Friday, June 06, 2008

trains and curriculum

I just rode the old narrow gauge railroad here next to Yosemite Park. I was thrilled. It made me think about how much I think my kids should know that they don't.

They don't know how a steam engine works. How wood, coal, or oil is used to heat the boiler and the steam is used to drive pistons. The pistons then turn the drive shaft which drives the wheels. In this case, since it's for an engine that goes up and down hills, it drives all 12 wheels on the locomotive. My daughter (14) didn't even know the words gauge, turbine, or pistons.

I remember a story I heard from long ago that the North and South of the US had train tracks built around different gauge railroad tracks. After the Civil War, as a commitment to rebuilding the Union, the North organized the rebuilding of one side's tracks so that trains could easily cover the nation from north to south. I only heard this story once and wonder if it's true.

Should kids know something about how engines work? I think it's more important than chemical valences in terms of understanding and appreciating the world around us. Yet valences are part of the educational standards: understanding a steam locomotive is not.

Who makes up these rules?


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