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Metric Culprits

The failure of Metric Education

The failure of "metrication by education" is the result of the following factors:

i) Schools are not the only source of education. Children also learn from hobbies, parents, books, television and shops. Children notice for themselves the markings on the other side of rulers and make use of them independently of what is taught in the classroom. A teacher described then tendency of children to use traditional units in an article for the The Teacher:

"Text books, work books and maths equipment are based on the metric system while children's experience out of school is in imperial units...For instance, my class of 7 and 8 year olds measured one another and made a chart. Andrew, height 1 metre 30 centimetres, said next day, "My dad says I shall grow as tall as him".

"How tall is your dad?" "Six feet one inch".

ii) Customary measures remain the popular parlance. Terms such as mile, inch and pint possess a fluency which clinical metric terms lack. The teacher who wrote the above article noted how a 7-year old child who had completed work requiring him to measure the height of a door, the length of a classroom and the width of a table in metres, described later in his Underground Adventure: "I came to a molehill as big as a pond. It was 17 feet wide and 17 feet long. It must have been about a hundred feet deep". The teacher observed that traditional units seem to be the "natural expression when it comes to creative writing".
The failure of metric to enter everyday language contributes to its failure to achieve common use. Metric's prefixes and syllables (dec-i-lee-ter, kee-lo-mee-ter, etc) prevent it from becoming part of "naturalised" speech and restrict its context to the laboratory and other technical environments. Young people are no more likely to use metric terminology in everyday conversation than they are to ask for sodium chloride at the breakfast table or start a conversation about tangents and pronouns.
iii) Much of metric is forgotten on leaving school. Much of what children learn in school is simply forgotten if there is no need for it outside school. Litres taught in physics classes give way to pints used in pubs. Fresh food is priced in pounds and ounces, despite the metric obligation. Tyre pressure is in pounds per square inch. Inches are used for clothing sizes. Estate agents use square feet. Road signs use miles, yards and feet. By the time most young people reach their 20s, metric education has been replaced by the practical experience of British units.

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