I often wonder what happened to math in America. I know I had my own trouble with it when I was in school. They always wanted you to follow some method of reaching the answer and show how you reached the answer. Even if you got the right answer, if you didn’t go at it the right way you were wrong.
I realize that we were taught these approaches to aid us in developing a sense of reasoning and help us learn to solve problems.
I greatly admire those underpaid, under supported patriots of education, our teachers. I know many of them took their time to help me through some tough subjects. I have seen first hand, as I have spoken to children around the country, teachers going above and beyond to help out a student. So, please do not take what I am about to talk about as a commentary on the ability of teachers.
I recently went into one of those grocery stores that gives you a card. They scan it before ringing up the things you are buying. If you watch those prices closely as they ring items up, this store is particularily frustrating because the register shows the full price and then shows the deduction for their store savings.
After watching all the prices, the tally had overcharged me around one dollar and twelve cents. I then proceeded to customer service where I shared with them my problem.
I had bought six or twelve of one item which was on discount and one other item. Adding the cost up in my head, I told the clerk what it was suppose to be plus whatever the tax was in that county. This figure subtracted from what I paid the cashier would have been the amount of my refund. The next twenty minutes involved two clerks and either an assistant manager or store manager. They all took the figures I had given them from my head and repeatedly added them up on their calculator. In the end they gave me a refund of over two dollars.
Inspite of my attempts to convince them they didn’t owe me that much, I could not convince them. I even took a piece of paper, wrote the numbers down and added them for them. I finally took the refund and went on my way. I figure that twenty minutes must be worth that extra little bit.
Unfortunately, what I have just described is a sad trend all across our country. Folks just don’t seem to be able to do basic everyday math problems without the aid of a calculator or cash register. How many times have you walked into a store to buy a candy bar or something, handed the cashier a dollar, and they had difficulty figuring out your change. Now, I’m not saying that we all have to be math genuises.
My granddad Bill was a farmer most of his life. He went west and was a cowboy in the late 1800’s. If he went to school, it was the school of life. When it came to the math he needed to raise cattle and hogs, grow and sell crops, buy and sell land, in his head he could figure better than most accountants could with a calculator.
When I was little, my parents made sure I could add, subtract, multiply and divide before they even sent me off to first grade. So those are tools I carry with me. These basics at times were a disadvantage to me in those previously mentioned math problems which required a certain method to be followed. But all in all I owe my parents and teachers a great debt of giving me the basics.
Maybe folks just depend to much upon calculators. It is easier. I use them myself, but usually just to double check my own solution when adding a chain of numbers. In recent years, I have found myself doubting my own answers derived from figuring in my head. Not that I’ve been wrong that much, but the calculator is so much easier. And it’s never wrong. Just look how well it worked at that grocery store. If I could just find another 999,999 clerks using calculators like that, I could retire.