I remember being allowed in Jr. High to use the calculator to “check my work.” Soon after I learned that the books in High School had the answers in the back! It was like condoned cheating!
How could I go wrong with the magic box and the answers given to me straight from the publisher?
And then I became addicted.
Sometime after Geometry I lost my multiplication facts. I wasn’t just checking my work on the calculator.
Subconsciously I figured there was no reason to trust my potentially faulty memory of math facts if I had the absolute sure thing right there next to me.
For years I stopped doing arithmetic.
And my dad chastised me. Every time some quick calculation came up in the kitchen, garage or grocery store, I would stare at him blankly. Then I would reach for my calculator.
The way he looked at me, you’d think I had reached for a bong, ripped off my bra, sang Kumbaya and spat on the pope.
I ignored him.
Until one day I realized that I had absolutely no memory of 8*7. Yep – 8*7 was what did it. And I started watching myself. I always did simple arithmetic (even addition of single digits) on the calculator!
Then I watched other people. I saw the clerks in the grocery store reach for the magic box to figure out 10% off something. I saw an older man at McDonald’s send the girl into a tizzy because he modified his cash payment after the girl had already typed it in.
“There’s a problem here,” I thought. Maybe Paps was right.
I put down the magic box. Cold turkey.
I started using prime factors to help me remember my old multiplication facts. I re-engineered subtraction so I could actually do it. I read Dead Reckoning: Calculating Without Instruments. And then I refused to allow students to use the “devil box”.
I put it on my syllabi that calculators were strictly prohibited (unless expressly invited by me – in the case of probability and statistics). I growled at anyone who reached for one.
And I taught them arithmetic.
And we were all better off.
Are you a calculator addict? Share your story in the comments.
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