Note: I’m starting a new series of occasional blog posts in which I share my disbelief at what I see passed-off as “teaching” during my work in schools around the world.

My nephew, let’s call him Vernon Honours, is a 9th grader. His Geometry teacher assigns the kids to read Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott over the December holidays (so far, so good) and then complete some related “projects.” (that’s where the problems begin)

One of the “projects” the kids had to tackle was to “List the first five laws of Flatland and explain why they are needed.” This caused the nephew, his parents and Facebook friends to tear their hair out.

When I was asked to help, I did my best Googling, eBook reading and even tweeted the question to my legion of Twtiter followers. That outreach to my “personal learning network” resulted in  insults from people accusing me of an inability to, in the worlds of former President George W. Bush, “use the Google.”

The problem is that the teacher’s question was hopelessly vague or a trick question. Since the only THREE laws of Flatland anyone could ascertain had to do with the treatment of women, one could conclude that either:

a) the math teacher is merely testing comprehension and testing the kids on their reading

b) it’s a trick question because it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with geometry

Having endured ridicule for sharing this question on Twitter, I was curious as to whether my nephew answered the question correctly. I asked my nephew Tuesday afternoon after his first day back to school and was told, “I don’t know. I have to wait to get my paper back and see what grade he gave me.” On Friday afternoon, the students were still awaiting their fate.

So, there are a few problems here:

  1. What makes you think that telling the kids to read a book, answer questions and then never discuss the book or their answers is effective teaching?
  2. Where did you get the idea that a comprehension quiz is a project?
  3. Flatland features a lot of interesting connections to geometry, Victorian mores, philosophy and more. Why have you left this to students to figure out on their own?
  4. Is a teacher’s primary job to catch kids submitting the wrong answer?
  5. Is teaching a trick? Are you a magician?
  6. What makes you think that a bell curve is the desired learning result?
  7. Are you really asking geometry students to regurgitate the sexist views of the author?
  8. What should the students do with their grade a week or more after the assignment?
  9. Can’t you be replaced by a worksheet dispensing and grading machine?
  10. Do you get paid a bonus for every student you get to hate your subject?