Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Earth is round. Maybe....

I've been reading Umberto Ecco's Serendipities: Language and Lunacy. (Don't fret, I didn't suddenly become an erudite pedant--my brilliant wife left it lying around and it was the closest thing to grab when my colon called. Turns out it's pretty good).


Turns out even star scholars have a clue.
How do I know the world is round?

I live by the shore. It looks round. I see boats disappear over the horizon, boats that eventually return with tales of tuna and turtles and finback whales, all remarkable stories, but return nonetheless.

How does a child in the city know the world is round?

She cannot. She can parrot what she is told, but she cannot believe it. If she does believe it, she's more damaged than we know. All evidence points otherwise.

We were taught, back in the 1960's, that Christopher (not Cristoforo) Columbus "proved" that the Earth was round. Even Saint Augustine (yes, that St. Augustine) got it right back in the 5th century.

This can be reasonably deduced by scholarly folk with access to libraries and the minds of other scholarly folk. It cannot (easily) be deduced by children, especially children who live on concrete. A 2nd grader who believes the Earth is round, despite evidence to the contrary, is flying on belief alone, and that, no matter what what Achieve, Inc. or the NGA or Arne say, is not science, it's dogma.

How do I get through 2000 years of science without resorting to preaching dogma?

I know it's a good year when my students leave my class knowing less than they knew back in September. I wish Arne knew that, too.

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