I have a friend who sometimes teaches classes for adults who have never gotten their high school degree. To protect the innocent, I won't give his name, or even the name of the state. He told me a story about one of his classes, and I can't tell if I should laugh or cry (for the record, I laugh, because that's how my family deals with everything, even death, but that's a story for another day).
My friend, let's call him John, assigned some basic math problems that involved seconds, minutes, hours and days. He gave a little lecture on how to do the problems, then circulated through the class to see if people had any question. The first question: "How many seconds are in a minute?"
Now, that doesn't seem like such a scary thing, what if they were having an off day and just couldn't remember. John smiled and figured that one of the people in this student's group would chime in with the answer. No one did. John waited, but no one knew. He had a class of 20 adults and none of them knew how many seconds were in a minute.
Now John was floored. He pointed at the clock. His classroom had two clocks, one digital (with a seconds slot) and one old-fashioned, round clock (also with a second hand). Still his students couldn't figure it out.
But since they needed to do their assignment, they decided they needed an answer. Instead of looking it up, or calling someone they thought would know, or even just watching the digital clock for a full minute, they took a vote.
They voted on how many seconds there should be in a minute.
While a part of me is pleased that they thought to be so democratic, my inner child--the one who passed second grade--was screaming because no one knew how many seconds are in a minute.
Oh, and the answer that won the most votes: 35 seconds in a minute.