Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Cultural cleansing in the classroom

We learn that the UK Metric Association is encouraging parents to lobby against the teaching of Imperial units in schools.

The UKMA has gone so far as to supply a template complaint letter which can be emailed widely to all those in authority.

By way of response, the Customary Measures Society has drafted the following counter-complaint which if followed should ensure pupils and students are properly prepared for adult research into archives including building plans. We are especially anxious about the Health and Safety implications of denying early knowledge of Imperial units to our future road, bridge and tunnel builders and architects. In learners being denied essential knowledge about the physical environment through an impoverished education at a crucially early cognitive stage in their development, we will all be at risk.

Archivists will be kept especially busy, having to instruct teachers, pupils, students and all other adult users of archives in the use of Imperial units, on top of all their other pressing responsibilities in a working environment lacking in resources and support.

The UKMA talks about eradication of Imperial units. This if taken to its ultimate conclusion would include eradication of references to Imperial units in archives, implying the sort of culture cleansing witnessed in Kosovo and Tibet.

The Customary Measures Society Proforma

[your address]

[your MP’s name]
House of Commons

Dear [your MP’s name]

[Optional: your title]

I am writing to you to express my concerns about my children’s education and how measurement units are used in this country. I have children/ grandchildren aged [provide details] attending [give details of the schools].

My children are forced to learn maths, science and other subjects at school using only using metric units. They rarely hear British weights and measures used by teachers.

Yet outside the school environment, it is mostly British weights and measures that are used. Heights are usually given in feet and inches. Children and adults mostly know their weight only in stones and pounds. Babies’ weights are always reckoned in pounds and ounces despite hospital scales which use kilos. Britain’s 1½ million road signs are in miles, yards, feet and inches. People drink pints of beer and eat 12” pizzas, 8oz. Steaks etc. Millions watch football matches where people shoot from 25 yards, shots miss the goal by ‘a couple of feet’ and balls passed to another player that are ‘inch-perfect’. The Harry Potter books - read by virtually all children of reading age upwards in the country - contain thousands of references to weights and measures, all in British weights and measures. The day-to-day language of the British people is British weights and measures. To quote the U.K Metric Association themselves, verbatim: “most of the news media uses Imperial”.

I have no objection to my children becoming familiar with metric units. But I want my children taught British units, so they can apply them in the outside world. I also want my children to know about the system of weights and measures which has been used in this country for three thousand years and which is still used in the United States.

The UK Metric Association is trying to get parents to wrote letters to MPs begging the government to go completely metric. This let is to let you know that my family and I are among the 80% to 90% of British people who want to keep our weights and measures. The extent of support for British weights and measures is explained in pages 14 to 23 of the Customary Measures Society report, issued January 2005. I strongly urge you to get a copy*.

The UKMA said this in a recent proforma letter they are sending out: “My children learn about converting litres to gallons in class. However nothing is sold by the gallon any more today. There is no point in teaching obsolete units in a maths class. Why not stick to litres?” The answer to that is that 25 million car owners in Britain all know how many miles to the gallon their cars do and make decisions as to which car to buy accordingly. When The Times newspaper ran a lead story in January last year about rising oil prices chose their headline, it ran: “Drivers face £4 gallon as oil cost soars”.

The UKMA proforma letter also says this: “Obesity is a worry for many children today and the main obesity measure (body mass index) is metric. Yet most information given to children on health uses feet & inches for height and stones & pounds for weight”. This is one of many deliberate lies told by UKMA. The Body Mass Index can just as easily be calculated in British weights and measures. It’s called the ‘Customary Body Mass Index’ and an example of how to calculate it in feet and inches and stones and pounds can be found on page 56 of the CMS report (Appendix 4). The UKMA claim that “The only responsible thing to do is to complete Britain’s changeover to metric as soon as possible”. On the contrary.

We want the government to allow children to learn about the system of weights and measures used today by most children and adults - British or ‘Imperial‘ weights and measures. We want the National Curriculum changed accordingly.

We do not want honest traders being prosecuted as criminals for selling in pounds and ounces.

We do not want the government to waste £1 billion of our hard-earned money ripping down 1½ million road signs to change them to metric.

We want dual labelling of goods like they have in the United States.

We do not want the government - as they have done already - to make it a crime to display the word ‘pound’ and ‘ounce’ in a shop. This, unbelievably, will be the law from 1 January 2010.

We want the government to stick by previous promises to voters that any metrication would be voluntary. We want the government to implement the 12 recommendations in the Customary Measures Society report.

Yours sincerely

[your name]

* The Customary Measures Society Report is available from Mr Tony Bennett, 66 Chippingfield, HARLOW, Essex, CM17 0DJ Tel: 01279 635789


Membership is open to holders of the postgraduate diploma in archive administration.

Applications from qualified records managers will be considered.

It will be necessary for candidates for membership to supply a copy of their diploma and complete an application form.

On acceptance, a certificate of membership will be issued in return for a nominal fee.

Is the writing on the wall?

Will the personal computer and laptop succeed where the typewriter failed? Will traditional handwriting skills and penmanship become obsolete as the result of adults, teachers, students and school pupils concentrating on keyboarding?

If so archivists will find that not only Latin documents but all handwriting have become illegible, with the obvious cultural consequences that society is finally cut off from its written heritage. Some software programmes already enable us to convert handwriting into typeface.

Here are some comments on the obsolescence of handwriting.

when handwriting becomes obsolete, it will ironically happen first among the technologically elite

From Handwriting in America: A Cultural History By Tamara Plakins Thornton, Yale University Press, 1996, reviewed by B.C. Brown Read more

Think about how much you rely on your handwriting versus your computer to get your job done as a student or an employee. How much do you feel computers will affect your future career? Do you think handwriting will become nearly obsolete like hieroglyphs?

From Remembering Cultural Differences, chapter 5 From Hieroglyphs and Handwriting to the Computer Age, published by Houghton Mifflin Read more

Prof. Tamara Plakins Thornton

Today many Americans lament the fact that handwriting skills seem obsolete, but cultural historian Tamara Plakins Thornton, associate professor of history, says the demand for old-fashioned penmanship training is merely nostalgic and represents the rejection of modernity itself. (Patricia Donovan, News Services Editor, writing in the University of Buffalo Reporter)

Read more

For a sequel on the subject of the survival of traditional handwriting skills and access to the written heritage, see our later blog Full circle

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