When I was ten years old, I had a run-in with a substitute teacher which I have never forgotten. As she handed back the results of a quiz, I was surprised to find that I had received an F. I had missed 10 out of 10. Now I don't remember all the questions on the quiz, but I do remember one of them. It read, "Johnny went to the store to buy flour for his mother. At the store he found a one-pound sack of flour for $0.35 and a five-pound sack of flour for $1.50. Which sack is a better buy?"
Well, I had answered that they both were given the limited amount of information provided. I remember saying something about variables such as the consumption rate of the family, the storage available and how much money Johnny had available to him at the time. I even remember feeling pretty proud of myself after taking the test because I felt I had really thought my answers through through quite thoroughly.
The teacher didn't see it that way. Although she was trying to be polite by listening to my explanation, her impatience was obvious. She stood pointing to her open teacher's manual, which clearly dictated that the "right" answer was the five-pound sack.
Knowing I had absolutely no chance, I asked her if I could see the answer book. As expected, she looked stunned and said, "Don't be silly, then you would know all the answers."
"No, I wouldn't," I replied, "because my answers aren't in there. If I had your book I might know all your so-called 'right' answers, but I wouldn't really know anything. I'd be just like you."
That last remark quickly put an end to our discussion. As I was being escorted to the principle's office, I was surprised that the majority of my classmates were razzing and heckling me. What was wrong with them, I wondered. Couldn't they see my side? But it wasn't until years later that I understood that they were just conforming to the rules of our education system - don't make waves, accept the "right" answer the teacher gives, memorize and regurgitate to receive a good grade. Meanwhile, I was labeled a "disciplinary problem" for constantly questioning the answers, a label that followed me throughout my school years.
When I got home, knowing the school had called and "ratted" on me, I cautiously looked around for my dad. To my surprise, he just looked at me and laughed.
"Son," he said, "I heard about your argument. You have a good head on your shoulders. I'm glad you're using it for something more than a hat rack."
This came as a surprise. I thought I'd get a horrible scolding. Why wouldn't the man who would eventually head the educational system for the state of Hawaii be upset at his some for being a discipline problem? But just as I was about to open my mouth, my dad's eyes saddened and I could hear the frustration in his tone.
"Unfortunately," he said, "teachers must follow the rules of our educational system. Requiring students to know one 'right' answer to each question is the basis of that system. It makes it a lot easier to test and grade students. The teachers are not at fault; they're just doing what our system requires."
(emphasis is mine)