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201214 December 14, 2020


Adding to My Ninth Grade Learning - Arithmetic
Tommy Towery
LHS '64 

    The 1960-61 school year was my first year to join many of you in the ninth grade at Lee Junior High. As previously noted, junior high school subject material was structured differently than what we would find the following year when we entered high school. For one thing, it was the last year I studied a subject called “arithmetic.” Once we entered high school advanced mathematic courses would take the place of plain old arithmetic, but the term math never showed up anywhere on our report cards. I can’t even remember who taught me arithmetic in the ninth grade.

    Looking it up in the dictionary I found the definition of arithmetic as “the method or process of computation with figures: the most elementary branch of mathematics.” It may have been the most elementary, but I have a tendency to feel it was really all the math many of us would need to conquer in life – most of us, I repeat. With the basic knowledge of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, along with working with decimals and fractions, a person should be able to live a full productive life.

    Even though I did ride the school bus in the ninth grade (the one that came down from the mountain) I did not think I needed to study "Bus Arith" because there was only one bus. Apparently this subject was actually called “business arithmetic” and it dealt more with money and goods, but I did not take it, though I now wish I had. I think I got along just fine learning basic arithmetic. It seemed to have gotten me though the Air Force navigator training okay. 

    I don’t know when, but sometime after I left high school, apparently arithmetic became outdated. Today it looks like the word “math” has replaced “arithmetic” in schools. When I look up a definition of "math" I see it is defined as “mathematics” and mathematics is defined as the systematic treatment of magnitude, relationships between figures and forms, and relations between quantities expressed symbolically. Even the new definition is confusing. It doesn’t say much about adding and subtracting numbers does it?

    Though I started on this subject with the idea of writing about math verses the higher mathematic subjects, I found myself looking more into the difference between our “arithmetic” and the concept of “new math” which seems to have replaced it. I don’t have children, or grandchildren close enough to see what term a current report card uses for the learning of how to deal with numbers, but I suppose it lists math as the subject matter. And with math today, my thoughts go to “new math.”

    In his book Why Johnny Can't Add: the Failure of the New Math, Morris Kline says that certain advocates of the new topics "ignored completely the fact that mathematics is a cumulative development and that it is practically impossible to learn the newer creations, if one does not know the older ones.

    Sue and I were babysitting for my daughter when she was on a business trip to Germany when our grandkids were entering the second grade. On the first day of school some of the teachers were presenting a program on what the kids would be studying that year and “new math” was mentioned. A short video tried to explain the process, but the process did not make sense to me. It looks like a conspiracy by the paper company to sell more note paper needed to solve a simple math problem. Here is a youtube explanation I found on the idea.

YouTube Video

    As I was surfing youtube I came across another interesting video dealing with new math. I though it was a relatively new idea and was shocked to see it was being talked about in 1965. I think we were lucky they did not change to that system in the middle of our school learning. Anyway, enjoy this simple little to fill your day.

YouTube Video


        Memphis, TN - The possibility of things coming up in the future gives me an opportunity to give you just a quick reminder about the mission statement of Lee's Traveller "We avoid religion and political issues and do not post e-mails that talk about such subjects unless they have a direct connection with a classmate. We do not forward bulk e-mails or jokes to the group."

        I do welcome any comments on the math concept from our classmates who taught the subject, or any parent or grandparent who has had to deal with grandkids doing "new math."