2007/08/10

Economics? Hell! What about basic math?

A tale that I wish was apocryphal...

I read recently with a certain amount of wonder that slightly less than 50% of US high school seniors scored well on a new test designed to assess economic literacy. "Economic literacy?" thought I, "We didn't even have an economics course when I attended high school." And though the questions don't seem to be particularly tough--it doesn't seem like rocket science to answer correctly that "...lower tax revenue and higher spending increase the national debt"--perhaps we shouldn't be too quick to congratulate ourselves. Read on...

Last weekend I was in Peet's Coffee, a Bay Area roaster that gives you a tiny discount on your beans if you recycle one of their bags. So in I come with my empty 12 oz bag, a "pre-pack" that is sold in grocery stores. The girl behind the counter looks at it and remarks, "That's not a full pound, is it?"

"Nope," I responded, "...it's 3/4 of a pound."

"So...how much goes in there?"

At this point I got distracted by something the Frogette said, and the frustrated cashier called over the manager who took charge of the situation. "Just fill the bag. Then when you ring him up charge the lb price and multiply it...by...uh, .8 ...I guess."

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, the cashier looked at me and with a bit of embarrassment said, "At least someone can do math."

I submit to you that teaching economics is great, but this society's got a much bigger problem.

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20 Comments:

Oh. Their. God.

I am sorry but I about spewed coffee all over my desk and also nearly choked to death in the process, but, damn, that was a good laugh.

Sad, though, in reality. What is our nation coming to? It's no wonder we're in a mess. Idiots outnumber us 300 to 1!
Honestly, 2 weeks ago I said , give me a little over a half pound say six tenths and , as you say, the clerk said, "what is that?"
She asked her mates to no avail until another person came by and showed them.
Oh boy.
Pansy (or should I refer to you as "Mr. Bastard"?)... Welcome to Blognonymous.

It is an eye-opener isn't it? Just a simple thing like converting fractions to decimals...[sigh].

Cognitorex... 6/10th's? Isn't that 3/5th's? ;-)
I agree with you. I am pretty sure that you need to be able to do simple math before you even get into economics.

To be fair though, I spent so much time in Calculus, Physics, and P Chem that there have been times when not having to use a long equation with lots of symbols and letters has confused me
Being a language sort of person I expect the 'economic' tag is misrepresented as is the literacy. Sounds like 50% could do their sums,
As a coffee person I would be suspicious of any outlet where the staff wee not totally tuned into their product.
Could say I'm a 'counter-terrorist' when it comes to service.
I remember a time not that long ago when America held a clear technological and educational edge over the rest of the world. Now less than 50% (that's half, right?) even believe in evolution.

National policies like school vouchers and NCLB serve the interests of the fundies, who would rather people not have well developed cognitive skills. For the country as a whole, especially in the arena of world economic competitiveness..mmmm...not so much.
I just stumbled across this story on the same topic. Tired of looking bad next to other countries, the US has simply withdrawn from an international study that compares scores of high school seniors.

"The study, called TIMSS (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study) Advanced 2008, measures how high-school seniors are doing in algebra, geometry, calculus and physics with students taking similar subjects around the globe. In the past, the American results have been shockingly poor. In the last survey, taken in 1995, students from only two countries—Cyprus and South Africa—scored lower than U.S. school kids."

Maybe the US could start a study comparing other countries' rapture-readiness.
Scott... I did my share of time in the "higher" mathematics--don't remember a thing, and for the most part haven't needed them...even in software development. But geez...shouldn't a certain proficiency be considered the minimum? SadButTrue makes a good point in that we are ranking right near the bottom in proficiency.

Cartledge... To be fair to the Peet's people, their "pre-packs" are sold by franchises, and there is no real reason why the company stores would know anything about them. But on the other hand, when I specifically say "it's 3/4 of a lb" that should be the clue for an accurate calculation. ;-)
SadButTrue... That's an excellent link. Pretty telling huh? I should be a 'badge of shame' that we pulled out of such a study, but of course Bu$hCo hasn't traditionally had a problem with the 'go it alone' strategy.
Later, the manager was appointed by President Bush to his Council of Economic Advisors...
Oh well. I've been employed by a community college for many years now (staff, not the teaching sector) and I see this stuff on a daily basis.

Oh well.
LC... :-) :-) :-)

CultureGhost... I'm amazed that you could get through even elementary school without a basic knowledge of fractions and conversion to decimals.
Unplug any cashier's computer cash register and watch them pass out. They have no clue of why or how numbers happen, they just wait for the machine to tell them.
Without the Amount Tendered" key, most cashiers these days under the age of 35 are lost.

If your total purchase comes to , say $99.97, and you give then a hundred dollar bill and they type in an extra zero by accident, you can count on your line coming to a halt until a manager (over 35) comes by and tries to figure it out. That's high math.

(put any numbers in there)
"Sad, though, in reality. What is our nation coming to? It's no wonder we're in a mess. Idiots outnumber us 300 to 1!"
One in a million. :)

I guess you don't need fractions for buying stuff and watching American Idol.
Frog! That manager was just using good Best Practice business math. You owed him the extra .05 for the conversion service they provided.

BTW, I know that I'm one of the 300, and it takes a lot o' work to constantly overcome it. The fact that it's a psych/emotional thing doesn't excuse me or help in the least. Just means I've gotta try harder and be open to criticism and/or assistance at any given time.
PoP, Chuck... That's pretty sad, though I wonder how universal it is. In any diner in my neighborhood (and there are dozens), you can find young waiters and waitresses adding up checks manually including the calculation of state and local tax. They have registers but don't use them.
Romunov... OK, maybe not fractions, but what about decimals? ;-)

Michael... You know I thought it was something like that. Maybe he should have just revoked the $.25 discount I was supposed to get for the recycled bag?
Well, right you are. But then he'd have just looked cheap instead of smart to his employees. {-;
Have you ever been to a restaurant or market when the computers are down and the cashiers have to do the addition and subtraction themselves? You've never seen such mass helplessness.

This is not good.

Who Hijacked Our Country

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