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“The Word Problem,” from Humble Pi: The Role Mathematics Should Play in American Education. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1994. (Chapter 3, pp. 77-96)
Two trains leave at the same time but from different cities. One train is traveling west at 120 mph while the other is traveling east at 100 mph. Assuming the trains are traveling on opposite but parallel tracks, and the two cities from which they leave are 440 miles apart, how long will it take before they meet?
It seems that every time I mention the train problem, nervous laughter ensues. Practically everyone remembers the difficulties of doing word problems in high school math courses. Why are these problems so difficult and why do they evoke such bad memories? Do people have latent phobias about trains, perhaps caused by a primal archetype that even Jung overlooked? Read more…View/Print Adobe Acrobat File.