Thursday, June 09, 2005

I don't know whether this account is true or not, but it certainly gave me cause to snort a bit (in the "je ris par peur d'en finir a pleurer" sense):

Last week I purchased a burger at Burger King for $1.58. The counter girl took my $2 and I was digging for my change when I pulled 8 cents from my pocket and gave it to her. She stood there, holding the nickel and 3 pennies, while looking at the screen on her register.

I sensed her discomfort and tried to tell her to just give me two quarters, but she hailed the manager for help.

While he tried to explain the transaction to her, she stood there and cried.

Why do I tell you this?

Please read more about the "history of teaching math":

Teaching Math In 1950

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?


Teaching Math In 1960

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?


Teaching Math In 1970

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. Did he make a profit?


Teaching Math In 1980

A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.


Teaching Math In 1990

By cutting down beautiful forest trees, the logger makes $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the forest birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down the trees? (There are no wrong answers . )


Teaching Math In 2005

El hachero vende un camion carga por $100. La cuesta de production es...


Actually, something similar happened to us in a restaurant in Northern Maine last summer. A new cashier got very clearly flustered when I tried to help her with the math involved in paying the bill. She ended up abandoning me for the kitchen. A few minutes later, the owner came out to give me my change - told me next time to not be so harsh, the girl was new, etc. (Honestly didn't realize that trying to be helpful was harsh or critical). Shrugged, took my money, left.


Simon Kenton said...

Way long ago, was courting a young woman with the requisite pesky little brother. He was telling about how he was out at Grandpa's, and grandpa told him he'd get $.25 for every gopher tail he brought in, and never had any idea how good he was with that .22. He brought in 211.

"52.75," I said.

This was your big erotic "oops." The whole family turned on me, agape: "How'd you know that! Why, that's exactly right!" For briefly after, I was known as the Perfessor; she soon found someone less intimidatingly intellectual.

So, Miss, we both traduced the sacred mysteries, and we got crapped on.

Be said...

I just know simple math and work in a helping field. On a nearly daily basis, I help mentally disabled people make change. Sometimes I forget how touchy people outside of my work (and a couple other places where education ain't all about self-esteem) can get.

Bruce Hayden said...


The problem is not with the disabled. We can all accept that some people will never be as good at basic mathematics as average people should. But rather, the problem is with average people who can't do the sort of basic math that is necessary in today's economy.

If someone can't give proper change, then how can they be expected to understand budgeting, compound interest, saving for retirement, or indeed a myriad of other areas where mathematics is necessary for survival these days? They can't.

And, to a very great extent, this is a function of a breakdown in our public education system. I just got done commenting at Ann Althouse's blog on the plan to rewrite mathematic curriculum to highlight liberation, etc. philosophy. This totally loses focus on what the schools should be teaching in mathematics, starting with how to make proper change (not necessarily because all students are expected to be cashiers, but rather because all students are expected to be consumers).

nappy40 said...

I'm not one to perform quick computations in my head like Simon, but I don't own a calculator because I prefer the old fashioned pencil and paper.

I was looking at a neighbor kid's homework and the example written by the teacher was wrong. I wrote the correct calculation next to hers. Who knows how confused the kid is now.

It is a failure of the school system. I can remember my elementary school days--we were drilled daily in the basics. Hardcore, rote, memorization. Every single day until 6th grade. There was a distinct stigma attached to those who couldn't keep up and I guess this is what they're trying to prevent today. Not sure what good this does.

nappy40 said...

Oh yeah, we had a class in junior high, I think it was social studies or civics or something like that, the teacher covered topics like writing professional letters, writing checks, making change. It wasn't for the entire year, more like a part of a semester. I'm sure they don't do this anymore.

Be said...

You and I are from the same generation, I'm sure: I had to take basic business correspondence, home budgeting, stuff like that. Really, really useful stuff.

I'm really amazed at how this sort of practical thinking/down with the basic skills is applied in the workplace. My running joke on myself is that I don't belong in finance in that I'm a musician and by rights shouldn't be able to count past four (or six or 12, whatever). During my tenure at my current job, I've actually taken over the work of two women hired as senior accountants from major universities (one of whom had a masters in finance). They could not do the work and were strongly encouraged to leave. I, though not technically qualified, picked up their slack and have been working in their capacity for a couple years now. (Minus the pay, of course.)

Be said...

As for the figuring in the head stuff - Nappy, I didn't have a calculator at work for a couple of years - my boss finally went out and ordered me one. Never was allowed to use one growing up! I have a nice box of pencils and a little sharpener I use sometimes for more involved stuff. For adding up columns of numbers, I use my fingers. (Learned this really cool finger abacus trick when really young - it's called chisambop. They were teaching it in special ed classes for a while. I think it's Korean in origin.)

nappy40 said...

I owned one calculator, and that was a very fancy graphing calculator that was a gift from a friend. I think I lost it. We weren't allowed to have them while growing up either. It was considered cheating. A good sharp #2 pencil is all I need. I need to spring for an electric sharpener.

As for the columns of numbers, I'm not sure where I got the trick but I see numbers in my head like pictures. I can vividly see 5 or 6 or especially 9. It makes things very easy. I don't know where that comes from. Maybe I'll blog about it.

comrade_tovarich said...

What an encounter! I can see the cashier's confusion, but to break into tears? Oh, the agony to her and all other students similarly ill- or anti-educated in public schools.

I'm the kind of person who detests penny and one yen pocket change, if I have enough of it myself to simplify the returned change, as you did. Though not empirically tested, I would swear that doing so here in Japan yields, on average, far less confusion than in the US (and never any tears).

I do note that the younger Japanese cashiers with brown-dyed hair tend to be poorer at making change than the older usual cashiers, typically married, in their 40s or 50s. Perhaps "new math" has been seeping into Japanese curricula, too.


TW Andrews said...

Though not empirically tested, I would swear that doing so here in Japan yields, on average, far less confusion than in the US (and never any tears).

That wouldn't surprise me. In Switzerland, and Europe generally, if the cost is something like 1.58, cashiers will often ask if you have 8 rappen (or a similarly appropriate amount for the transaction).

Be said...

Perhaps it has something to do with how 'regelmaessig' the society is - I could totally see it in Switzerland, but was never asked in France. Or in Spain or Italy, for that matter. In fact, not even in Belgium.

That said - I've been asked for change to round off purchases by older cashiers here in the states. (Used to do it myself, in fact, when I was a "shop girl.")