Wednesday, January 15, 2020

81. Dogs Do Math

I recently ran across this news item in the journal Science Daily:

"Dogs spontaneously process basic numerical quantities, using a distinct part of their brains that corresponds
closely to number-responsive neural regions in humans, finds a study at Emory University.”

In other words, dogs do math.

This has profound consequences for the future of teaching. Let’s project forward 100 years and peek
into a math classroom.

Charlie peered over his reading glasses at the collection of students seated in front of him.

Charlie is a mix, German Shepard and Lab. He stood erect on his hind legs, the way humans have for thousands
of years. It has become normal, these days, to see dogs standing at the front of a math classroom, dressed in
casual teacher garb; Charlie wore jeans and a tan button front shirt.

Today, Charlie thought silently to himself, is going to be a challenge.

“Alright! Students! Let’s try to bring the chaos under control!”

The dull roar of the classroom slowly began to quiet down. There’s always that one student, though, who keeps
chatting away after everyone else has stopped.

“...she totally ripped him a new one, right there in front of everyone, so -”

“Gary!” Charlie barked.

Gary suddenly realized everyone was listening to him.

“Class!” Charlie barked. “Who can solve the equation on the board?”
An awkward rumble whispered its way through the classroom. No one wanted to volunteer.

Charlie slowly moved his gaze from left to right across the room. He snorted quietly and pushed his glasses
back up his nose.

“Richard!”  he barked.

From the back of the classroom Richard’s eyes widened as he sat up and acted as if he had been paying attention.

“Richard,” Charlie said a second time, “Can you please solve the equation on the board?”

“Um...I um….I don’t think so,” Richard mumbled. “I, uh, I can’t see the board from back here.”

Charlie stood motionless at the front of the room, staring at Richard.

“Do you mean to tell me,” Charlies growled, “that you cannot see the board from the back of the room?”

“I have bad eyesight,” Richard said.

“And how long have you been sitting in the back?” Charlie growled.

“Um, the, uh, the whole semester,” Richard said sheepishly.

“Three months!” Charlie snapped.

“Uh, yeah, I guess so,” Richard said.

“For three months you have been sitting in the back of the room!”

“Uh huh.”

“And for three months you have not been able to see the board?”

“Right,” Richard said.

Charlie stared intently across the room at Richard. He flared his nostrils.

"Outside!" Charlie demanded.



"What do you mean?" Richard whimpered a little as he spoke.

"Outside for the rest of the day!" barked Charlie. "You need to think about what you've done."

"But it's freezing out there," Richard whimpered. "It's almost snowing."

"Outside!" Charlie snapped. "Now! And no lunch, until you understand the bad thing you've done!"

Richard moped his way through the classroom to the door, head down, tongue hanging limply from his mouth.

The door slammed shut behind him as he stepped out into the cold.

Richard spent the rest of the day whimpering outside the door, pushing uselessly on the door, as if it would open
just because he was sad enough. It was no use.

He learned his lesson, though.

Charlie was sure of that.
-Peter Wick
January 15, 2020