Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On Metrics

When I was in junior high school I remember studying the metric system over a couple of years. The teachers all agreed that the people of the United States would abandon the American system and adopting the metric system within a few years. They used the fact that may road signs posted distance in both miles and kilometers, and the fact that you could find centiliters being used in soft drinks as examples of this change that was a-coming. We were taught about how much better the metric system was to use and how the old crotchety Americans who would refuse to change would soon learn to take it the hard way.

That was ten years ago, and we're still not anywhere near close to making the change.

This is completely understandable. For those who have known the American system all their lives there seems little reason to learn something knew. Feet and pounds and gallons work perfectly well, so why change? Most people aren't scientists nor do they travel around the world and thus their need to know the metric system is nil.

I suspect many kids were just like me and were taught the metric system, yet outside the realms of classrooms and tests, they found no need for the entire system. I've spent most of my life wondering why we learned it in the first place.

It is true that the metric system is easier to use. It is a ten base system which means that all you need to know about conversion is which way to move the decimal point. You can learn that pretty easy by memorizing a few pre-fixes - centi=100, milli=1000 an and so forth. There is no need to remember arbitrary things like how many feet are in a yard, or how many pints equal a gallon. The math is simple and that's more than alright.

I mention this because twice now I have lived in foreign countries and both have used the metric system. It hasn't always been easy as my memory of all things metric has long since faded, but the computer does conversions for me and I am slowly learning that 10 degrees Celsius is still cold, but 30 degrees is nice and warm.

I like the idea of teaching my future children (or more likely - child) the metric system. If the school system is still like what I experienced, some old math teacher will probably teach them metrics, but I want my kid to actually use it. I'm thinking it would be cool to have twenty-four hour clocks, centigrade thermometers and kilogram scales.

Maybe cool isn't the right word, cause nobody really thinks the metric system is cool. And I'm sure if my kid actually uses the metric system he'll probably get beaten up. Still, I dig the whole international flavor of it. And if Amy can teach the kid French, then I can teach him meters.

Oh lawd, my poor kid is gonna have no friends.

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