Humanity’s greatest invention, according to seventh grade students


When I read that Ecologist Magazine is co-sponsoring an essay contest on the topic What is Humanity’s worst Invention?, it reminded me of a related essay exercise assigned to seventh-graders by a friend of mine. The students (typically thirteen years of age) were given the topic What is humanity’s greatest invention or discovery? Here are some of the greatest inventions and discoveries of all time, according to these students:

pencils airplanes vaccines refrigerators
pets craftsman tools steam engines iPods
alarm clocks laptops shoes transportation
computers microbes medicine microphones
tomatoes cars light bulbs batteries
fire hair products toilets spear tips
marrying a princess incandescent light

Some sentences written in support of these claims:

  • The invention of the light bulb has literally shed light on the world.
  • The first car ever invented was the Mercedes around the early 1800s.
  • You might have to actually wash the plates (without electricity).
  • The car was first invented by Harrison Ford.
  • the one thing that makes nerds drool when they here [sic] it’s [sic] name: videogames
  • We all know that IPODS have a great deal of greatness.
  • A light bulb comes with a switch to turn it off.
  • All they had to eat was tin biscuits.
  • What if someone discovers a machine to make you love forever? You couldn’t have that without electricity!
  • The light bolb helps in menny dirfpeant ways.
  • This realy cool pen could wright and use the couckulater
  • Wagons can have horses pull them while riding in them.
  • It can be used for evel porpoises such as bombs.
  • Thomas Edison was a very smart, experimental man.
  • Cars make it possible for people to have space time.
  • Without electricity, housework would take all day!
  • The computer has easily beat out the dog in the man’s best friend race these days.
  • The riders are throwing themselves off cliffs and hitting trees. These are happy people.
  • The catskane will be even more helpful in the furter.
  • Many school assignments would be close to impossible, or even cancelled if computers were never invented.
  • The airplane was invented by the Write brothers.
  • When the austronaughts go up into the bitch black space.
  • Without these things (electricicity) there wouldn’t be a AC/DC or Led Zeppelin and that would be torture.
  • If you forgot to make your mom a birthday cake, you would need a light bulb to read the recipe
  • Back then the only domesticated animals were calvary, poultry and livestock.
  • Cars are good because they are the fastest way in and out for the C.I.A.
  • The tomato, I believe is a harmless fruit that has been around for hundreds of years.
  • When the cavemen were around they probably didn’t stress good hygine, but they did likely emphasize beauty. Cavemen and women used bones from animals as hair rollers or ornaments and used animal fat for gel in their hair.
  • If you open your heart to a cat and love it forever, it will eventually love you back.

That last one is my favorite. There’s something poetic about it.

Update 1pm: It should have gone without saying that these are hardly representative samples of the students’ work but rather the most amusing ones.

Comments (42)
  1. Adam says:

    "The tomato, I believe is a harmless fruit that has been around for hundreds of years."

    Never seen "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes"

    Tomatoes my friend are NOT harmless!

  2. I really hope these people aren’t from my country.

  3. Space cadet says:

    "When the austronaughts go up into the bitch black space"

    :-) Wonderful! "Bitch black space" is going to be my favourite phrase to try and slip into conversations now.

    But are the "austronaughts" Australian or Austrian? Enquiring minds…

  4. JEff says:

    Space Cadet–

    They’re niether! It’s AustroNAUGHTS, so they’re nothing!

  5. Don says:

    I second Justin’s comment, "I really hope these people aren’t from my country." I would expect 13 year olds to have a decent grasp of their native language and I would think that they could come up with a better answer than iPods (no matter how cool they are), spear tips, hair products, and marrying a princess (marrying a princess…. are you kidding me…do you even understand the concept of the question….oh nevermind)

  6. Kära Raymond,

    I refer you to Carl Sagan’s "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark." In Chapter 20 of the book, Sagan examines some of the correspondence he received after writing an article in Parade Magazine criticizing the decline of educational standards in the United States. A high school teacher in Minnesota handed out copies of Sagan’s article to his class and asked his students to write feedback to Sagan. Here are but two examples, quoted verbatim:

    "Not a Americans are stupid We just rank lower in school big deal."

    "If we are so far behind, how come Michael Gorbachev came to Minnesota and Montana to Control Data to see how we run are computers and thing?"

    Yes, indeed: you just rank lower in school, so what’s the big deal, dude? I cannot believe that you have high school students like this. As an educated person living in Scandinavia, I would like to put forward the observation that the United States is doomed.

    By the way, the greatest invention of the past 500 years is electricity, for reasons which should be obvious. (Well, perhaps "marrying a princess" is even more significant than electricity. I dunno. Big deal.)

  7. Asd says:

    I see no mention of it having to be in the last 500 years.

    So the unarguably correct answer is written language.

  8. Steve says:

    Doomed? Do you write that on your IBM computer as you sit there in your Levis and listen to American music while driking a Coke?

    Muuuuhaaaaahahahahahahahah!

    Yeah, we’re doomed, keep telling yourself that ;)

  9. Fede says:

    Mr. PISA Study: I agree with you,…but electricity is not an invention, is a discovery; I would say that the light bulb is the greatest invention; personally I think that Gutemberg’s printing press is the greatest one. The light bulb just allows you to read all night long keeping your eyes in better health than reading with candle light.

  10. John C. says:

    Asd beat me to it, so I’ll second his/her nomination of written language.

  11. Brian Kemp says:

    How about spoken language? :)

  12. Gordo says:

    "The computer has easily beat out the dog in the man’s best friend race these days."

    And you don’t even have to clean up after it.

  13. RonO says:

    Fede,

    Raymond’s post mentions these are responses to the question "What is humanity’s greatest invention or discovery?" Electricity counts as a valid answer. Whether this subjective answer actually /is/ the greatest invention or discovery is still debatable, of course. :)

  14. Puckdropper says:

    Humanity’s greatest invention or discovery is the triangle.

    It’s easy to make, very strong, and when used right can be very aesthetically pleasing. Language is great, but you can express geometry without words.

    Next greatest… The circle.

  15. IPreferBeef says:

    If you are kind to a dog for a day, he’ll remember you for three years.

    If you are kind to a cat for three years, she’ll forget you in a day.

    I’m not sure, but the couckulator sounds important to me…

  16. Dror says:

    Steve,

    doesn’t my IBM actually belong to Lenovo? And wasn’t Elvis actually an alien? And who says I actually listen to American music? (OK, I admit it, I absolutely do)

  17. James Schend says:

    Humanity’s worst invention?

    Lotus Notes, by a longshot. I might be a bit biased, though, being forced to support that lumbering beast every damned day.

  18. Chris Moorhouse says:

    A quick quote from Mr. Carlin, though I doubt he was the first, or only, person to say this:

    "Don’t forget that, by and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth."

    Our greatest discovery by far is our ability to consciously accept life as it comes to us. Animals accept life because they have no choice. Somewhere along the line, we [humanity] became intelligent enough to realize that we could change the course of our own lives, and we’ve been fighting life ever since with all our innovation. Yet somehow, we don’t seem to be any happier for it on the whole. The thing that seems to make us happiest: to just sit back and fully accept the things we cannot change. I wonder who first discovered that we could do that?

  19. android says:

    Kids today aren’t so bright. When I was a kid, we knew this instinctually. Fire and knives, no question about it. That’s why we were always getting our butts beat for lighting stuff on fire or playing with knives. If I’m deserted on a desert island with no chance of rescue, I don’t want a damn iPod, triangle or a written language. They’re not going to increase my life expectancy one bit. But give me a knife and some fire, and I could die of old age or boredom.

    Tossing out the rather silly responses above, most the remaining can be categorized based on whether they are a fire or knife derivative.

    Fire:

    steam engines

    cars (internal combustion)

    light bulbs

    incandescent light

    refrigerators (based on thermodynamics)

    Knife:

    pencils

    craftsman tools

    spear tips

    The remaining are

    Chemistry:

    vaccines

    medicine

    batteries

    hair products

    Transistor/Integrated circuit:

    iPods

    laptops

    computers

    Complex Machinery:

    alarm clocks

    airplanes

    microphones

    transportation

    toilets

    Other:

    pets

    shoes

    microbes

    tomatoes

    marrying a princess

  20. Brian Duffy says:

    "As an educated person living in Scandinavia, I would like to put forward the observation that the United States is doomed."

    There is no shortage of idiots in Norway and Sweden. Of course in Scandinavia, those people stay at home on the dole and smoke weed all day. In the US, we put them in charge of major corporations.

  21. Tim says:

    ‘IBM computer’?

    Hmmm…I’ll just check all the ‘Made in USA’ labels on my American computer’s components…hey, wait a second… ;-)

    Seriously, as Raymond pointed out/hinted at, taking the dumbest comments of a bunch of students and using them to extrapolate what students are like in the US is a bit, well, dumb.

  22. jeffdav says:

    Android: Can’t we reclassify everything under Chemistry, Complex Machinery and IC as "Mathematics"?

  23. No Wizard says:

    In the beginning, there was Mathematics.

    Physics is applied Math.

    Chemistry is applied Physics.

    Everthing else is applied Chemistry.

  24. Tim Smith says:

    Actually, first there was applied geometry/physics. Math was developed to better understand and define the geometry.

  25. 11inch says:

    I miss pr0n on that list.

  26. I.P. Overscsi says:

    @Fede

    To pick nits, one of the meanings of "invention" is "to discover". See <http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=invention&gt;

  27. Dean Harding says:

    See, the thing about America is that there’s so many Americans. With 300 million of the buggers, the brightest will be pretty darn bright, but also the dumbest will be pretty darn dumb.

    Anyway, as to the greatest invention/discovery ever, I’d second the knife (or spear tip as the kids pointed out, it’s basically the same thing).

  28. Ragesoss says:

    Maybe some arithmetic before geometry… but as for the rest, definitely geometry before math.

    But electricity, that was easy. The tesla coil, that’s the key invention of the 19th/20th centuries. Makes all our high-voltage, interesting electronics possible. That and the transistor.

    But overall, I might be tempted to say the air pump is the most important invention in history. (Prehistorical inventions like language aside). It might not seem like much, but it was crucial in establishing experimental science as a valid way of creating knowledge.

  29. I’m gonna have to go with printing press, too.

  30. Derek Becker says:

    My knowledge of agriculture is limited but I suspect that without it we would not have communities large enough to foster/neccesitate the creation/discovery of all our other achievments (i.e. I cant think of any hunter gatherer (human) societies that have competed successfully). So I propose that tools and techniques such as the plough and irrigation, and whatever else they used to place seeds in the ground to power the "agricultural revolution", had the greatest effect on our development as a species. Once you got food in your belly you can sit around wondering why the stars shine.

  31. :: Wendy :: says:

    I love the ‘experimental man’. If he met an experiemental gal would that make their kids earlier or later prototypes?

  32. There is no doubt that the United States has its share of bright people, as is obvious from this blog or the number of American Nobel laureates. I have American relatives who I consider pretty smart, and they’re all worried about the same thing: educational standards are in decline, but the majority of Americans seems indifferent to it. That’s, like, a bad thing, dude. I once met an American computer programmer who had a college education but didn’t know the difference between the U.K. and the E.U. (The person in question was a Lotus Notes specialist, so perhaps that explains it.)

    And yes, having lived almost all my life in Scandinavia, I can tell you that some of the people here are indeed insanely dumb. Even if you don’t believe in IQ tests, it’s hard to deny that a median IQ of 98 means that the population is not that bright on average. And even though there are other aspects of intelligence than mathematical aptitude, around one-third of the population is unable to learn how to solve an equation such as "x+2=3x-12", which more or less means that they’re idiots. There is a large group of adults unable to calculate the number of seconds in an hour. Oh, the humanity!

  33. Homer says:

    Mmmm…donuts…

  34. Stephen Jones says:

    The kids seem fairly bright and clued-up to me; their comments don’t seem any stupider than many of the comments here.

    I have heard it said that the only two inventions that had brought no harm to humanity were the light bulb and the bicycle.

    The don who stated it evidently wasn’t an astronomer, and considering that he lived in Cambridge he mustn’t have gone out much, or he would soon have crossed the bicylce off his list as well.

  35. Fabian says:

    Recently marking a stack of first year university students, I had a wonderful description of collaborative systems:

    "Collaboration is very important and allows you to get a lot of work done quickly. For example, with collaboration, you can build a house in a day."

    Sign me up.

    And my favourite:

    "The Roses Only website has to be current, as roses die quickly!"

  36. Will says:

    "Marrying a princess" is indeed a great invention of the literary mind! :-)

    (I managed it, if she’s reading)

    My vote goes for agriculture.

  37. GAThrawn says:

    android: "If I’m deserted on a desert island with no chance of rescue, I don’t want a damn iPod, triangle or a written language. They’re not going to increase my life expectancy one bit. But give me a knife and some fire, and I could die of old age or boredom."

    Maybe true about most of your list, but I think that if you try building yourself a shelter on your desert island, or building yourself a raft to escape on, or making a fishing net out of sticks and old clothing, then you may well find that a triangle comes in very handy, will add an awful lot of strength to whatever you’re making and will indeed increase your life expectancy.

    Personally my votes for the greatest inventions would be for either the lever, or standing upright for extended periods.

    The lever for obvious reasons, its one of the basic machines that most complex machinery is based on, and an awful lot of other inventions wouldn’t even be imaginable without it. Obviously something like fire would be almost as good a nomination here.

    As for standing upright, it freed our hands from the business of locomotion and allowed us to start on the path that led to modern humanity.

  38. jdm says:

    "The light bolb helps in menny dirfpeant ways." …the ability to see what you are writing down; one of the many benefits.

  39. jdm says:

    These are only kids, people, lighten up.

  40. More gems from seventh graders.

  41. I read this from Raymond , which prompted this post. To qualify for greatness, an invention would have

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