What Is A Platonic Solid?

There is a television game show called “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?” I’ve always felt I was, so I have never bothered to watch it.

My niece turned 14 last weekend, so naturally there was a family gathering. When our family get together talk invariably turns to school, and she was asked what she has been learning. In the course of that discussion I discovered I am definitely a lot less smart than an eighth grader. I hadn’t a clue what a platonic solid was. I made an assumption, but it turns out that despite the name it isn’t two objects that are merely good friends.

Perhaps the curriculum has changed. Or the terminology. I think though it is most likely that I learned the material back in eighth grade (or around there) and have just forgotten it. Since I didn’t need to put that knowledge into practice there was no need for my brain to retain the information.

Now at least I know, though how long I will remember is questionable. According to Wikipedia, “In three-dimensional space, a Platonic solid is a regular, convex polyhedron. It is constructed by congruent regular polygonal faces with the same number of faces meeting at each vertex. Five solids meet those criteria, and each is named after its number of faces.” That still sounds pretty much like gobbledygook to me.

My niece actually explained it better than that, though right now I don’t remember her exact words. Something about three faces of an object meeting at a common point, such as in a cube. The thing is though, I don’t need geometrical terms in my day to day life (and yes I know I use geometry but in a practical not theoretical sense). So in the not too distant future it is quite possible I will forget what a Platonic solid is. I don’t need to know.

That got me to thinking about all the other things I learned once that I haven’t used since I left school. Primary school, secondary school, university – here are things at each level that I needed to know to pass that I haven’t used since, and as a result I am sure I would need a refresher course before attempting them.

I was quite good in Algebra, but it has been more than 40 years since I was last confronted with a quadratic equation. I suspect I would lose that mathematical battle should someone hand me a sheet of paper and say “solve this!”(Though I hope I could pick it up quickly if I had to, and that mastery would be easier this time around).

It is not just Math and Sciences that have atrophied in my brain through disuse. My French language skills are much weaker than when I was a teenager (primarily through lack of linguistic exercise) and my Latin is probably weaker still, though I can usually puzzle out inscriptions on monuments. My knowledge of Geography has probably vanished also, though in my defense I should point out that about half of the world’s countries weren’t around when I as in school, so it is not surprising I have difficulty finding them on a map.

I don’t feel bad that I didn’t know or couldn’t remember what a platonic solid was. I am still smart enough to look things up if I need to. The idea of primary and secondary education is to give a general grounding in areas that might be of interest later in life. If I decide that my next career is to be a rocket scientist then I will reacquire the necessary math skills. It can’t be that hard, can it?


One comment

  1. Exactly. You said it, in your last paragraph. We are in no shortage of information and access now. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look and knowing what to do with it once we have it. =)

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