Random Thought, 15 May 2010


So, I was in the grocery store the other evening and I got to witness a rather interesting spectacle. Ahead of me in line at the self-checkout [1] were two children, probably no more than 12 to 14 years old. Between the two of them, they had six frozen entrees, each priced approximately two USD (sans tax). [2] The first one swiped through two of the entrees and paid for them with a five dollar bill (total price came to approximately 4.50 USD, from what I overheard). They didn’t quite understand the procedure for operating the self-checkout machine, [3] so after awhile, a customer assistant came over to, well, assist. After coaxing the two kids through their procedure and what they wanted to do next, said assistant asked if they had any more money to purchase the remaining items; the kids responded that they didn’t and were then instructed to leave the rest of the entrees and take the two for which they had paid.

A few things came to mind as I was observing this event take place, [4] but I’ll only focus on one of those thoughts for the time being. It occurs to me that if one is shopping for, well, anything, it might be helpful to know a few things…such as 1) how much money you have at the time, 2) what you intend to buy with said money, and 3) if, y’know, the money you have will actually cover what you intend to buy. Granted, this involves using a little mental math, but how hard can it be? Surely, this isn’t rocket science, right? [5] Okay, so multiplication requires memorization of the fundamental tables (remember those fun matrices you learned about in, oh, fourth grade?), but this is just a shortcut for simple addition – surely that isn’t beyond the capabilities of 12 year old children these days, right? It made me wonder, just what the hell were these kids learning in school these days?

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that the “one-size-fits-all” sort of education system we seem to have these days is not particularly useful for a great many children – not everyone needs to learn calculus or differential equations, nor do brighter kids benefit from the pace required to teach the less bright, but this situation doesn’t even touch on that sort of thing. This involves basic arithmetic…if you haven’t already mastered that by the time you’re ready to head off to the store by yourself, something is seriously wrong. Of course, it would not be entirely fair to hold these particular kids up as exemplars for the entire education system, but at the same time, something is surely lacking, is it not? Here are two kids who clearly have enough capability to go to the store by themselves, select specific items for purchase, and bring them to the checkout – clearly, not entirely mentally deficient; that being the case, shouldn’t they also be able to perform basic math?

Sometimes, I really do feel pessimistic about the future of our society, especially when I get to witness such inspirational events as this.


[1]: Yeah, I know…I really don’t like human interaction all that much. Also, I generally don’t buy more than I can carry home in a single trip, which means I usually don’t have a full shopping cart of contents to check out, so the self-checkout is a fairly quick alternative to the manned checkout lines that typically service those buying larger quantities of supplies.

[2]: Pay attention…these numbers will become important shortly.

[3]: For those of you who haven’t used them, the machines require that you remove your items after payment, so that the machine can reset its scales and bring up the next customer – failure to remove one’s items means the machine will remain on hold until you do.

[4]: Oh, I don’t know, like why a parent would send their rather young kids alone to a grocery store? Or why said parent(s) did not give the kids specific instructions regarding what to buy? And seriously? Frozen entrees? Okay, okay…so I occasionally indulge myself, but still…doesn’t seem like such a grand idea for the kids, now does it?

[5]: Quick calculation that most of y’all could (hopefully) do easily enough in your heads: 6 entrees at ~2 dollars apiece yields…anyone? Right…12 dollars before tax. Last time I checked, 12 is larger than 5, unless the rules of mathematics have changed recently and nobody bothered to tell me…


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