Thursday, February 06, 2014

I do math on my fingers. I need a calculator. So sue me.

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.


Stacy said...

I remember in Grade 1 i am pretty sure we were counting blocks and Cheerios - as a parent of a Grade 1, I have a hard time with the terminology she is learning. She is doing geometry and symmetry and she is doing statistics and equations, its bizarre that they are learning this advanced stuff so young. Maddy is very good in math and loves math. you can give her two random numbers and ask her to do addition and she spits out the number. She has a great memory and I think she is going to do well in Math (i hope cuz I sucked all through school)

VandyJ said...

I could do math, but I was very slow at it. I'm way better with a calculator. I have been learning it all over again with Turbo and will get to run through it all over again with Bruiser starting next year. I've always been impressed by the people who could whip out answers from their heads. I have to write it all down.

Sarah said...

Seriously!! I am the same way, I cannot do mental math for the life of me, I also have to count on my fingers, or draw lines on a paper LOL. I hated math in school ( actually hated most subjects haha) I had a math tutor for every grade throughout high school. And look where I am today, pretty awesome gov’t job AND I do NOT need to do mental math, nor do I need to find the ‘x” and “y”, or pi or any of that other math sh*t. I don’t think we need to worry about the girl at McD’s or any of the next generations, they will make it through life just like the rest of us – and like you said – at least she has a job!

Stacie said...

I'm not a fan of mental math either. I can calculate change in my head but I still have to multiply by going through the tables.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. I suck at math too. I can do some of it in my head but I prefer a calculator - who doesn't. I used to give my kids' teachers fair warning. "I suck at math, you're really going to have to work with them and if they need tutoring I'll come in too because I need it!" And sometimes I did. And people can say what they will but almost everything in school is taught differently today than when I was in school and I know that makes me sound like an old fud dud but it's true. I have 4 kids and I swear to buddah every one of them was taught in a different way. I saw that post on FB and I thought the same thing. I know tons of people who can't do the math in their heads. So what. I also know people who can't form a sentence or spell - those are the people I don't get.. ;)

Nicole said...

I'm more of the philosophy if you don't use it you lose it because I used to be able to do square roots in my head faster than people on calculators and now I can't. I'm sure I could relearn it if I had to but why :). I suck at sciences! except Chem because there is a lot of Math involved :). My husband is faster at math than I am and he laughs at me all the time. But I hear that they teach long division differently now than when I was in school and that it is complicated.

Nancy said...

I am surrounded by geeks, especially math ones. Reg taught university math at The Royal Military College in Kingston, Simon loves math, but could never show his work, he didn't need to work out the answer, it came intuitively, Livvie is a brainiac at math and her boyfriend Josh just placed first in a competition of 1200 University students. Sancia loves math, but hates to read. I love to read and am good at math, but if its too complicated use a calculator.