Last night I went with my neighbors up to A&W to grab a little dinner. That visit provides this anecdote about math education.
We all know that fast food places don't have real cash registers anymore. No, employees now push buttons labeled with the food items and the machine magically spits out a number at the end. One might think these employees, this younger generation that's supposed to be so adept at using "technology", would know how to make these cash registers sing, or at least how to account for the use of a coupon, but one might be mistaken in that thought.
My neighbors used a coupon that provided a meal for an even $5, making their total charge $10 plus tax. The employee dutifully entered their order and then confidently announced that the price was $13 and some cents.
It didn't occur to her that anything could possibly be wrong.
My neighbors instantly got agitated, and looked at the coupon to see what they missed. I said immediately, "That's over 30% tax. Something's wrong."
Yes, California's sales tax rate is now over 8%, and Sacramento county gets its claws into us, too. But we're nowhere near 30%. Heck, that's even higher than the British Columbian tax rate with VAT added on!
Not knowing what to do, the employee called over another teenager, and they spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out how to enter this order. Eventually the machine came up with a figure of $10.88, which we accepted.
At a minimum, the employees should know how to use the machine; that's management's problem. However, the deeper problem is the lack of math knowledge that didn't allow for the employee to even recognize that the price was obviously off.
That's why I'm so against the use of calculators in math classes beyond mere computation. Knowing how to use the machine may be sufficient for A&W, but it's not in math class. It's not enough to know how to use a machine to get an answer in math class; students must understand the math itself.