Affordable handheld calculators were available around the time I was in junior high. All of my math teachers banned calculators from the classroom. They also discouraged the use of calculators for doing our homework. I wasn’t allowed to use a calculator for schoolwork until I took Trig in high school. Even then, we weren’t allowed to use the calculator until we had learned how to use the lookup tables in our textbook.
The argument that the teachers always made was that if we relied on the calculator too much, we wouldn’t know when we might have made a gross mistake. Of course, I thought this was ridiculous, like most of the reasons my parents and teachers gave for why I wasn’t allowed to do things. Now that I am older, and a little bit wiser, I realize that my math teachers were right.
When picking up some pizza the other day, the bill was $15.99. I handed the cashier $21. He separated the one dollar bill and asked me why I gave him that. I said I would have gotten four dollars back, and I’d rather get a five.
He puched the total into the register, read the change amount of $5.01. I could see the gears grinding in his head before he asked, “Do you want five ones?”
I’ve had this problem many times in the stores. I’ll hand over the bills and start fishing in my pocket for a way to reduce the number of coins I have to carry around. More often than not, if I am unable to stop the cashier from entering the whole dollar amount, they are unable to figure out in their the head the change I should get back by giving them a little more in coins.
I wonder if these kids used calculators in elementary school, and have simply never learned how to figure numbers in their head. Can’t the stores find people to run the register who can convert $9.89 in change to an even $10 when they’re handed a dime and a penny?
Computers are great! Designing and writing computer programs is how I make my living. But computers can’t think. I worry that we turn off our brains when we turn on our computers. A little critical thinking can go a long way.