Hot Potato: Food for Thought
Why Johnny Can't...
Don't Teach Ciphering
1997 September 26
Now for something truly controversial. I propose that we stop teaching kids how to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and take square roots (can you still do this? When was the last time you did?). From now on, all kids are going to have at their fingertips a device that can cipher at the speed of light without ever making an error.

And why oh why do they teach up to 12 times 12? This is 44% more work than learning to 10 times 10 but provides no extra abilities.

I think that most kids will learn how to do some ciphering on their own, without anyone teaching them. Most kids who can't do a thing in math class can still make change correctly.

The biggest problem in math is that most kids can learn to cipher correctly most of the time, but few kids can solve simple word problems. Word problems are, of course, the practical application of mathematics. The time that used to be spent teaching kids how to cipher can instead be employed to teach them how to apply mathematics to real-world problems. That will be a useful skill indeed.

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