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Jeruba's avatar

Can you help me recall a parody I read spotlighting declining educational standards in the U.S.?

Asked by Jeruba (41921 points ) January 18th, 2011

I saw this more than ten years ago, while I was working for an educational software company. It was making the rounds of educators and might have come from an education e-list.

As I recall, it was represented as a word problem of the sort that might appear in a textbook or on a test, meant to illustrate the changes in education over the decades.

Each period was identified with a year, followed by the wording of the problem, which for some reason I recall as involving squirrels. It began (maybe around 1900) with a highly complex problem involving challenging vocabulary and computational skills, gradually got simpler and simpler, and ended with a K-level picture-book line about the emotional state of two squirrels. Obviously it was meant as humor, but as humor with a message about declining educational standards.

Do you recognize this and know where to find a copy of it?

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5 Answers

mrentropy's avatar

So far I’ve only been able to find this:

Teaching Math In 1950
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?

Teaching Math In 1960
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?

Teaching Math In 1970
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit?

Teaching Math In 1980
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.

Teaching Math In 1990
By cutting down beautiful forest trees, the logger makes $20. What do you think of this way of making a living?

Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the forest birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down the trees?
(There are no wrong answers.)

Teaching Math In 2005
El hachero vende un camion carga por $100. La cuesta de production es…..........

I haven’t found the original text, but I found this on a physics forums (Nov 16–09)

Jeruba's avatar

That’s it, @mrentropy! Squirrels and all. (Isn’t it odd which details stick and which ones vaporize?) Clearly I exaggerated the earliest version of the problem and also imagined it as much older, but that’s the very one I was thinking of. When I saw it in the nineties, the last line hadn’t been added.

How ever did you find this? What did you search on?

mrentropy's avatar

You desire the secret of my Google-Fu, eh? Well, all right. I really don’t remember but I was trying a lot of ‘parody word problems’ coupled with ‘declining education’. Eventually I tried ‘article about declining education using word problem.’ This got me nowhere. So I tried ‘article about declining education using word problem squirrel’.

That’s when the physics forum site came up and the blurb sounded promising, so I tried it out. I had to read through the list quite a bit before I found the logger problem. It looked right, but I wasn’t sure if it was exactly what you were looking for. But however insignificant you think the squirrels were, they were the key to finding what I was looking for.

Evidently it’s ‘been around the block’ quite a bit and has changed depending on who was re-posting it and what kind of politics they were following. You can probably find a large number of variants by using Google to find ‘teaching math article loggers.” I did.

So, there you go. I suppose I could have found it quicker if I had used ‘logger’ or ‘lumber’ in the first place but I figured they would show up more often in regular math discussions than squirrel.

Jeruba's avatar

That’s funny! I used very similar keywords, also including “squirrel,” but all I got were a bunch of articles about squirrels. You must have the magic touch.

mrentropy's avatar

Huh. It’s a wild wacky world. I think I found an article that was about finding the height of a squirrel using calculus or something.

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