Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

11/19/2008 (11:31 am)

Public School Graduates

Rachel Lucas, who is 36 years old and taking college courses to meet some requirements for an advanced degree, wrote some entertaining vignettes about her experience with Chem majors who apparently lack some pretty basic concepts.

…way back at the beginning of the semester, we had to do a filtration procedure, where you put a filter paper cone in a funnel on a clamp and pour a solution with some solid in it through the apparatus to get all the chunks out, and the filtered liquid would drip into a beaker below.

This was a very slow process because it was a thick solution. It drip-drip-dripped very slowly through the funnel. So guess what my genius lab partner and a few other brain surgeons in the class decided would be a good way to speed it up?

Why, move the funnel apparatus as high up on the clamp stand as possible, as far away from the beaker as possible! Because somehow, in some alternate universe with vastly different laws of physics than we know here on Earth, that would make the solution move through the funnel more quickly.

I am not making this up.

When Lab Partner started doing this, all spastically as is his way, I told him that all he was accomplishing was making the drips splash harder into the beaker and even out of the beaker entirely. Pretty much, he was just making a mess. He was steadfast, and kept telling me to just watch. “It goes faster!”

I asked him if the solution in the funnel knew where the beaker was and he stared at me like I was being obtuse. I asked again, how could the distance between the two possibly have any effect whatsoever on how fast the solution came out of the funnel because after all, it doesn’t know how far it has to fall, and it doesn’t care. He shushed me and told me to watch.

Pressing on, I asked him if there is some sort of magical force field between the funnel and the beaker, and if he was positing that the beaker was sending a message to the liquid in the funnel, hey I’m far away, you better get through that funnel quickly! I wondered out loud if he knew some special law of physics I’d never heard of. He shook his head and kept repeating, “just watch, just watch.”

It was painful. And the thing is, it wasn’t even only him. Several other groups at our counter were doing the same thing. I was struck speechless and had no choice but to stand there and search for an argument in my brain that did not involve calling anyone “retarded.”

It only went on for about a minute because as soon as TA saw what all these Mensa members were doing, with their funnels high in the air, making the drips splash all over the place, he came over to us and asked why, and some of them actually attempted to present their finely-honed Einsteinian theories about how much more quickly the process would go this way. TA and I and the rest of the class that weren’t acting like crackheads all stared blankly at them for a full 10 seconds. One girl across the room loudly said something like, “I hope none of y’all are science majors.”

Sadly, most of them are. One of the guys so convinced about this technique is a biochem major and at least two of the others are chem majors. Or at least they think they are, now. Wait until they get to organic chem. Oy.

Pretty funny, except some of these folks are going to be trying to design products for American companies.

Comments on the site took over where Rachel left off:

notaclue Says:

A similar problem appears when today’s kids try to do simple arithmetic. The other week the clan of which I’m patriarch took my daughter (same age as you, Rachel) out to eat for her birthday. The check came in around $120 and was to be split two ways. First they split it $69-$69. When we told them this was wrong, they came back with a $40-$40 split. We chose not to pay this one and run. The third try worked with a $60-$60 split.

Some one of the wait staff figured this out on a cell phone calculator, twice wrong, once right. At no point did anyone think, “Half of about 120 is about 60,” or the like.

physics geek Says:

Every time that I led the lab with lasers (interference patterns), I’d unplug the darned things and put signs on every desk and on the board which said “DO NOT LOOK INTO THE END OF THE LASERS OR THEY WILL BLIND YOU!!!” Invariably, I’d catch some dipshit looking into the aperture from a distance of about 4 inches. If I hadn’t unplugged the freaking things, I’ve had had blind-in-one-eye retard students, instead of the regular sighted kind. After I got done yelling at them, they listened. For a while.

However, not because I’m a prick… okay, that last part is a lie. I finally got so disgusted with my students that I charged up a few Leyden jars and left them at each lab station, with signs stating “DO NOT TOUCH”. I also spoke directly to each student, telling them to not touch them the jars. Then I’d turn around to the board to write some notes and, seconds later, I’d hear “OWWFUCK” from behind me. I didn’t turn around, but merely stated to the chalkboard: “Following instructions can be quite helpful.”

There are lots of reasons why this is happening, and everybody has their favorites. The urge to touch things that are marked “Do Not Touch” is human nature, but there’s a growing lack of ability to control these impulses, or even to understand why doing so is a good idea, that has something to do with too-gentle parenting, too much TV, absentee parents, low expectations, etc. There are also bad theories of education dominating the classroom, and some folks like to cite lack of parental involvement, teacher quality problems, too-low teacher salaries, physical plant problems and the like.

However, it does not pay to try to figure it out, as though education was something a central, thinking bureaucracy had to solve. If we could just apply free-market principles to the problem of educating students, not only would sound and innovative solutions find their way to the top of the heap quickly, but parents’ complaints about improper social or religious content of education would pretty much disappear. A full-voucher system would do the job nicely, especially if the requirement for teacher certification were removed.

I understand that teacher certification is one of those things that people believe is necessary for a sound education, but these people need to ask themselves whether it’s really accomplished that anywhere they’ve ever been. All certification does is prevent gifted amateurs from entering the system, and enforce orthodoxy in education theory from the major universities. In my humble opinion, it’s modern, orthodox education theory that’s the largest factor at fault in the steady decline of American education.

I used to think homeschoolers would end up as managers in all the nation’s businesses, and public school grads would work for them. That may happen — if the public school grads don’t end up murdering the home school grads en masse.

By the way, at least one brave reader at Vox Popoli (my man Vox also thought Lucas’ vignette was pretty funny) ventured his opinion that the stubborn lab partner was actually correct, and pointed to water towers all over the country to prove it. The difference is that water towers use a closed system, with pipes leading from the tank to the water system; it takes advantage of Bernoulli’s principle. Letting water fall through the open air has a different dynamic. Ms. Lucas was correct.

Vox Popoli’s comments were also entertaining, albeit a little highbrow. His crowd gets that way.

I enjoyed this one:

This reminds me of the discussion I had with a 3 friends–all college graduates, who thought that there was a strange force in outer space that prevented anything from falling faster than a certain speed, anywhere in the universe, something like 25 feet per second. It was called ‘terminal velocity’. And it was the same everywhere in outer space.


I explained that it only applied to planets with an atmosphere, and that each of these planets would have a different terminal velocity depending on the thickness of the atmosphere and the size of the planet. You would have thought I just became a Holocaust denier from their indignant replies. One of them spent the next half hour trying to correct my assumptions, getting more angry the more I laughed, and when I said “go look it up” he left with “Oh I will… and then I’ll let you know just how wrong you are.”

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November 19, 2008 @ 11:45 am #

I remember my high school science teacher telling us the same thing a good 25 years ago (about funnels). Maybe it’s a form of urban legend… a “fact” that every believes but has no basis in reality.

November 19, 2008 @ 5:42 pm #

In farm country, there are still people that believe a team of horses can pull a wagon when they are hitched to the tongue, but if you add rope and have them pull the same wagon from a distance of 100′, well, that makes the wagon impossibly heavy to pull. ‘Can’t be done.’ Go figure.

November 19, 2008 @ 11:58 pm #

Well, at least they didn’t punch a hole in the center of the filter paper to make it drain faster.

November 20, 2008 @ 1:06 am #

Haha, inkling. Great post! Yea, that water tower problem is for pressure as well, not velocity. Im surrounded by these mentally handicapped college students daily. Being one…I hope Im not one of those types haha!

Our education system is going haywire and a voucher system would help solve it. Giving the responsibilities over to the states would also help. Not only would there be local competition, but each state would also be working to improve their overall system as well. Anything the federal government touches ends up with what we have now. Just get them out!

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