When I was in school there were always kids (myself included) who would bitch and while that we should be allowed to use calculators for even simple math. Would my school have done me a favor by allowing it? Probably not and here is why.
There are two questions listed below. One of the questions should be able to be answered by any Joe or Jane off the street without hesitation and the other isn’t really esoteric knowledge but it is not a question I would expect to have answered unless the answerer had a bit of training. You tell me which is which:
- What is the subnet mask equivalent of the CIDR notation /30?
- What is 7+3?
The ability to quickly answer 7 + 3 has been a given for so long that in our most recent hire we didn’t think to ask. Can he answer? No, he cannot and it may well cost him his job.
I work as a network engineer and analyst so I am expected to know the answer to #1 without hesitation but only because I have received training on the subject matter. We frequently hire people with little or no experience (like hiring a pizza-guy) in networking on simply OJT them to the appropriate level. This is of course limited to people who can demonstrate that they have some native intelligence, the ability to learn, and the desire to do so.
We don’t care if you don’t have a CCNA, Network+, or bachelor’s degree (although all of those things are good) but we do care if adding 7 + 3 has you reaching for a calculator.
How can a high school education be viewed as a valid certification of any level for mathematic when the only thing taught is the ability to punch in numbers on the key interface of a calculator? How can a student judge whether they have made an input or formula error when estimating 256 x 2 results in nonsense answers starting at 400?
Most of the time spent in OJT in most IT fields is spent learning the basic building blocks of technology and the lexicon thereof. Many IT concepts which appear impenetrable to an outsider are actually very simple math operations disguised by jargon or a different number base (IP addressing leaps to mind). One you have the jargon and had the system explained it all becomes clear unless you can’t do the simple math itself.
Anyone who deals with networks or computers in general will recognize the following number set :
These are the powers of two from 21 to 28. This subject takes about 3 seconds to understand if you actually had to memorize multiplication tables in elementary school. Explaining it to someone who did not even have to memorize which single digit number pairs add up to 10 is virtually impossible.
The person in question is by no means stupid but they are uneducated despite having a high school diploma and currently being enrolled in college. The problem is that instead of forcing him to learn the concepts involved with basic math his school advocated and allowed the use of calculators from an early age.
The result is a man who when asked, “Ok, so 16 – 8 leaves you…?” answers with, “14?” This answer doesn't seem odd to him because number in general don't mean much to someone without a solid education in basic math. Numbers are just buttons on a calculator to him. Devoid of meaning and therefore beyond his ability to intuit in the case of drastically wrong answers.
If I give him his calculator he gets the answers right much more often but still only at about a 90% success rate since he has no ability to check for errors. He thought he punched in 28 so he thinks that 512 is the answer (hint : it ain’t).
Additionally this makes every operation very slow. Answering #2 takes an educated person less than .1 seconds but takes him the time to find the calculator, turn it on and punch it in. Furthermore no one in his educational history ever even attempted to explain estimation to him. The concept is alien and unfathomable.
Long division? Shorthand multiplication? Addition or subtraction of numbers beyond 5? It might as well be nanotech to him.
Calculators are for college-level and higher problems (even then there is a pretty solid argument against using them except in extreme cases) not 7 + 3.
Thanks Mom (for teaching me math and reading before kindergarten) and thanks Minnesota education system for not giving me a goddamned calculator.
P.S. I had no actual reason for this most recent hiatus so umm sorry.