A teacher at a school in Bangkok was left red-faced on Friday after a student asked him a question about algebra that he could not answer.
Moys Kenwood, 49, was teaching a Science lesson, during the course of which, the name 'Albert Einstein' came up. The teacher mentioned Einstein's 'Theory of Relativity', E=mc2, quite pleased with himself for having remembered it. One of the students, however, was about to pull the rug from under him.
The boy, aged 11, asked him:
"Teacher, what is the use of algebra? I mean, aside from generating confusion, distaste and unease amongst mathematics students."
Kenwood, at a loss, stalled for time, and asked the boy:
"What do you mean?"
"Well," said the youth, "it seems to me, that the use of algebra might only benefit certain tiny, finite sections of the society after the age of 16, and is largely useless to the vast majority of people who might have preferred to have done woodwork, cooking, or used the school gymnasium to better effect."
Kenwood glanced at his watch; it was nearly time for the bell to ring. Could he spin out some answer that would satisfy this boy's quest for enlightenment about a subject on which he, himself, had no knowledge to impart? More importantly, could he waste enough time over it, so that the bell might rescue him? He said:
"Algebra has a variety of uses."
"Please name one," said boy, undaunted.
The room became very cold, and the only sounds that could be heard were those of Kenwood's heart trying to get out of his chest, and a fly buzzing around the room. All eyes regarded Kenwood. The fly landed, and then went airborne again. A car honked its horn. The teacher wanted to cry, wanted to go home, wanted his mommy.
Suddenly, he had a flash of inspiration:
"Your homework is, to find a use for algebra," he said, pleased with himself.
As the school bell rang for the break, the inquisitive boy approached the teacher, and asked him if he wouldn't mind explaining E=mc2.