By Sue Murphy
I ordered new valances for my dining room awhile back. I didn’t trust myself to do the measurements, so a licensed professional came to my house with his official tape measure and wrote down all the specs in his official notebook. Not once did he write down “Somewhere around 4 inches.” I checked.
That’s the back story. Now, get ready. Here comes an old person rant.
My second-grade granddaughter was puzzling over her math homework when I visited the other day. Having done fairly well in my own math endeavors, I offered to help. Now, granted, my studies happened several (OK many) years ago, but that’s the beauty of math. It doesn’t change … or so I thought, but, after a few moments of my own puzzling, I discovered that, in today’s second grade, they don’t care nearly as much about what the correct answer is as what it might be.
Puzzle Number One: The homework page was a sea of word problems, and I worried that this could place an unnecessary roadblock to those little people in the Turtle reading group, but what do I know? It’s been several years since I taught kindergarten. Letters may be approached differently now, too.
Puzzle Number Two: All of those words asked the children to deduce what the answer might be, what it would be close to, which left me somewhere between dismayed and aghast (That’s my estimate.).
2+2 = 4. That’s a fact. That will always be a fact. That’s the beauty of math, the reason I loved math in school. It didn’t matter if your teacher liked you or your pencil case or agreed with your mom’s very public position on having a candy machine in the cafeteria. The answer was the answer, and if you got the answer right, you got the A.
Besides, in my experience, “close to” is not helpful all that often. Try paying a “close to” amount at the grocery store. Send in a “close to” mortgage payment. Yes, the IRS will let you estimate your quarterly tax payments, but come April 15th, your check had better be accurate to the penny.
A “close to” amount of salt in a recipe could render it inedible. If you’re always “close to” being on time for work, you could be “close to” losing your job. If Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughn (the real-life Hidden Figures superstars) had stopped at “close to,” John Glenn might now be floating somewhere “close to” Mars.
Accuracy matters. The old carpentry adage says, “Measure twice, cut once,” and no one knows that better now than my poor valance guys. Their measurements were off, not by a lot, but enough that the valance didn’t extend down far enough to cover the window frame. I could have sent the valances back, but it was “close to” the time when my daughter and her family were coming for a visit, so we (they) repositioned the valance rod which, of course, left little holes in the wall that had to be spackled and painted and it took the better part of a week before the job was all done. (Sigh)
I’m sure today’s educators know what they’re doing, but if years from now, we end up with a workforce that is chronically late, overdrawn on their checking accounts, and spend every Saturday at the hardware store buying things to fix the things they “fixed” the weekend before, I think we’ll know where to look for our answer.
2+2 = 4. It does. I’m going to invest in a spackle futures.