Seated beside me on a flight from Chicago to Las Vegas last week was a longtime teacher named Karen. She retired from full-time teaching a couple of years ago, but now works part time in a small school district in northern Indiana. She teaches only two first-year French classes to mostly high school freshman students. She loves her job and was headed for a break with her husband, a fully retired schoolteacher.
Karen pulled out a stack of tests and showed me something that I can’t fathom. One thing she tests is time-telling, which seems to be a pretty handy thing to know in any language. The unbelievable part was that several parents of her students asked her to only give the "what time is this?" part of the quiz in digital format, like 12:45, and to not show the face of a clock with minute and hour hands. The reason: the children don’t know how tell time this way. Not in English. Not in French. Not in any language.
I couldn’t believe it. Karen agreed with me, but relented, removing the clock faces from the forms.
I’d heard stories a few years ago of kids not knowing how to place phone calls using a rotary phone. I guess that is understandable, as the phone dial has gone the way of the sundial. But to not know how to read the hands of an analog clock? Come on, folks. Parents should be ashamed.
Educators should keep teaching clock faces, as I don’t see "half-past 12" or "quarter after three" going away anytime soon. Big Ben still has four giant, round clock faces, and the hands of time will be tick-tocking for what I hope is a long, long time.
I searched for some time-telling teaching Web sites, and found this one to be one of the friendliest and simplest:
I challenge everyone to ask their kids to prove they can read the hands of a clock. If not, send them to this site and help them master the "5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, 60" circuit around the clock.
Once they master the minutes, the "a.m." or "p.m." part will be simple.