I purchased a few items at the grocery store this morning. The bill came to $9.56. I had the coins plus a ten-dollar bill and seven ones. Not wanting that fistful of one-dollar bills, I gave the young clerk $14.56. She counted the money, then stared at me for a second before counting the money again. She kept the change and the ten and tried to give me back the ones because the ten was enough. I just smiled at her and told her to key in the amount I gave her as payment. When the $5.00 in change popped up, her eyes got big. She said, “I see what you did.”
I gave my stock response to such transactions, “Hard going in but easy coming out.”
It’s amazing that to me that people can’t do these kinds of calculations any more. It’s automatic for me, but obviously not for others.
I’m lucky, I suppose that simple arithmetic has always been easy. For example, adding $19.99 and $17.56 takes no mental effort. It’s obviously $37.55. Add a penny to the $19.99 to get $20.00. Subtract a penny from $17.56 to get $17.55. It’s easy, then, to add $20.00 and $17.55. Well, easy for me, even today. It was a lot easier decades ago when my mind was still blessed with the rapid synapses of youthful neurons.
I’d read once that educators had noticed some students being able to do such simple addition almost without thinking, and so they created common core math to even the playing field. Actually, that is not a good metaphor. When it comes to athletics, they still favor those with talent, but when it comes to mental exercise, they seem to want everyone to have the same advantages. Not that I blame them. Everyone should be able to do simple arithmetic in their heads without resorting to pen and paper, fingers, or calculators.
Like most others who had the benefit of learning plain old arithmetic and memorizing the times tables, I was appalled at what seemed an unnecessary complication to learning when they changed the curriculum so drastically, though their rationale made sense. When I looked up common core math to see what it actually was, however, I couldn’t understand it at all. So maybe that was what they wanted? Not to give the arithmetically unblessed a step up, but to bring the others a step down?
Not that it matters. I’m just glad my brain works well enough so that I don’t have any trouble counting out money at the grocery store. If they can’t figure it out on their end, well, that’s what the cash register is for.
Pat Bertram is the author of intriguing fiction and insightful works of grief.