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Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

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The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

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Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Teacher as Dunce

Posted by Bill Benzon on 10/31/06 at 05:38 AM

Over in Adam’s impossible circle thread joeo linked to this letter from a teacher to the parents of a student who insisted on pointing out a blatent blatant mistake that teacher had made. The teacher had asserted that a kilometer is longer than a mile. Ray Davis volunteered: “joeo, I was that kid, which is one reason I’m not an academic. And the person sitting beside me just said she was that kid. I guess there have been a lot of that kid.” I offered my 8th grade math teacher, who insisted that 22/7 was the exact value of pi. I also had a 10th grade English teacher who insisted on pronouncing “Geoffrey” (as in Chaucer) with a hard “g” (as in “get") and who gave individual voicing to both “o” and “e,” thus turning a two syllable name into three.

I fear there are too many such teachers. Examples please.


Comments

Third-grader offers “Vole” as an animal whose name begins with “V.” “There isn’t any such thing; you’re making that up.”
Kindergardener is told that apples are red, not yellow, and to recolor sheet.

By on 10/31/06 at 08:07 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Not sure if we can hold teachers fully responsible here, but there was certainly a case of primary school curricula being out of step with paleontological research when my teachers, twenty years ago, were assuring me that all dinosaurs were stupid and had brains the size of a pea.
On a more sour note, a secondary school English
teacher demanded to know how I could have known,
in response to his question,that The Canterbury Tales were based on Boccaccio’s Decameron. I was about 12 at the time and can’t claim to have been especially precocious, it was simply that I’d read as much in the intro to my edition to The Knight’s Tale. When I told said teacher as much, he almost suggested I had cheated by circumventing his authority and engaging in fancy book learning. I carry the umbrage to this day, though more at the fact this wanker asked a question fully expecting none of us could answer it. I suppose he considered that to be rhetoric.

By on 10/31/06 at 09:02 AM | Permanent link to this comment

When my son was in 8th grade health the test question was “Why is gossip unhealthy?” He answered “I do not think gossip is unhealthy.” The teacher wrote “Use the textbook.”

The teacher actually was cool, this is really about the textbook.

By John Emerson on 10/31/06 at 11:05 AM | Permanent link to this comment

My tenth grade English teacher defined understatement with the example, “nice weather today!” when it is cold, raining and miserable.  I tried to convince her for about half an hour that that was not a good example of “understatement.”

By Jonathan Mayhew on 10/31/06 at 11:24 AM | Permanent link to this comment

My 7th grade teacher asserted once during an American history lesson that the Amerindians brought the horse w/ them to the New World via the Bering land bridge. Uber nerdy thirteen year-old that I was, I promptly responded that it was the Spanish and other European colonists who reintroduced the horse to North America, it having gone extinct before the arrival of the first human settlers.

All of these stories bring to mind a saying I heard in college: the dumbest bio majors are the smartest business majors, and the dumbest business majors are the smartest education majors.

By on 10/31/06 at 11:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I had a teacher (I was 9) who claimed that fire points upwards because it’s trying to get the sun, whereas water falls downwards as it’s trying to get to the sea. Later I realised that this was actually Aristotle. She also thought that rock music was (literally) the curse of the African slaves. She was a nice lady in some respects, though. Probably dead now.

By Conrad on 10/31/06 at 05:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

By the way, that letter from a teacher giving detention to the student for saying a mile was longer than a kilometer might very well be a fake.  It is a little “too good to be true,” don’t you think?  Some skepticism might be in order.

By Jonathan Mayhew on 10/31/06 at 08:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The “Jeffrey” - “Geeofrrey” switch might seriously have been part of an attempt, whose accuracy I am completely incapableof judging, to pronounce the name as it would have been in the author’s time.  About all I really know is that the rules for consonental pronunciation and diphthongs have changed somewhat since Middle English… but either way I’m hesitant to judge academia based on high school teachers.  Is it just me, or can most people seriously only think of one good teacher before, and only a few during, high school?  At least in college you start getting, in certain fields, anyway, people who actually have to publish occasionally. 

More in the spirit of things, I had a Spanish teacher for three years running who essentially denied that Spanish was a Romance language.  I’m honestly not sure he knew the term meant a language that was descended from Latin.

By on 11/01/06 at 12:05 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Some of these errors have a sociological explanation. School teachers are knowledge workers, but they don’t have very much prestige, hence the tendency to dogmatic assertions and general high-handedness. It isn’t the error itself which tips you off. After all, everybody has plenty of false notions; and ignorance is not stupidity. People who really have a lot of cultural capital just don’t shout and wave it about.

The phenomenon is akin to overcorrectness in diachronic linguistics. People who are unsure of their social status are likely to favor fancy constructions and make mistakes in the process--That’s how coup de grace to to be pronounced cew de graw in American English.

By Jim Harrison on 11/01/06 at 02:58 AM | Permanent link to this comment

In my 6th grade social studies class, we were doing a unit on Oriental history and culture.  We had spent far too much time focused just on China, so my teacher decided to abridge things a bit with a declaration to the effect of, “Well, Japan is a lot like China, so we’ll go ahead and skip it.”

By on 11/01/06 at 03:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

My eighth-grade history teacher told us about Marco Polo’s journey across Asia, where he met with Mao Tse-Tung, emperor of China.

She also had a way of pronouncing the Aztec capital “Techno-Teclan”.

By on 11/01/06 at 05:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, this person is an “independent scholar” rather than an educator, but one example might be that author of a blog post bashing educators for stupid mistakes who didn’t know how to spell the word “blatant.”

By Mike on 11/02/06 at 12:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

And then there’s the assistant prof “at a prominent and unique four-year college in the northeast" as self-satisfied officious twit.

You don’t identify the institution, Mike, but on your blog you talk of cadets and mention that you’re 3 hours from Amherst. That kind of narrows it down, doesn’t it? I hope none of your students is responsible for loss of life because he or she was more concerned about spelling than war-fighting.

By Bill Benzon on 11/02/06 at 12:33 PM | Permanent link to this comment

This isn’t really matter of correctness, but one of my earlier memories is a fight with my kindergarten teacher about how to write the number one. She insisted upon a one that looked like “1” while I insisted upon drawing a simple vertical line, no matter how many times she crumpled up my paper and told me to do it again. I also seem to remember getting into a minor spat with a teacher some years later about whether Antarctica is a desert (in case you’re wondering, the answer is “yes”, dammit). I’m sure there have been more that I don’t remember at this point.

Oh, I really should use this opportunity to bring up one of my favorite professor stories (which is probably less exciting if you don’t actually know the people involved but oh well). A friend of mine was taking a class from a certain math professor at our university and one day in class, the professor said something like, “You could also do this another way, but nobody does that.” My friend pointed out that he had, in fact, seen people do that but the professor waved it off and told him he was wrong. Well, it was a minor point, but being a stubborn person himself, this guy went and found the book where he had read it and brought it to the next class. When he started showing it to the prof after class, the reaction was just “Here, come with me up to my office.” When they arrived, the professor closed the door and then explained, “Look: I know more math than anyone else in the world. So of course I knew you were right. But I didn’t want the other students to know about this because it would confuse them.” The thing is, I don’t think he was lying: that does sound like the kind of thing this guy would do. Well, he was lying about knowing more math than anyone in the world though. I know that because he’d previously told me that Yuri Manin knew more math than anyone in the world. But he probably thought that would just confuse my friend.

By on 11/02/06 at 04:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

First grade teacher (Mrs. Reber? Might’ve been.) assigned us homework of creating and solving ten one-digit subtraction problems. One of mine solved to -1.

She marked it wrong. I was in tears.

Thus began my years-long campaign, finally nearing fruition....

By Bill Tozier on 11/03/06 at 08:38 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The only thing I can think of is when I wrote an analysis of “The Emperor of Ice Cream” in my 10th grade English class. My teacher marked through a “be” in “let be be finale of seem” and did not give of published text like nothing else in N. C.

By Jonathan Goodwin on 11/03/06 at 09:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I had a student once who insisted that the first word after a semi-colon should be capitalized; She said that her high school English teacher had taught her that this was necessary.

I kept slashing these capitalizations in her papers, and she kept putting them in. I suggested that she might be confusing the semi-colon with the colon, because there are times when it is acceptable and desirable to capitalize the first word after a colon. She coldly replied that she was not in fact confusing the semi-colon with the colon, and she reiterated that she was only doing as she had been taught. I referred her to our handbook. She dismissed this evidence. Just because our handbook didn’t contain the rule didn’t mean it didn’t exist. She’d been taught that rule, and by gum she was sticking to it.

Exasperated, I told her that if she could find any handbook published at any time in any city in any country on any planet that had ever even insinuated the ghost of a suggestion of a rule demanding the capitalization of the first word after a semi-colon, I would give her an automatic A in the course.

She kept doing it.

By on 11/04/06 at 11:27 AM | Permanent link to this comment

What I want to know, Amanda, is how one could tell the difference between the handbook you demand and one which merely *broaches the possibility* of insinuating the ghost of a suggestion of such a rule.  (What would Zeno say?  Uh-oh, strike that – let’s not go there again!)

By Dave Maier on 11/04/06 at 01:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t understand the purpose of this thread of commentary.  “Teacher” is an enormous category and, yes, is sure to include people who’ve said something wrong at some time.  You could do the same with “writer,” but what would it get you?  It really seems that this line of thought is designed to produce asinine assertions like rocco’s: “the dumbest bio majors are the smartest business majors, and the dumbest business majors are the smartest education majors.”

By on 11/04/06 at 02:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

My teacher in high school was keep on insisting that all Russia is part of Europe!!!

That’s ridiculous

By Jack Rowsey on 06/22/08 at 01:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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