said Alice, as she continued falling down the rabbit hole. She passed shelves full of empty marmalade jars and books with titles like Exemplary Student Work in Elementary School Mathematics. She took one down and leafed through it, but it was full of photocopies of looseleaf notebook paper covered in messy handwriting and misspellings. She replaced it on the shelf carefully, lest it fall and kill someone walking down below.
“I wonder if I’ve reached the center of the Earth yet,” she said to herself out loud. “If the diameter of the Earth is roughly 8,000 miles, then it will be 4,000 miles to the center. The acceleration due to gravity is about 10 meters per second, per second. So at the end of the first second, I’d be falling at 10 meters per second, at the end of the second second, I’d be falling at 20 meters per second, and so on. If it’s been ten minutes I’ve been falling- that’s 600 seconds- I’d be traveling at 6,000 meters per second, or six kilometers per second, which is a little less than 4 miles per second, and would be getting close to half-way down to the center of the Earth. It certainly doesn’t seem as if I’m traveling so fast,” as another shelf leisurely passed her shoulder, “so perhaps there’s some kind of terminal velocity, like with skydivers, only-”
“STOP!” squeaked a small voice from her left foot. She looked down and saw a mouse sitting on her foot and waggling its whiskers at her with disapproving, bright mouse eyes. Alice started to shriek in horror, but noticed that the mouse was wearing a tailored blue pant-suit, and stopped. The mouse continued, “How do you know all of that?”
“All of what?”
“About the earth and the speed and the-”
“Well, I think I read in a book that the Earth is about 8,000 miles across,” said Alice, “and…”
“Yes, but how do you know that 4,000 is half of 8,000?”
“Because four is half of eight…?”
“Ah, now we are getting somewhere,” said the mouse, and produced a tiny dry erase board and marker from the pockets of the blue pant suit. “I was enjoying a little bit of marmalade as you passed by, and I could not help but hear you making calculations without a proper understanding of what you were saying. Now, we’re almost there-”
“To the center of the Earth,” said Alice in excitement. “But shouldn’t it be getting warmer in that case?”
“No, not there, we’ll never get there,” said the mouse. “Almost to a proper understanding of what we are doing!”
“Falling?” said Alice in concern.
“MATHEMATICAL PROBLEM SOLVING!” shrieked the mouse in such piercing tones that Alice had to stop herself from kicking the pantsuited mouse from her foot in dismay.
“Quora, Quora, Quora,” came another, slightly more gruff but still squeaky voice from Alice’s right foot,”must you frighten the poor child so? I do apologize for my sister,” and Alice saw that on her right foot was another mouse with more unkempt whiskers in a tweed jacket with elbow patches.
“Who is Quora?” said Alice. “The website where everyone asks how to get a million dollars in three weeks?”
“My sister hasn’t introduced herself, I see. This is Quommon Quora,” said the tweed-wearing mouse, “and I am Tradicionomismo. Thank you for letting us stand on your shoes.”
“Delighted,” said Alice. She didn’t curtsy- because who curtsies? but she tried to make a small bow with her head, which was difficult given that she was staring at her shoes.
“In any case, as I was saying when I was so rudely interrupted,” said Quora, “it’s no good you solving the problem when you can’t explain how you are solving it.”
“But I was explaining- to myself at any rate,” objected Alice.
“Yes, but…” and here Quora began making checkmarks on the tiny dry erase board with the marker, “let’s say you had made a diagram of the Earth like so, and had shown the first 10 meters per second on the diagram like this, and then shown a larger speed with each passing second, and then by the end of the tenth second we would have a bar one hundred units tall,” the mouse made a line across the entire dry erase board, “wouldn’t that be clearer?”
“Maybe to you,” said Alice, “I’ve never been all that good with diagrams.”
“Aha, but isn’t it true, ” continued Quora, tossing the dry erase marker and board to the side and producing a booklet (from her pocket or from one of the passing shelves? Alice was never afterwards sure) with the title “Practice Guide for Mathematical Problem Solving, US Department of Education”on the front. “Isn’t it true that true understand arises from not only being able to narrate your own problem-solving processes but to employ multiple competing strategies and evaluate their utility individually?”
“I’m sorry, but that all sounds impossibly difficult,” said Alice. “I just wanted to know when I would reach the center of the Earth.”
“You have not yet experienced the Working World,” Quora replied (Alice somehow knew that the words were being capitalized), “but during my time at Mousekinsey, we often were put into teams that had to develop as many as seven impossible strategies before breakfast. It was an intense growth phase for my career.”
“What my sister is saying, I believe” said Tradicionomismo, “is that right answers are less important than the ability to explain how you got the wrong ones.”
“Multiple problem-solving strategies, communicated through multiple technologically-enriched tools, pushes the envelope of success,” pronounced Quora with a flourish of her tiny hand.
“She and I have been arguing about this for quite some time. I’m afraid that I’ve rather given up on convincing her on these matters,” said Tradicionomismo. “In any case, I believe this is our stop.” And the two mice jumped off Alice’s feet, each in opposite directions, immediately before Alice fell quite softly into a pile of leaves. The two mice were nowhere to be seen.
“What strange creatures one meets,” said Alice, “when falling down rabbit holes. I suppose I must have reached a rather low terminal velocity after all.”
And then she began to look around.