We Can Change Our Future!
Standard Weights and Measures
In 2024, a group of high school students in Shecargo, Illinois became obsessed with the absurdity of U.S. weights and measures, versus the simplicity of the metric system used by most of the rest of the world. Out of 195 countries in the world, the U.S. was the only industrialized country that had not adopted the International System of Units, AKA the metric system, as its official system of weights and measures. That was the international decimal system of weights and measures used by all but three countries: Liberia, Myanmar, and the United States of America. It defied common sense, and they vowed change.
They began presenting their arguments for change in clever and funny ways in a series of UTube videos.
“In the rest of the world, water boils at 100 degrees and freezes at 0 degrees. In the U.S. it’s, wait for it: 212 degrees and 32 degrees. In the rest of the world, a kilometer is 1,000 meters, 100,000 decimeters, or 1,000,000 millimeters. They convert between units by simply shifting the decimal over 3 places.
In the U.S. a mile is 1,760 yards, 5,280 feet, or 63,360 inches. To convert yards to miles, divide by 1,760; from miles to feet we multiply by 5,280, feet to yards we divide by 3, inches to feet we times by 12, and inches to yards divide by 36. Using common sense, which system is more understandable and usable?”
Videos showed U.S. people in hilarious states of confusion trying to figure this stuff out and work with it, while people everywhere else solve these problems effortlessly. One boy punched himself in the head, in frustration in the U.S., while his European counterpart solved the problem without even looking.
Then, because everybody else uses the metric system, including most of the scientific community, including in the U.S., people in the U.S. have to convert between the two systems, maddening exercises, especially for students in school who are looking straight at how the U.S. system defies common sense.
To convert miles to kilometers we multiply miles times 0.62, or inches to meters divide by 39.37007874. To convert kilometers to feet we multiply km times 3,280.8, or feet to meters divide by 3.280839895. We convert meters to feet by multiplying meters times 3.28, or decimeters to miles divide by 16.09344. To convert centimeters to inches, multiply cm times .39, or millimeters to inches divide by 0.039370079.
Videos showed the U.S. boy literally banging his head against a chalkboard, drooling, his eyes spinning, while his European counterpart didn’t have to do this exercise at all, already on the global standard.
A video shows a droning and monotonous and dull teacher saying: “to convert Fahrenheit temperature, which we use in the U.S., to the Celsius global standard, all we have to do is subtract 32 from Fahrenheit and multiply by 5/9, or to convert Celsius used everywhere else multiply Celsius times 9/5 and add 32.
The U.S. students were tearing their clothes and hair in frustration, some crying, while their European counterparts didn’t have to do this exercise at all, since they were already on the global standard.
“Everywhere else in the world, 1 liter, 10 deciliters, 100 centiliters or 1,000 milliliters, CM2 or CCs of water weighs 1 kilogram, 1,000 grams or 1,000,000 milligrams, and is 1 cubic decimeter in volume. That’s a beautiful and intuitive set of easy to work with measures. To shift units, shift the decimal point.
In the U.S., a quart of water is .25 gallons, 2 pints, 4 cups, 32 U.S. fluid ounces, 63.0901964 tablespoons or 189.2705892 teaspoons, weighs 2.086351113 pounds and is 0.03342013889 cubic feet in volume. We make quarts gallons by dividing by 4, gallons to pints divide by 8, ounces to pints multiply by 0.0625, ounces to cups divide by 8, ounces to teaspoons divide by 0.1666667, cups to pounds divide by 1 23/25, gallons to cubic feet divide by 7 12/25, and tablespoons to gallons divide by 0.003906. That’s all we do! Using common sense, which system is more understandable and usable?”
Videos showed U.S. students, ears and eyes bleeding, piles of wadded paper on the floor, despairing, quitting and running off to abuse drugs and alcohol, as African students solved problems in their heads.
Then, because everybody else uses the metric system, including most of the scientific community, including in the U.S., people in the U.S. have to convert between the two systems, infuriating exercises, especially for students in school who are looking straight at how the U.S. system defies common sense. You can imagine the complexity of that effort, but these students showed it in detail, hilariously.
They provided rational arguments, like: “Because metric system conversions are easier, people using it are less likely to make mistakes” and went go on to document expensive and harmful mistakes made in the U.S. from measurement errors, like losing a multi-million dollar satellite because software controlled thrusters calculated force in pounds, while separate software assumed data was in the metric units; doctors and nurses killing patients with incorrect doses of pharmaceutical toxins; the military killing innocent civilians because of providing drone targeting instructions in the wrong units; U.S. people getting lost in other countries because of measurement errors; and various egregious software errors.
Students from across the country began joining the cause, making other videos, spreading the news on social media, sharing hysterical videos, adding comments and examples, and providing testimonials of frustration, anger and other bad feeling about the system and its problems, by students and others.
They organized polls showing 90% of U.S. people agreeing the U.S. system is complicated and annoying and the international system is better, and 72% of people supporting a change to the metric system. They addressed counter-arguments that it would be too expensive to change systems by arguing well that it is too expensive not to change and adding up costs of lost efficiency, errors and confusion.
Mr. Green, a teacher at the originating Shecargo school was quoted: “In 32 years in public education, I have never seen students as passionately engaged as my students are now in advocating this change. They get together after school, do original research, solve complicated math problems, acquire new skills in video production, how to post things on UTube, media dissemination, and polling techniques. They learn how to communicate with each other. They work with rational arguments and rebuttals. They are organizing a national political movement. I think it is absolutely extraordinary. I love it!”
The students did organize a grass-roots political movement. They informed the public and made a case. They disseminated information. They constructed compelling arguments. They made people think. They riled people up. They got us to take action. In 2027, the U.S. officially converted to Earth standard. We learned a lot about how to make education engaging from that experience, and how we can change, if we come together with good information, use common sense, share values and intentions, and try, and we learned about the real wealth that comes with making things simpler, smarter and easier.
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