Benefits of Metric-only Measurement Instruction in Education:

Reason 2: Occupational Paths

Team Metric asked the question, it is more advantageous for students to intuitively think in metric units or intuitively think in customary units?  We looked at the Common Core Standards in Mathematics and the draft Next Generation Science Standards for K-12 specific data and the Department of Labor for Occupational numbers. The answer is overwhelming clear- a student should intuitively think in metric units!   All students must have the opportunity to learn and meet the same international standards if they are to access the knowledge and skills necessary in their post-school lives.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the United States was a world-wide leader in science and technology. We met President Kennedy’s mandate to put a man on the moon in the less than a decade. Today, American organizations like Microsoft, Boeing, Ford, John Deere, Medtronic and St. Jude’s Medical Center are still international leaders in their respective fields.

That said, top defense contractors, technology innovators, industrial giants, and health care providers have to search internationally for the best and the brightest to fill positions in their high-tech fields. Foreign students dominate science, mathematics, and engineering departments, especially at the graduate level. According to a 2004 National Science Foundation study, 26.1% of graduate students in science, engineering, and health fields hold temporary visas.  According to a Georgetown University study, jobs in education and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields will offer the highest concentration of jobs requiring a postsecondary education by 2018, yet fully 30% of students entering college must take remedial science and math classes.

One only needs to look at the intense debate around H-1B visas to realize that your child is already competing with a globalized workforce. In fact these individuals, who were not educated in the American school system, have a distinct competitive advantage in STEM occupations because they intuitively think in metric units. Remember, no other country teaches US customary units, or participates in dual-measurement instruction. These foreign workers are not burdened with the desire to mathematically convert units or the need to tax their working memory to think about metric units as they compare to their closest customary unit counterpart. Have you ever wondered how can foreign workers come to the U.S and succeed in STEM occupations with little or no knowledge of U.S customary units? How- because STEM occupations are METRIC occupations!

Teaching metric-only measurements in school will accelerate learning in STEM subjects so that our students—our country— can continue to compete in an aggressive, globalized world. Our traditional educational approach to measurement instruction creates an institutionalized cognitive disadvantage for solely U.S students. It also, and perhaps more significantly, inserts “barriers to entry” by adding unnecessary complexity into the precise occupations needed to solve our immense challenges in energy, health, environmental protection, and national security.

STEM Occupations and Opportunities

While the acronym “STEM” stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, other occupations have grown out of our STEM knowledge. Some educators, researchers, and politicians are beginning to recognize that STEM should include the other “M” occupations- Medicine (healthcare), the Military, and perhaps precision Manufacturing, or STEM4.  The Georgetown report, Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018, predicts that of the 2.8 million healthcare jobs which will be available in 2018, 30% of them will require a master’s degree or higher.

Healthcare includes most of the fastest growing occupations in the US and they all utilize the metric system exclusively. What about those inches and pounds they use, you wonder? Purely a colloquial interaction with you as the consumer. Your height and weight is recorded in centimeters (cm) and kilograms (kg). Your medication dosage is prescribed and dispensed in milliliters (mL) or milligrams (mg). Nurses set the rate of your IV in milliliters per hour (mL/hr) or
cubic centimeters (aka cc’s) per hour. Your nutritionist will develop a dietary plan for you in grams consumed per day.  A lab technologist might measure a microorganism in nanometers (µm). While some of these healthcare jobs don’t require a bachelor’s degree, they still pay quite well. For more information, please see our page on Healthcare and the Metric System; it emphasizes the role of metric-only education in reducing preventable medication errors to patients, especially our most vulnerable citizens, pediatrics.

Our brave military also uses the modern metric system to measure distances, speed, and temperature, on the front lines, but the technical support behind our soldiers is also predominately metric. The U.S Armed Forces is the largest organization in the world and requires a multitude of support services. An outgrowth from military employment is the high tech world of defense contracting, which are essentially engineering and trade positions. Machining rotors, designing radio equipment for intelligence-gathering airplanes, grinding lenses, or researching missile flight paths all demand fluency in the modern metric system. Next time you are watching a military movie, notice how they determine distance- it is in “klicks” slang for kilometers.

In addition, essentially all transportation-related manufacturing in the U.S utilizes the modern metric system. Should your child work with American icons such as John Deere Tractor, Caterpillar, Ford, or Boeing, they will need to make the metric system a new way of life.  Two other very promising employment sectors working almost exclusively in the modern metric system are those working with alternative energy sources and additive (3D) manufacturing. Manufacturing, along with medicine and the military, might yet be considered another metric occupational path beginning with the letter M that should be considered part of our educational focus on “STEM.” Again, perhaps STEM4 (mathematics, medicine, military and manufacturing)

WHY does the U.S. educational system still educate our children to intuitively think in U.S. customary units?

Team Metric considers this practice “legacy thinking.”

Unfortunately, our educational system has not modernized from the agricultural/factory worker model to producing globally-competitive knowledge workers. American companies don’t just outsource low-skill manufacturing jobs overseas, these companies are creating high-skilled professional opportunities in R&D, computer programing and many other occupations in countries like India and South Korea. Educating children to think intuitively in the modern metric system would be a giant leap forward in modernizing our educational system and creating an educational culture which emphasizes the importance of STEM-literacy.

If the US has become more of a metric country than a customary unit one, why haven’t I noticed? 

Most Americans do not use measurement in the course of their occupations. For example, retailing is the largest U.S. sector and it is “measurement-neutral,” meaning that intuitively thinking in metric units or inch-pound units does not impact one’s ability to succeed in a measurement-neutral occupation. Other measurement-neutral professions are finance, domestic services, law and regulation, administrative functions, and government. But remember from above, if the occupation does require a mastery of measurement to succeed then the predominate unit of measurement utilized, even in the United States, is the modern metric system. Due to the prevalence of measurement neutral occupations, most Americans only “work” with measurement units during consumption activities. Although most goods and services are designed, distributed and manufactured in the modern metric system, they are marketed to the American public in customary units. This marketing strategy is another form of colloquial interaction with you as the consumer. See our consumption page for a more detailed list of metric goods and services.   

Some occupations must still work in US customary units?

Yes, and we commonly refer to them as the “trades,” such as plumbers, masonry workers, construction workers, and the related professions. That said, it should be noted that the next largest sector to work predominately in customary units is Elementary EDUCATION!

Reason Three