09 February 2009

Straight From the Horse's Mouth

This week I introduced my students to the Scientific Revolution. It took some time to convince them that the Scientific Revolution was not a war, but rather the introduction of a radical new idea: the Scientific Method. They were disappointed until I assured them that some people were killed during the Scientific Revolution. The Catholic Church wasn’t really happy about losing their position as the only source of all knowledge and so made a habit of burning scientists at the stake. Mentioning the inquisition was sufficient to convince them that the Scientific Revolution might actually be interesting. With that introduction I decided to teach them the scientific method the same way that Francis Bacon first introduced the idea in 1620 and explained to them the problem of the number of teeth in a horse’s mouth.

While greatly oversimplified, the lesson goes something like this. In 1620 only two sources of information and knowledge were recognized: 1) the writings of the Great Aristotle, and 2) the Bible. One day a man wondered how many teeth were in a horse’s mouth. The question perplexed him for some time, and finally he decided it was worth some investigation. First he read the complete works of Aristotle. After many days of study he was disappointed to find that the Great Aristotle had not settled the question. The man then went to his second source. Surely the bible could answer his question. After reading the entire Old and New Testaments he found that the Bible in fact did not shed any light on the number of teeth in a horse’s mouth. Therefore the man came to the conclusion that the amount of teeth found in a horse’s mouth was unattainable knowledge. It was one of the great mysteries that man could never solve. The answer to his question was beyond the grasp of human understanding.

At this point my students, being the post-Renaissance thinkers that they are, adamantly declared that this man was stupid. I explained to them that this was Francis Bacon’s point. He wanted people to see that they could learn things through their own observation and experimentation, i.e. the Scientific Method. My kids really got into this idea and wanted to design an experiment to determine the number of teeth in a horse’s mouth. I expected someone to suggest simply finding a horse and counting its teeth, but they had some more adventurous ideas.

1st period wanted to have the horse bite my arm after which they would count the number of puncture wounds in my skin.

2nd period decided that they should shoot the horse and then count the number of teeth that it had.

3rd period wanted to make a mold of the horse’s mouth much like a dentist would to make a retainer. This experiment served two purposes: first the number of teeth could be accurately determined without exposing me to the risk of infectious disease, and second a fashionable grill could then be made for the horse.

5th period thought that rather than shooting the horse they could just tranquilize it prior to counting the number of teeth. I suspect that this class might have been influenced by the PETA. I did have to explain the word tranquilize to half of the class, but once they knew what it meant they thought it was a good idea.

6th period was the most thorough class. One kid suggested chopping the head off of the horse to count the teeth. This significantly distressed one of my special education students who asked “but Miss, what if the horse we chose lost a tooth or something? Then we would get the wrong answer.” Another of my students allayed her fears by suggesting that they could chop the heads off of three horses and take an average. That answer satisfied her.

For those of you who care horses have between 36 and 44 teeth by the time they are five years old.


Justin said...

if i ever have a horse, it will definitely have a fashionable grill.

Paily said...

Oh, friend, how I miss your stories. You make me happy, yo.