The New Math


When Ol’ Dutch was in the 5th grade — shortly after the earth cooled according to Miss Trixie — the educators took it upon themselves to change to what was known then as “new math.”  All of us at the time were doing fine with the old math plus, it had taken man to the moon and back, but schoolbook salesmen and others convinced the teachers that new was better.

All of us in school struggled to understand this new-fangled scrunching of numbers and although I cannot for the life of me recall the differences between the two methods, we all had a hard time adapting.

Over the past two weeks Miss Trixie and I have kept the grands several times and the evenings involved doing homework with them. Watching them do some complicated mental exercise for their math in another “new math” kind of madness and almost gave me seizures.

Gone were the days of borrowing from a neighboring number and simply subtracting. Now we draw boxes and boxes and make up things in order to get “close” to an answer. And I do think the lack of borrowing from neighbors probably has negative social ramifications as well. How else can we learn to get along with others and borrow their tools if not through mathematics?

There are even educators who insist that mathematics is not an exacting science and so answers need not be correct to be right. All you have to do is get close to make it count. And to think of all the bad grades I got in past years for generally being close.

I fear the future as the engineers who design bridges and scientists who invent new cures for diseases will only have to get “close” to an answer to be correct.

Imagine driving over a bridge across a deep chasm and the engineers that designed it only had to get an approximate alignment. There you are minding your own business driving to grandmother’s house when suddenly you find a massive piece of roadway missing. Suddenly exact numbers do seem to make a difference.

Or getting a shot of some vaccine that was not thoroughly tested with exacting standards as always done in the past. Wait a minute?

Ol’ Dutch worked for an engineering firm for many years and one of the funniest times I can recall while working there is we were all in a meeting and there was a question raised involving some small addition problem. Everyone in the room reached for a calculator to add up a simple number and Ol’ Dutch actually laughed out loud.

They asked what was so funny so I pointed out to the room full of brainiacs how dependent we were on calculators and they all had to admit they were helpless or seemingly so without technology in a box. Even a small box. There we were adding up 7 plus 5 plus 9 clickety-click. Ridiculous.

After a lifetime of engineering, construction and railroading experiences I have to say that most of what I have experienced took calculations made by someone and none of them were approximations. Why just imagine building a house and having a tape measure with only the foot measurements marked. Hey, just get close. That way we do not hurt your feelings for being what we used to call “wrong.”

But hey, close is good enough for hand grenades and sex as they say and those seem to work out fine most of the time anyway. However, both can lead to some form of destruction so even close there is not good enough.

Kevin Kirkpatrick and his Yorkie, Cooper, fish, hunt, ATV or hike daily. His email is [email protected] routRepublic.com. Additional news can be found at www.troutrepublic.com

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