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"Shorts, Outtakes and Rants"

Most weeks I write a column for my paper; occasionally my daughter writes one. Usually they're focused at local issues, but every now and then I come up with one that I think Spearfish Lake Tales readers would find interesting, so I post them on the Spearfish Lake Tales Message Board. Since I've been neglecting "Shorts, Outtakes and Rants" recently, I decided to repost a few of them here, like this one. I hope you enjoy it! -- Wes

Someone Should Be Ashamed

July 5, 2014

Someone should be ashamed

I have a collection of people who I frequently exchange e-mail with, and sometimes the discussions get interesting. In recent days there have been several mentions of an article in the New York Times, entitled "What's Lost as Handwriting Fades." The author contends that schools put very little attention to handwriting once a kid gets out of the youngest grades. Educators have contended that there isn't much of a link between handwriting and educational performance, but these days other are suggesting that the connection is stronger than previously thought.

But in actual fact, most of us don't communicate by handwriting as much as we used to. "Use it or lose it" comes into play. We don't see handwritten copy coming into the office anything like we did thirty or forty years ago, and even in the olden days some of the things we had come into the office were pretty close to illegible. For a while we had a doctor's wife on call to help decipher some of the mysteries.

I will be the first to admit that this is definitely a case of the pot calling the kettle black. I will be the first to admit that my handwriting is lousy. I have had people comment that I don't take a lot of notes, and there's a reason for it: I often can't decipher what I write, anyway. Thank goodness for keyboards. I suppose it would be possible to blame the schools of fifty years ago for this, but it would be pointless.

But there are things that schools, in general, should be blamed for. A few weeks ago my wife and I went to a short track race, and I hit the concession stand, which was manned with a couple of cashiers, one of whom I would guess was around thirty, and the other a little past high school age. I went to the younger of the two, ordered a burger, and gave her a five. I will admit to some surprise when she called to the very harried other cashier and said, "Hey, this guy just gave me a five for a burger. How much change do I give him?"

I was amazed. How could a person of that age be working in a job like that and not know how to make change? How could the track management have put her into a position like that? And, some high school should be ashamed of themselves for turning her out of the building without such a basic knowledge? Everybody should know how to make change - even if you're the one doing the buying, knowing how to make change tells you whether you're getting the right change back or not. Every now and then I catch someone making a mistake, and I'll point it out no matter whose favor the mistake is in.

Yeah, I know these days schools teach kids to use calculators for such a simple thing, and I think they're failing kids by allowing it. Calculators are fine for the actual computation, but knowing the mechanics behind the calculation is important. The girl I mentioned above was lost without a calculator, and I suspect she would have been equally lost if she'd had to do the calculation with pencil and paper, which she didn't have. Had she never heard of "Three seventy-five, a quarter make four bucks and a dollar makes five?" I would guess not.

Examples such as that sure make me think that schools are spending too much time on state mandated curriculum and teaching to the myriad tests that the kids are supposed to take so their performance can be measured that they had to take time from some of the basic things that kids ought to know.

Going back to that kid trying to make change for a five: she's out of school, but does she have the basic skill to, oh, write a check? Fill out an income tax form? Balance a checkbook? I sincerely doubt it. Not pointing any specific fingers, but as I said, some school ought to be ashamed.

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