Why No Pi on Our Children’s Academic Plates?


Saturday was a day dedicated to the celebration of PI. Not blueberry, sweet potato, or key lime pie – we’re writing about the mathematical constant whose value (3.14159…) corresponds to the date  March 14.

Constants in math are important, interesting, and useful numerical relationships that do not change – they’re constant.  PI is probably the most important constant; something called the golden ratio (1.618 in its shortened form.) would probably be next in significance.

The PI expression measures the relationship between the circumference of a circle and its diameter.  Every circle, regardless of its size, conforms to this number.  The uses, or applications, of PI include simple and complex measurements of circles in architecture, trigonometric functions, physics.

NASA astronomers use PI to calculate the circular trajectory (path) of spacecraft and asteroids.  Farmers use PI to calculate the storage capacity of grain silos, the towering cylinders used to store wheat.  Soft drinks manufacturers use it to sell you cans of soda.      

If New York city had a viable public education system, PI would likely be taught in, or known by students in middle school.  Sadly, we do not have such a system.  Instead, we have the corporate-friendly, child destructive trend towards high stakes testing, test prep, and rote learning.

This approach has eliminated any chance that our students can learn to love, appreciate, or even understand the role of math in their everyday lives. It’s part of the reason why less than one half of the Brown and Black public school student majority are proficient in math.

This week, every middle schooler should be engaged in the measurement, calculation, and comparison of the circles and cylinders they experience daily.  From their water bottles, soda cans, and oatmeal boxes to their wall clocks and expertly-formed burritos – you make and record measurements (data).  Then you think.  How does the height of a can relate to its volume?  How does the diameter of a circle relate to its area?  How much soil would I need to make a circular garden in the school yard?  Once our children start thinking, it’ll be hard to stop them – or the progress of society at large.

Anyone can calculate or approximate the PI relationships,working with any circle.  First measure the circle’s diameter with string, rope, or a shoelace..  Next, place the string against a ruler (assuming the school provides rulers, not guaranteed). Then multiply by PI to get the circumference.   Or you can measure around a circle’s edge, then divide that number by PI to calculate the circle’s diameter. How can something so simple be missed by the genius class “experts” that run the schools?

As with many things ancient and significant, the source of the calculations of PI are disputed.  Was it the Egyptians or the Babylonians? According to current scholarship, (infected as it is with an anti-African bias,)  written references to PI date to 1900 B.C.   At the same time, the Great pyramid of Khufu (whom the euro-greeks called Cheops) had dimensions (1760/280 biblical cubits) that by some coincidence duplicated the PI relationship.  That structure was built around 2500 B.C.  Surely the uniform height and diameters of the stone columns in the many Nubian/Egyptian temples suggest an mastery of the PI concept.

Maybe next year we’ll have a PI day celebration that is unauthorized and out of the control of the education bureaucrats. Maybe that’s the only way it will happen.

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