Sunday, February 27, 2011

What *did* we learn in school?

I was browsing through the internets the other day, as I am wont to do, and I came across a piece talking about how Pluto is not a planet.  Pluto isn't a planet?  Well, duh, where were you in 2006?  Didn't you catch the uproar over how something that we had been taught in school for roughly 90 years was now wrong?  For those who need a quick refresher, in 2006, the International Astronomical Union (now those guys know how to party!!!) officially listed three criteria to be considered a planet: the body must be in orbit around the Sun, it must be massive enough to have a nearly round shape, and (where Pluto fails) it must "clear the neighborhood" around its orbit.  Fair enough, at least they gave Pluto a reason for its rejection; it is kind of funny that the mnemonic device for schoolchildren to learn the planets would have to be changed, albeit slightly.  Instead of "my very excellent mother just served us nine pizzas," (or nice pasta, or nutty poo) children now say, "my very excellent mother just served us NOTHING!!!" (I guess she's not as excellent as you thought, huh?  I bet you wish Pluto was a planet again so you could have some freaking pizza!)

But so it got me to thinking about all of the stuff that we learned in school that is now wrong.  I realize that, obviously, as humanity discovers more and more, we'll expand our knowledge and so those sorts of lists will be adjusted accordingly.  For example, I don't know how many elements there were "officially," but I'm pretty sure when I was in 6th grade science class, the periodic table had somewhere in the neighborhood of maybe 102 elements, and now I think we have 112 named elements recognized by IUPAC (the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry - another group of rock stars), with another six supposedly discovered but not yet confirmed.  I'm not complaining about this; such is the nature of discovery.  But here are some things you might find surprising:


How many oceans are there?   Four, right?  Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic?  Surely we haven't downgraded the Arctic Ocean into a sea or a lake or anything, right?  Well, actually, the International Hydrographic Organization is in the process of officially ratifying the existence of a *fifth* ocean, the Southern Ocean, which carves off pieces of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans south of 60 degrees south latitude to make a ring around Antarctica. 


Image From Wikimedia Commons

Well, how about colors of the visible spectrum?  We still have ROY G BIV; surely they haven't added any more colors, right?  Would you believe that "nurple" is the new color that follows violet?  Hopefully not, because this is not the case.  Actually, most modern color scientists no longer recognize indigo as a visually distinct color in its own right, but rather as a hue of blue or violet.  As color is a little more subjective than, say, the official definition of a planet, ROY G BIV will probably continue to be taught in classrooms, but probably just because it's easier to remember than ROY GBV.  What do you think:

Image From Wikimedia Commons

And so now, I think I understand why our schools are in the state they are - how can we hold our schools to a high standard if we can't even figure out how many planets there are, or how many oceans the Earth has, or even what colors we can see???  Did I even really learn anything in school???

25 comments:

  1. I hear ya, schools have been focusing more on keeping their school afloat these days over actually teaching kids.

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  2. Well, things change, as new discoveries are made. Subsequently teaching matters must change. Which is more of a problem with teachers being resistant to those ideas. Anyways, I think it would be good to actually teach kids that things can and do change. So much is set as absolute facts in schools. I don't have a problem with facts or even most of them, but the absolute nature is wrong. They change with our understanding.

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  3. Couldn't agree more. Soon we'll all be out of touch.

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  4. high school and earlier, not much... on my own I learned way more

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  5. Could this eventually end up with grades becoming invalid because of all these changes?

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  6. supposedly what we learn at school ends up being only like 30% truth after some time... can't remember how much exactly though...

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  7. Nope, Pluto will always be a planet, "Southern Ocean" or whatever doesn't exist, and ROY G BIV always d;

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  8. Hah I remember all the Pluto uproar, I miss that poor little "planet"

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  9. definitions change, resulting in changes of things we believed to be right. it sucks.

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  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  11. I can't say I learned that much at school to begin with.

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  12. As much as I'd like to say I didn't lean anything in the normal U.S school system I know that it taught me enough to make it to college. Although it really didn't prepare me for college at all.

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  13. all the basic stuff we learned in school seems to have been forgotten

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  14. Sometimes, popular urban legends get passed on as well. Like how many words for "snow" there are in the Eskimo Language (actually, not any more than in english, in truth.) You repeat something enough, people believe it, and pass it on... even teachers.

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  15. I wish we spent more money on schools than guarding other countries that don't want us there. I wonder what we would say if China was guarding us?

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  16. great post, followed. follow back pls

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  17. This actually raises some interesting concepts in a funny manner. I've told everyone who will listen that within the next 5-10 years I expect every child over the age of 8 or 9 to be required to have a tablet on whatever OS wins the tablet war. Textbook companies can save money on printing and shipping and just constantly update stuff in their books. It will also end the controversy of Texas rewriting history and causing all text books to share their view of Thomas Jefferson coming out of literally nowhere to win the Presidency.

    I think the real issue is that we teach our kids for the purpose of having them show they can memorize. Hopefully when the digital revolution hits our schools they can finally get a leg up on other school systems around the world that are currently at or just below our level.

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  18. I learn that teachers will often back up bad calls from other teachers to keep face. like some sort of unwritten code. Teachers need to remember that students are people and treating them like cattle with no identity will not help anyone learn


    I'm not bothered if pluto is or is not a planet. I'll never see it in my lifetime

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  19. very very good points. the nature of learning is expanding but it still seems bad.

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  20. gotta agree with the first comment!

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  21. As a kid I always felt as if indigo was unnecessary. It always looked like it went light blue, dark blue, violet. Although I was previously unaware that color scientists existed, I'm glad to know that they're hard at work discovering that my childhood skepticism was justified.

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