The fact that the U.S. has not adopted a metric system for quantities has two far-reaching consequences that impede learning basic math.
First is the very large number of different units that are in use and that require conversions. Length, for example, is measured in units of inches, feet, yards, miles, nautical miles and angstroms, and the conversions must be memorized to make sense of road signs, architectural drawings, etc. On the other hand, in the metric system only one fundamental unit is used for each quantity, and conversions are simple multiples of 10. We use the decimal system for money, although this was a significant departure from the British system, which had odd conversions between pounds, shillings, crowns, and pence until the 1970s. However, we have stuck with the Imperial system of units, even through a concerted push for metrication in the 1970s. Arguments used then that essentially killed the metrication effort are mostly irrelevant now, but the Imperial system remains.
The second consequence in remaining with the Imperial system is that length measurements are made in fractions of an inch. This results in the completely unnecessary need to manipulate fractions. Although most find it relatively easy to subtract a quarter from a half dollar, construction measurements, which typically use 1/16″ precision, are far more difficult. For example, try to solve the following problem in your head before working it out on paper.
11-5/16″ – 1-3/8″ = ?
This is the same as the following:
11.3125 – 1.3750 = ?
Except that tape measures that use decimals instead of fractions are rare, so the answer would need to be converted back to fractions in construction. However, it is likely that a construction problem using Archetecural Architectural Units will also include feet, resulting in a problem like:
3′ 1-5/16″ – 1′ 11-3/8″ = ?
This is solved by converting everything to one unit or by converting only as needed:
By fractions: 2′ 12-21/16″ – 1′ 11-6/16″ = 1′ 1-15/16″
By decimals: = 37.3125″ – 23.375″ = 13.9375″
So multiple conversions are needed. The same problem can be done much more easily using a metric tape measure:
947.74 mm – 593.73 mm = 354.01 mm
These types of calculations are for construction workers, who are paid to make them. But how about every day life in the kitchen? Converting a recipe for 4 to feed 7 can also involve significant math skills just on converting the various units of measure. Anyone living in any other country would be baffled by why we put up with such unnecessary complexity.
The most important consideration in why the adoption of the SI metric system is so critically important is that the Imperial system of units used in the U.S. is an enormous and unnecessary obstacle in everyone’s education. Of course our use of Imperial sizes in manufactured goods means that we cannot export these items because no other country in the world will take them, so switching to the SI metric system would be advantageous in terms of trade. There once was an argument that keeping Imperial sized products would keep manufacturing in the U.S., but most of it is already gone because other countries are happy to export to our market. Thus, there are significant economic benefits to switching to the SI metric system, but the most persuasive remains education.
An Educated Public?
The underlying premise of a democracy is that government follows the will of an educated and informed public. We will come back to ‘informed’ and just look at ‘educated’ here. It is acknowledged that education in the U.S. is poor in general, and abysmal in the poorer school districts. Although enormous sums of money are spent on education through secondary schools, the U.S. ranks very low compared to other industrial nations. There are many reasons for this, but a few warrant more scrutiny because they may not be as obvious as others:
It should be noted that the real world is complex and includes an extremely wide range of cultures and belief systems. Where the willingness to compromise and find middle ground is lost, the resulting polarization only benefits those who calculatingly manipulate each side to gain a result that otherwise would not be possible. Obviously, not only can a democracy not work under these conditions, but the result is enslavement.
Donald Trump was very successful in obtaining the GOP Presidential candidacy, using his slogan, “Make America Great Again.” This is a great, albeit vapid, slogan, but with a worthy goal. It brings up two questions:
When was America Great, and what made it Great?
Can past glory be recreated? Is this a call for Reactionaries? Or can Greatness be reformulated to meet today’s need for Greatness?
Personally, I’m not much of a history buff, so both the first question and the call to arms for reactionaries doesn’t feel relevant for today and therefore doesn’t have any appeal for me.
However, what could make America Great again is an important question that should resound with any U.S., citizen. Acceptance of a declining and failing state not only feeds into the agenda of those who are profiting from America’s decline, but also inevitably results in a loss of hope for the future.
So what can we do to #Make America Great Again? First, it is essential to understand why America isn’t “Great.” A list of the obvious top reasons should include at least the following:
These are some of the topics that should be addressed if we are serious about #Making America Great. Dialogs about many of these topics very often degenerate into slogans, vague assertions, camera sound-bites and dogma. However, change does not occur by itself. To #Make America Great (again), it is necessary to rationally evaluate where America is now. Is this even possible in today’s partisan, opinionated America?