A few weeks ago, a friend of mine on Facebook told a little story of going through the drive-thru at a McDonalds. When he got to the window to pay, the young woman explained to him that she’d accidentally deleted his order, thus she didn’t know what he owed her. He told her it was $9.35, and handed her a $10 bill. She then told him she really sucked at math, and he had to tell her that she owed him 65 cents.
This little tale in which he questioned the intelligence of the next generation spawned a very long comment thread. Folks blamed teachers. Folks blamed society. Folks blamed the education system and teaching curriculums. They blamed the government in general.
And I sat there, feeling awfully dumb.
Guys, I hated math when I was a kid. HATED it. Spelling and phonics and English classes were more my gig. The only times-tables I know well are my 1’s, my 2’, my 5’s, my 10’s, and my 8’s – and that one only because my mom drilled the 8’s into my head so forcefully one evening that I could never forget them, even though I’ve tried.
I need a calculator to do math, plain and simple. Either that, or I use my fingers. Mental math is just not a skill that I’m strong at. In fact, I would say that I don’t have that skill at all.
And I’m from one of those generations when supposedly we were taught the basics, and teachers “knew what they were doing”. Go figure.
I was always more in to writing, reading, arts and crafts. But that’s normal, right? Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.
I don’t blame my elementary school teachers for failing me. Nor my high school teachers. Nor my parents (Lord KNOWS my mother tried!!) I just, quite simply, suck at math. I’m 30 years old, and I need a calculator to figure out simple addition and subtraction that others can whip off the top of their head in a split second.
I’m not proud of it. In fact, it’s quite embarrassing. Especially when someone comes in to pay an invoice with cash, and I have to grab a calculator to figure out their change. Or when someone says, “I need 6 dozen eggs”, and I then have to use my fingers to tick off my 2 times-tables to find that they owe me $12. (I’ve SEEN the raised eyebrows and smirks. I KNOW they think I’m stupid.)
But I’m not stupid. And I have all the documents to prove it!
I passed high school math, I graduated, went on to get a diploma in Liberal Arts, and vowed I would never, ever, ever use numbers again.
And then, I got a job in an accountant’s office.
It was there that I learned that I not only hate math, but that I also have a wonderful little quirk called ‘number dyslexia’. I transpose numbers all the time. And that was a very big issue when I was typing up financial statements in that accountant’s office…
But get this – they didn’t fire me! No, in fact, I quit to go work in another office! The Mountainview office, where I was offered a job with daily tasks involving payables, receivables, payroll, inventory, etc.
You got ‘er. Math, math, math, all the livelong day.
And I’ve been here for almost 10 years, and so far, I’ve managed to get by without big-time math skills. (although, I do recall the panic in Bill’s eyes when I casually mentioned a few months after starting that I have number dyslexia…)
I use a calculator, and an accounting program, and they do the hard parts for me. Imagine that. Someone surviving without the ability to do mental math?! Crazy!!!
I haven’t been in school in a long time, and I don’t have a child in school, so I have no idea what teachers are up to these days. I don’t know what curriculums they are teaching, or what the government is forcing them to teach. Maybe they are messing up the minds of our children big-time. I can’t say for sure.
But isn’t it quite possible that the young woman working at McD’s that day was like me and just, quite simply, sucks at math?
I don’t know if the next generation is in serious trouble; if they’re as dumb as doornails; if the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket.
All of that is quite possible, I suppose.
But I know if someone judged all of my generation on how slow I am at figuring out 6 x 7 without a calculator, then they’d probably already think the world is in deep, deep trouble. Thankfully, I happen to know a lot of kids in my class that were pretty awesome at math. (In fact, so awesome that they could have taught it better than the teacher did on many days.)
Personally, I give the thumbs up to that girl for having a job. And maybe Mickey D’s could just leave a calculator at that window to save her the trouble the next time she runs into a similar problem.
I know I would have needed it.