My father called me over one day when I was a second grader to explain to me that the world was not perfectly round. He said that scientists had proven that the poles were slightly flattened and the equator bulged due to the earth’s rotation. I listened with interest.
Several weeks later I was delighted with the opportunity to demonstrate my new-found knowledge. Ms. Stephenson gave the class a quiz on shapes, and I was eager to answer the following multiple choice question: The earth is: a) flat, b) round, c) oval, or d) none of the above. I confidently circled “none of the above.”
When I received my graded paper marked with a red X on that question, I was dismayed. Surely, Ms. Stephenson had missed the recent newspaper article that said that the earth was not a perfect sphere. At the first opportunity, I respectfully informed her of the earth’s true shape—squashed at the poles, bulging at the equator, appearing to the naked eye to be round, but not.
Ms.Stephenson listened, unsmilingly. “The correct answer,” she stated flatly, “is round.”
I waited in the driveway for Dad to come home from work that evening, and showed him the big, red X. I proposed that he contact my teacher, and explain how the earth was not marble round. Dad agreed that my answer was correct, but thought it best to drop the matter.
Years later, I read for myself that Isaac Newton was the first to suggest that the earth was not perfectly round. He calculated that the earth was an oblate spheroid. Now scientists track the shape of the earth by positioning thousands of Global Positioning System receivers on the ground. GPS technology verifies that the earth’s shape changes over time. Due to uneven mass distribution and gravitational pulls, the earth is not a perfect oblate spheroid, and can even be described as “bumpy.” So, the correct answer describing the shape of the earth is: e) a bumpy, slightly oblate spheroid.
Here’s what I learned that day: 1) teachers don’t know everything, 2) listen to children (sometimes they do know things),and c) my daddy knows everything.