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The Calculator Argument

Once upon a time, two mathematicians, Cal Q. Late and Tommy Go Figure, were having a argument, really.

"Calculators are terrific math tools," said one of the mathematicians.

"I agree, but they shouldn't be used in the classroom" said the other.

"But?" asked Tommy Go Figure, and this is when the argument started. "That is just crazy!  I agree that having a calculator to use is a convenience, but it does not replace knowing how to do something on your own with your own brain."

"Why should kids have to learn how to do something that they don't have to do, something that a calculator can always be used for?" Cal Q. Late argued.

Tommy retorted,  "Why should kids not have the advantage of knowing how to do math?  To me, a calculator is like having to carry an extra brain around in their pockets.  What if they had to do some figuring and did not have their calculators with them?  Or what if the batteries were dead? (Here's a good reason for solar calculators.) What about that?"

Cal reminded Tommy, "No one is ever in that much of a rush. Doing math computation is rarely an emergency situation. Having to wait to get a new battery would seem to take less time than all the time it would take to learn and practice how to do math. That takes years to do, years that kids could spend doing much more interesting things in math."

"Look," Tommy went on, exasperated, "kids need to depend on themselves to do jobs. Using a calculator is not bad, but it should not be the only way kids can do computation. It just doesn't make sense."

Cal would not budge in the argument. "The calculator is an important math tool. When you do a job, it makes sense to use the best tool there is to to that job. If you have a pencil sharpener, you don't use a knife to sharpen a pencil. If you are in a hurry, you don't walk; you go by car. You don't walk just because it is the way people used to travel long ago."

"Aha!" answered Tommy. "Walking is still useful. Just because we have cars, we don't discourage kids from learning how to walk. That is a ridiculous argument."

This argument went on and one and on...and to this day, it has not been resolved. So kids are still learning how to compute and do math with their brains, while some are also learning how to use calculators.  What about you?  Which mathematician, Cal Q. Late or Tommy Go Figure, do you agree with?


Of course, this argument was made up, but it is very much like the argument schools and teachers are having about what to do with kids and calculators. What do you think?  Leave your comment for others to read.

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