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Old Math – New Math – No Math

June 16, 2017

If you follow this blog regularly, you know that I am a semi-geezer who is chiseled from the stone of another era. I have a strong reverence for the 1950’s and 1960’s which polished my rough facets into a finished urban American.

I come from a time when the Three R’s were standard fare in public schools and I have benefited greatly from my education. While all three are woefully lacking in today’s education system, it is the third R – ‘rithmatic that seems to have been completely lost in its various manifestations over the years.

As you have probably guessed, I hail from a time when math was the old math: You know, the kind that made sense and was actually used on a daily basis. I was once a paperboy some six decades ago and I remember being able to make change for any dollar amount without employing a calculator or cell phone. It was pretty basic stuff actually! I have gone through life using my old math just fine. I can use basic algebra and trigonometry to build things, figure the mileage in my car and just about any other task that requires math. I am a poster child for the old math.

When my son was in school, the dawn of the new math was upon us. I learned it as well, mainly to correct homework but also to maintain my mind up to date. After all, no one wants to have a brain with an expiration date that has been exceeded. I was okay with both old math and new math but I practiced the antique version more out of habit than anything else.

And then a strange thing happened. As the years progressed, I noticed that young people working as cashiers in markets and stores had become completely bereft of math skills. I once gave a stunned youngster a ten dollar bill and 16 cents for a purchase that came to $4.16 and was met with a vacuous stare for over a minute. Finally, the youth queried, “What are you doing dude?” The fact that I am not a dude aside, I gently explained that I was trying to make the transaction simpler so he could just give me back bills sans the change. Youth interrupted still didn’t get what I was doing so I finally gasped, “Christ, just give me six bucks!” He immediately complied but in such a manner as to convince me I could have asked for 50 bucks and it would have been the same to him.

This scene was repeated many, many times over the years to the point where I now don’t want to embarrass anyone so I just hand them a bill and wait for them to have the computerized cash register figure it all out for them. My pockets have become heavier in the process and I am still at a loss as to what happened to math in our world.

Occasionally I will be greeted by a cashier roughly my age. After all in today’s world people have to world into their eighties just to stay alive. With a knowing wink and a nod, I will slip them the even change. They make the transaction correctly and sometimes say, “Oh, you took the old math too!”

We’ve gone from old math to new math to no math. How would one ever compute the ratio of Facebook friends to phone contacts? As this old mather would say: Bummer!

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17 Comments
  1. Dude! It’s a zero sum game, man. Far out! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on allenrizzi and commented:

    What a world!

    Like

  3. People can no longer figure the reciprocal of any number from 100. Sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beyond sad. As a former high school teacher and university professor I am appalled that the U.S. is ranked 27th to 30th in math worldwide.

      Like

  4. It’s technology usage replacing brain usage. The same thing happens with history and philosophy; a Wiki-reading Googler thinks he knows the subject matter just as well as the geezer who lived through some history and followed a philosophy.

    Although I still laugh at myself because, at the tender age of 32 I got my first cashier job, and I had an episode in which I couldn’t do math. I rang up a purchase, took the man’s cash, and started counting his change; then he decided to change the denomination to break a larger bill. For the life of me, I couldn’t do it and sent him to the service desk. I still remember the look on his face when I apologized. To be fair, I worked two jobs and it was late, but my manager still laughed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’ve all been there. In college I worked two and sometimes three jobs to make ends meet. There was no free lunch back then. However to be fair, I was a math major in high school.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. LOL. As a market researcher, I used to calculate results mentally much to the dismay of my execs…
    My wife is a chemist, does research and teaching at the U. Her students, freshmen use a calculator to multiply by ten… (And they will get a chemistry degree). She sometimes comes home and tells me she will shoot them.)
    How are you faring with the quarantine?
    Best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fortunately we have been in the U.S. for several months. Unfortunately, our return tickets to Italy have been “embargoed” (their words, not mine) so our return is tenuous.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Some kids would be smart enough to just enter $10.16 and let the computer give the correct change answer, hehe. I hope the pandemic gets under control sooner rather than later, all the best!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve heard the word “embargo” on another blog. Just another example of lack of vocabulary on part of “authorities”. Problem is Trump has just cancelled all flights from Europe. What about those TO Europe… Madness.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, if you are in the US, maybe you can stay a while. No pressing matters in Italy?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Ci mancherebbero solo vino, caffè e grappa. (Medicina contro il virus Corona). 🍷😎

        Liked by 1 person

      • Salute. 🍷🍷🍷

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Unfortunately nowadays young people can perform even the simplest calculations only by means of a calculator

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have had similar experiences and, most of the time, just hand over a bill, instead of trying to “make it easier.” ☹

    Liked by 1 person

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