Have you heard anything about schools in your corner of the globe no longer teaching students to memorize their twelve times tables?
I recently read a column by EEtimes' Chief International Correspondent, Junko Yoshida: Alexa: Secret Agent or Double-Agent?. Junko's column was particularly prescient and timely in the light of this article from The Guardian telling how German parents have been instructed to disable or destroy a smart doll that can be used to illegally spy on children (yet another case where the product's creators made no effort regarding security).
But that's not what I wanted to talk about here. As part of her column, Junko commented as follows:
The new generation of kids, as I learned recently, donít memorize the multiplication tables in school. Why bother when you can just Google: "Hey Google, whatís 5 times 7?" If I were a 7-year-old today, I might consider Google Home my best friend.
Even the suggestion of this terrifies me to my core. Before I perform any calculation using a calculator, computer, or other apparatus, I first rough it out in my head, rounding some values up and others down to at least get a ballpark result against which I can compare my machine-generated result.
I canít even conceive being able to function without being able to call up my "twelve times tables" in my noggin. It's OK to use machines to make things easier so long as we know how to do things without them, but if we hand even the most rudimentary of skills over to machines, what are we going to do if -- as in the 1909 story by E.M.Forrester -- The Machine Stops?
I'm also reminded of the short story A Feeling of Power by Isaac Asimov. First appearing in the February 1958 issue of If: Worlds of Science Fiction, this tale tells of a distant future in which people are so reliant on computers that they've forgotten the fundamentals of mathematics.
In this somewhat bleak society, humans are in a prolonged war with an alien race. A low-grade technician discovers how to reverse-engineer what calculators do and to perform simple math operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division using pencil-and-paper. As soon as he makes his discovery public, the military appropriate it with the idea of creating large numbers of missiles controlled by people as opposed to the existing, more-expensive, computer-controlled variety (you can read this story online by clicking here).
I understand that all of this may appear to be totally improbable, but it wasn't all that long ago that almost everyone on the planet (apart from my father when we were going on holiday) knew how to read a map. It strikes me that I now know a bunch of 20-year-olds who could not read a map if their lives depended on it. They canít even describe (using words like "Get on Highway 72 going east, then take Highway 431 south, then...") how to get to the other side of town. Furthermore, if you try to give them verbal directions in this manner, their eyes glaze over. All they can do is plug an address into their GPS and hope it doesnít lie to them.
Have you heard anything about schools in your corner of the globe no longer teaching students to memorize their twelve times tables (please, please tell me this isnít true)?
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting