladists in the room feel free to cringe).

    Apparently, snakes don't have a backbone, so they can't be vertebrates. It was obvious to me that snakes had something that was like a backbone, whether you want to call it a "backbone" or not, and so they were vertebrates. But my dimwit teacher thought animal classifications really should hinge on accidents of terminology.

  • This is a tricky one. In fifth grade I was taught that that to estimate a sum you round each term to the highest digit and add, even if one number had five digits and the other had three. This is not wrong, per se, but I did spend quite a bit of time arguing that it was silly to do that, since the amount you round the larger number could be much greater than the entire smaller number. (For instance, to estimate 22946+317, I was taught to add 20000+300=20300. What is the point of adding the 300 in, though, when you're already off by 2946?)

    My argument hit a brick wall. My teacher simply told me repeatedly that that what I was proposing wouldn't be correct rounding, not even conceiving that my objection wasn't about how to round numbers.

  • In seventh grade, the One I Do Not Name viciously chastised me when I was absolutely correct, just for using different terminology than it used.

    "How do you solve this equation for x, Carl?" "First subtract five from both sides." "NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT! You add negative five to both sides."

    "How do you convert kilometers to miles, Carl?" "Multiply by 5/8." "NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT! You multiply by 0.6." [2]

    "What is the chemical represented by SiO₂, Carl?" "Silicon dioxide." "NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT! It's silicon oxide." [3]

    And my favorite: on a "fun" little quiz we had to fill in the names of countries with the consonants removed. One pattern looked like this: ⬜A⬜A⬜. I wrote down QATAR. (The intended answer was Japan.) "NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT! There is no country called Qatar." This time I took issue, and the One I Do Not Name relented and gave me the point, because you have to be really, really shameless to argue with a current world map.

    And people wonder why I don't utter this teacher's name.

  • In 11th grade I was taught that cardiac muscle was skeletal, skeletal muscle was smooth, and smooth muscle was cardiac. By this time I was jaded, so when I showed the teacher the correctly-labeled diagram from the textbook, I acted so utterly shocked ("Oh, how could you possibly be wrong?") that the people in my lab group told me to quit acting immature. And they were right; it was immature and uncalled for.

    But still, right after that little epiphany, the teacher went back up to the front of the class and told everyone the wrong answer again. Considering my behavior, I forgive it, but it broke my heart a bit because I kind of liked this teacher.

  • In 12th grade I was kind of dozing off in class when I noticed the teacher was telling everyone to take the square root of each term in an equation to solve it. This was dead wrong.

    The equation was of the form a²+b²=c². Our physics teacher told us to take the square root of each side, resulting in a+b=c, then we would be able to solve it for for the variable we were seeking. The problem is, a+b isn't the square root of the left side. Remember from algebra, (a+b)²=a²+2ab+b², not a²+b².

    A long argument ensued. Meanwhile the kid sitting in front of me just kept laughing at me like it was a big joke.

    Interestingly, the teacher actually conceded that I was right a few days later, privately. I guess that's a start.


[1]It's worth noting that, although Venus has the highest average temperature, it can get hotter on Mercury when the sun is directly overhead than anywhere on Venus. The average temperature of Mercury is much lower, however, since the side facing away from the sun is cryogenically cold.
[2]The actual conversion factor is 0.62137119, much closer to 5/8=0.625 than to 0.6
[3]The official chemical name is silicon dioxide.
Tags: educational_system, rant, teacher, truth
Permalink: http://blog.aerojockey.com/post/arguing
Last Edited: 25 February 2012, 12:54 PM
1 comment:
Rocky Rollinghills wrote: I'm old enough that I've forgotten the lies I was taught in school. In college my wife used the word "thrice" in a paper and the professor marked it down because he said that it isn't a word. And when my son was in 5th grade he gave his science class a presentation on S Fred Singer. Singer had invented the machine that was first used to measure ozone in the atmosphere. Well, my son went into detail exposing some of the fear-mongering over the "ozone-hole" and "global warming". The teacher (maybe I should write "teacher") constantly interrupted him to get her POV in and disrupt his presentation. The next day, as he walked into class she muttered to him, "I checked on what you said and you were right. Unfortunately." The unfortunate thing is that she didn't tell the class that my son's research was correct, and that I'm sure every year since she's shown Al Gore's power point to unsuspecting 10 year olds.
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