Kimmie's post on her students' ability to count came to mind this weekend.

I was at the library, and I owed $1.80 in fines. (I know....I'm bad.) I had a ten. The young lady at the counter was perplexed. Her eyebrows wrinkled, and she called someone over. What to do? There was no calculator. "The change would be $8.20," I said. The young man who came to help her was surely her knight in shining armor. Not to worry, he said. There is a calculator on Windows! They waited while the calculator loaded. The older woman behind me was perplexed, too. "The change is $8.20. You count it out from the $1.80. .....Like this." She demonstrated. A true prof in the making. The two young people looked at both of us apologetically. "We need to just see it, from a calculator. Haha! We were not math majors in college!" They invited us, me and the woman behind me, to share in the humor.

I asked her what her major was. "History!" she said brightly. "I graduated last May and I'm still looking for a job."

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ReplyDeleteWell told.

ReplyDeleteUnfortunately, this is becoming such a cliche.

Gaaaahhhhh.

ReplyDeleteWe can't really blame them, even though seeing such ineptitude in person is frustrating, they weren't really taught to reason this stuff out, only to provide or to be provided with an answer. Not the why or how they arrived at the answer.

ReplyDeleteInnumeracy. Illiteracy. Oh, the inhumanity.

ReplyDeleteMy response would have been, "This isn't mathematics. It's arithmetic, which you were supposed to learn in elementary school." And perhaps follow up with, "If you can't do your own arithmetic, you will be cheated."

ReplyDeleteBring your own calculator, reprogrammed so that $10 - $1.80 = $11.80 in change.

DeleteYes to both!

DeleteI admit to being the beneficiary of 10 extra dollars once as a result of a gal not being about to make change. At a grocery store. With a functioning cash register. If you can't count you shouldn't be allowed to handle money.

DeleteI've witnessed similar scenarios on multiple occasions. The inability of some people to perform the most basic calculations is truly depressing.

ReplyDeleteMy own field is history, and I really hate the assumption that people in the humanities can be excused for not being mathematically competent. I'm good at basic arithmetic, and I think it's important to be numerate even in subjects where mathematics isn't central to the discipline. Understanding numbers is an important part of comprehending many historical events and developments, and it's depressing how many of my students—even the good ones—have trouble with simple calculations.

It's most obvious when we're talking about grades. Even when they know the grades for each piece of work they've submitted, and have a list of the percentage allocated to each grade, they can't seem to work out what this can tell them about their overall progress in the course.

Hear, hear! It's clear that this history major won't know much about something that greatly affects the course of history: economics.

DeleteExam question:

DeleteThis period of history lasted 180 years and ended in the year 1000. When did it begin?

Students' response: "You didn't tell us to bring a calculator to the exam!"

How about prehistory? My students often claim to need a calculator to figure out a range of radiocarbon dates from the margin of error: 3,500 ± 50 years before present. And when I ask them to convert such ranges to BCE / CE dates, someone always ends up with a date like 5,550 CE. That's right. The future. Sigh.

DeleteSomewhat unrelated: My fines are hovering somewhere around $70 right now. And they've been as high as $160. If you're bad, then I'm a terrorist.

ReplyDelete"We were not math majors in college!"

ReplyDeleteMy response to that is neatly summed up in this XKCD cartoon that I have prominently posted on my office door.

A snappy comeback to this is:

Delete"Well then, YOU ARE AN IMBECILE!"

If it's any consolation, too, none of the engineering majors I teach razz me in this way. They know damn well that their innumeracy is precisely why they're not (or no longer) working as engineers.

DeleteFWIW, I've called someone an imbecile and had them thank me b/c they didn't know what it meant.

DeleteAnytime anyone does that with me, and a stapling sound soon resonates.

Delete