Education Commentary

Take Note

May 12, 1999 1 min read

Metric accountability

Who says success can’t be sweet? Noelle Ruggiero, an Eastchester, N.Y., 8th grader, measures it in metric terms.

The Eastchester Middle School student caught a mistake last fall on the metric labeling of a packet of Sweet ‘N Low, and held the manufacturer of the artificial sweetener accountable. The detective work was part of her beat on the “metric patrol,” an earth science project dreamed up by her teacher, JulieAnn Hugick.

Noelle discovered that the sweetener’s label read “1G” of sweetener. But a capital G is the abbreviation for gigabyte, not gram. So she fired off a letter to the folks at Sweet ‘N Low in New York City. Sure enough, Abraham L. Banal, a consultant for Sweet ‘N Low, wrote back assuring her that the label would be corrected to read “1g.”

And he sent her a T-shirt featuring the sugar substitute’s familiar pink package.

Not all of her classmates, who were assigned to scour the shelves of the local grocery store looking for metric abuses, were so lucky.

“Most kids got back a form letter,” Ms. Hugick said.

Others were faced with flat-out denial. A California company that makes vitamins sold in drug stores wrote a letter to Noelle’s classmate Michael Guccione maintaining that the abbreviation for milligram “could be in any format: Mg., MG, or mg.”

The persistent student wrote to the U.S. Metric Association, a Northridge, Calif.-based nonprofit organization, and got the straight story. The group’s executive director, Valerie Antoine, wrote that “our U.S. government’s packaging and labeling law and the United States metric system standard mandate that lowercase letters and capital letters may not be used interchangeably for metric symbols.”

There were other victories. A Florida company acknowledged that the “GR” on its glue-stick labels was not the correct abbreviation for gram and sent student Christopher Orth a pack of decorated pencils for catching the error.

--Michelle Galley

A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 1999 edition of Education Week as Take Note