What’s a Km? A Travelers Lament

I am traveling in England and Paris this week, partly for pleasure, partly for work.  I will be training math teachers in the north west part of England, and was able to add on some sightseeing days and a quick hop over to Paris while here as well. It’s been a wonderful experience so far. The tube (i.e. subway) is so easy to get around on, everyone is so friendly (and those accents!!), and let’s just say you will never get better fish-n-chips anywhere else. The history is amazing, not to mention all the beautiful sites and countryside. I was unable to get tea with the Queen – perhaps next time!

What I am finding, as an American, is that I am at a distinct disadvantage when trying to determine how far away something is or how much something weighs or the amount of something (i.e. size of a coffee for example). The reason being Americans use the standard measurement system (i.e. miles, inches, gallons, ounces, etc.) and England (and every other industrialized country in the world EXCEPT America, and possibly Lyberia and Myanmar) use the metric system.  Here’s what I found:

“The metric system has been officially sanctioned for use in the United States since 1866, but the US remains the only industrialized country that has not adopted the metric system as its official system of measurement. Many sources also cite Liberia andMyanmar as the only other countries not to have done so.”

downloadWhy? It makes no sense.  Yes, yes – change is hard (think of all those road signs that would have to be changed!) But seriously, the metric system is so much easier!!!  Think about decimals – one of the foundations for students in mathematics – it’s based on powers of 10, as is the metric system.  Why then do we confuse our students by using standard measurements and making them do the horrible conversions between standard and metric?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to reinforce the idea of powers of 10 by using the metric system?  And wouldn’t it make more sense for America to measure like the rest of the world?

I am a math teacher, and even I am struggling with conceptualizing what a KM is compared to a imagesmile (i.e. 1 km is approximately .6 of a mile, FYI).  Being so entrenched in my standardized measurements, I have to admit I feel quite the idiot when I look at my Google maps and it tells me something is 22 km away – how far is that?!! Obviously I can do the calculation/estimate in my head, or if desperate, whip out the old calculator, but the fact that I can’t visualize/conceptualize it in my head is frustrating to me. And when asked if I want 240 mL or 350 mL of coffee – um…what? (i.e. 8 oz vs 12 oz apparently). I look at the posted speed of 80 km/h, in my head I think – wow…that’s FAST, because I am thinking in miles/h.  But – it’s really only about 50 mph (see conversion above). I guess this is my biggest frustration – I think in standard measures because that’s what I am programmed to do, but everything here is metric, so sometimes my brain hurts trying to ‘rethink’.

All this converting has me questioning why America doesn’t embrace the metric system…. are we just so entrenched in the standard measurements that we can’t do it at this point? Do we just like being “different”? What are your thoughts?

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