That evil sucking sound as the IQ sinks

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By John Pawlak

Can you calculate 8 times 7? Well, let me “figure it out.” Two sevens is 14. Two twos is four, so four sevens is two 14s. Two 10s is 20 and two fours is 8, so that makes 28.
Now two fours is 8, so 8 times 7 would be two 28s. Two 20s is two sets of two 10s, so that’s four 10s which is 40, and two 8s is 16.
OK, 40 and 16 is four and one tens, or 50, plus the 6. So 8 times 7 is 56!
Whew! Good thing you didn’t ask me to calculate 16 times 13. I would get carpal tunnel of the tongue.
So, give me another one! What’s that? 8 times 7?
Hmmm, let’s see. Two sevens is 14. Two twos is four, so four sevens is two 14s.
Gee, haven’t we been here before?
Memorization is out of fashion. The recent trend has been “constructivism,” the belief that children learn better if they “discover” the knowledge rather than being given it to consume.
Translated to normal English — people learn not by being told how to do something, but rather by figuring it out all by themselves. You know, kind of like how people learn to fly airplanes?
That’s an interesting concept. I wonder how many people “discovered” the Pythagorean Theorem on their own? Or how to calculate pi?
Seriously, how many of you out there “discovered” the Quadratic Formula?
Hey Ma! I was staring at the sun for 10 minutes and it suddenly hit me! The roots of a quadratic equation, real or complex, are simply symmetric deviations from the axis of symmetry! Uh, Ma? Where are you? I can’t see a thing.
For many students, discovery based math simply doesn’t add up.
But what do I know? I’m not an “expert” trained in educational secondary pedagogy for enabling cognitive development by integrating knowledge gained with pre-existing intellectual constructs.
To understand that better, read Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”
OK, it actually is true that people learn better when they teach themselves. A child can watch a hundred people ride a bicycle, but until the child actually does it him or herself, they won’t master the skill.
Learning how to ride a bicycle is a perfect example of constructivism.
But we’re not all Euclids, or Newtons, or Eulers. Some things are better learned by direct instruction.
When learning how to toss a grenade, you’re only allowed one mistake. It makes sense for someone to tell you how to do it.
So the question is, what mathematical grenades are blasting away mastery of basic concepts?
I’ve got one for you.
Calculators. They’re evil. Invented by enemies of democracy, these black-holes of thinking are designed to suck out one’s intelligence and leave us defenseless against a foreign invasion by people who can multiply one digit numbers in their head.
Hold a calculator up to your ear and you can hear the sucking sound as your IQ drops by the minute.
Stephen Wolfram (designer of the Mathematica software suite) argues that students should learn math on calculators and computers. Being a 54 year old man, I doubt that’s how he learned it.
What’s wrong with using the calculator we were born with? Our brain?
Too many students use calculators as a mathematical crutch. If we want our young to learn math, they need to know the basics the same way they know other fundamentals taught to them.
When asked “Who was the first President of the United States?” Students don’t “figure it out.” They know it because they’ve memorized it.
There’s nothing nefarious about memorizing the multiplication table! Or conversions from common fractions to percentages.
My classmates in eighth grade learned that 5/6ths is 83 1/3 percent, and 3/8ths is 37.5 percent.
We even learned the percent equivalence for 1/7th. How many students entering high school today would know the same?
If I could get the schools to do just one thing towards a progressive math curriculum, my first order of business would be to outlaw the use of calculators prior to Algebra Two.
By the way, 1/7th is 14.2857 percent (approximately).