Things That Set Us Apart and the Metric System

tape-measure-3859795_640

Image from Pixabay

As you might expect, I use Google to do a daily search for new “metric system” items to ensure I don’t miss anything relevant to my research. And while I do get some searches that don’t quite hit the mark (“metrics” also refer to other kinds of measures as in “My sales metrics went up again last month”), most of them are right on topic.

A recent piece in an online publication called “The Travel” had an article called “25 Things About America We All Can’t Stand (Even The Locals). What was the number one “annoyance”? Our measurements:

Most of the world abides by the metric system when it comes to measurements, however, believe it or not, the United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not use the metric system as its predominant system of measurement, says Britannica.

Ironically, the publisher of this list is an organization that had its address listed in Quebec, Canada. In case you are not aware, Canada is a “soft adoption” country that uses both Imperial and metric system units on many things, so this is somewhat of a situation of “the pot calling the kettle black.”

This got me looking for other articles that might mention our lack of metric system adoption as an American inconsistency. Of course, I found some.

American “quirks”

Another recent article, dated from November 15 of last year was called “24 things that are considered ‘normal’ in the US but the rest of the world finds weird.”

One of those items is “Using the imperial system of measurement instead of the metric system.”*

The United States is one of only three countries that still use the imperial system of measurement, and everyone out there thinks we’re strange for doing so.

A piece from Redbook dated June 25, 2018, was called “37 Things Americans Do That Confuse the Rest of the World: There’s the American way…and then there’s everybody else.

Number 25 of the 37 lists “Measure in miles, feet, and inches:

This is an obvious one, and, yet, it’s still a constant source of bewilderment for most of the world. Instead of following the metric system, America is one of just three countries to follow the imperial system of measurement. (The others are Liberia and Myanmar.)

So, aside from our lack of metric system adoption, what do others find strange about us? A smattering:

  • Take-out boxes and drink refills
  • Huge portion sizes (which probably leads to the take-out boxes)
  • Walking around with large cups of coffee
  • Using ice in everything

Just in case you think them all food-related, also included are:

  • Working too much
  • Baby showers
  • Talking to strangers
  • Being too sensitive (as well as too insensitive to others)
  • Having flags everywhere
  • Not enough privacy in public bathroom stalls
  • We’re loud and smile too much
  • Tipping
  • Sales tax

This last one is likely because some 140 countries have a Value Added Tax (known as VAT) that is seen on the item itself. However, in the United States, sales tax is not known until you’re at the sales register. And that’s because sales tax can differ from state to state and even region to region. As an example, the sales tax in Los Alamos, NM (where I live) is 7.3125% but the sales tax in Santa Fe, NM is 8.44% (that’s just 54 km or 44 minutes away).

United states?

And that goes back to one of my arguments that one of the reasons we’ve found metric system adoption difficult in this country is because we are less the UNITED States of American than the United STATES of America (As in states’ rights). Still, it’s written into the Constitution that Congress can set weights and measures for our country so at least that’s one less hurdle to overcome.

Let’s get with the global program and switch to the metric system (or S.I. as it is known in the rest of the world.)

Thanks for tuning in.

Linda

U.S. Metric Adoption and Common Core Education Standards

One thing I learned soon after starting this project is that our country is less the UNITED States of America than it is the United STATES of America. Having rallied against the British and its centralized government more than 200 years ago, our founding fathers made sure our Constitution gave limited powers to the federal government and put considerable control into the hands of state government. This includes our education standards.

While one might think that the Department of Education helps ensure that our children receive at least some basic level of education throughout our nation, such is not the case. In fact, the Department of Education:

  1. Establishes policies related to federal education funding, administers distribution of funds and monitors their use.
  2. Collects data and oversees research on America’s schools.
  3. Identifies major issues in education and focuses national attention on them.
  4. Enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in programs that receive federal funds.
    (http://www2.ed.gov/about/what-we-do.html)

You’ll notice that setting standards for what our children learn in schools is not within its scope—it’s up to the individual states to decide what children learn in what ways and even what constitutes a passing grade. (I don’t mean to imply here that the states are out to shortchange their children but they could if they so desired.)

While each state is able to set its own education standards, there has been progress toward the implementation of common, basic standards to finally provide some consistency in what’s covered within school classrooms across the country. The organizations behind this effort are the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Common_Core_

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt. The standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit bearing entry courses in two or four year college programs or enter the workforce.

http://www.corestandards.org/

Adoption_mapAccording to the website: “Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the Common Core State Standards.” Those that have “not yet adopted” (the site’s wording) the standards are Alaska, Texas, Minnesota, Virginia, Nebraska and Puerto Rico. Work is still taking place for the standards and a visit to the Council of Chief State School Officers website shows that the publication Common Core State Standards: Implementation Tools and Resources is dated as recently as May 2013.

I’m happy to say that metric system is included in these standards.

Here’s what I found on the Common Core site for grades 2, 3, 4 and 5 under the sections called “measurement and data”:

Grade 2: “Measure the length of an object by selecting and using appropriate tools such as rulers, yardsticks, meter sticks, and measuring tapes and Estimate lengths using units of inches, feet, centimeters, and meters.”

Grade 3: “Measure and estimate liquid volumes and masses of objects using standard units of grams (g), kilograms (kg), and liters (l).”

Grade 4: “Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec.”

Grade 5: “Convert among different-sized standard measurement units within a given measurement system (e.g., convert 5 cm to 0.05 m), and use these conversions in solving multi-step, real world problems.”

From grade 6 and beyond, the “measurement and data” subheading no longer appears and other math concepts (such as probability) are listed.

So, at least the standards do include the metric system although it appears to be taught somewhat side by side with our U.S. customary units in at least grades 2 and 4. I suppose I could try to write something into the fact that for grade 3 the language says “standard units of grams, etc.” without mentioning U.S. customary units but I don’t think that buys much of anything. On the other hand, I could write into the fact that for grade 4 the wording “one system of units” could also mean that it could be interpreted to mean either U.S. customary or metric units could be used.

I’m writing about this subject for two reasons:

1. To raise awareness of the attempts to get some consistency within our country so we can best prepare our children for their (and our) future so that you can help support these standards—including when it comes time to press for elimination of U.S. customary units in favor of the metric system within the Core Standards, and

2) To make sure you know that while many powers were delegated to state control, Congress does have within its scope the ability to mandate our weights and measures. It states in the Constitution in Article 1, Section 8 that it is within the power of Congress:

“To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures.

The bottom line: I hope there will come a time in the future when this information becomes important.

Linda

P.S. I would like to thank any of my readers who helped back the Kickstarter campaign for the documentary on the kilogram. Amy met her goal and, as a result, has had the funds released to her to carry on her project. I wish her much luck and success with her efforts.

Will Hawaii Be the First All-Metric State?

A bill was introduced by state Representative Karl Rhoads of Hawaii earlier this year that seeks to make the metric system mandatory within his state. Called “Relating to the Metric System,” H.B. 36 states in part:

The legislature finds that very strong economic and scientific reasons exist for states to switch to the metric system. Other than Burma and Liberia, the United States is the only country that has not switched to the metric system. The cost of not switching to the metric system is quickly increasing with the trend towards globalization. Failing to switch could result in the United States losing its competitive edge in science and technology, as well as continuing to create bilateral trade impediments with other countries.

The cost of switching to a metric system could be quickly outweighed by the economic benefits of global interoperability. This is particularly important as the dominance of United States companies is being challenged in the competitive atmosphere of globalization. Switching to the metric system would likely result in the creation of many jobs, and enable the current and future workforce of the United States to be more prepared to work in the international marketplace.

It also stipulates that the law would go into effect on January 1, 2018. (http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/measure_indiv.aspx?billtype=HB&billnumber=36)

There has been some traffic on the U.S. Metric Association’s listserve (which anyone can join for free) on this topic and some concerns were raised regarding the potential legality of such a law since it might run counter to federal laws regarding labeling.

I do know that “The act to authorize the use of the metric system of weights and measures” from 1866 states:

It shall be lawful throughout the United States of America to employ the weights and measures of the metric system; and no contract or dealing, or pleading in any court, shall be deemed invalid or liable to objection because the weights or measures expressed or referred to therein are weights or measures of the metric system.

(http://www.nist.gov/pml/wmd/metric/upload/HR-596-Metric-Law-1866.pdf)

I don’t have the legal background or financial resources to address this issue right now but I do know that states’ rights issues are relevant in this matter. (As I’ve said before, we’re less the UNITED States of America than we are the United STATES of America. Full metric implementation could be difficult without states’ cooperation.) I had also hypothesized that perhaps it was Hawaii’s shorter exposure to our metric-adoption struggles that helped it along this path but after speaking with Representative Rhoades, there was another, more practical reason (in addition to those listed in H.B. 36 above): tourism.

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority:

Hawaii’s visitor industry continues to be the largest generator of jobs among the major industry sectors in the state, providing 152,864 jobs in 2010…Tourism is also the largest source of private capital into the Hawaiian Islands, contributing $11.4 billion in visitor spending and $1 billion in tax revenue last year.

(http://www.hawaiitourismauthority.org/news/articles/tourism-helps-provide-for-hawaiie28099s-economy/)

As the Representative pointed out to me, visitors go to Hawaii from all over the world. (And why wouldn’t they? I know I’d like to visit.) Increasingly, people from other countries travel to Hawaii and are tripped up by our illogical measurement system on everything from road signs to fuel to groceries (my words, not his).

A lovely beach in Hawaii

A lovely beach in Hawaii

He hopes that a change to the metric system will not only make it easier for international visitors but that such a transition won’t cause problems for the rest of the country since Hawaii is physically isolated. (Of course, there’s still all the practical reasons listed above why we should all move over to metric.)

I applaud Representative Rhoads for his efforts and while his bill will need reintroduction next year, there is something we can do to help this work along. If you can vote in Hawaii, write to your representatives urging them to support this legislation. Know someone who lives in Hawaii? Clue them in to what’s going on so they can light a fire under those who influence the state’s government. For a complete list of Hawaii state legislators, go to http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/members/legislators.aspx?chamber=H for the House and http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/members/legislators.aspx?chamber=S for the Senate.

While such efforts might not seem to be seminal, by getting forward movement in enough different places, it just might be enough to change the world…oh wait…the rest of the world has changed, it’s us who are lagging behind.

The time to get with the rest of the world is now.

Linda

Join my mailing list by sending an email to milebehind@gmail.com! Exciting stuff is coming soon and you’ll be the first to know.