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Innumeracy In Everyday Life - Mo's Journal
March 25th, 2009
09:35 am

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Innumeracy In Everyday Life
I stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts yesterday to buy coffee. As I was standing in line, the woman in front of me asked for 15 of their donut hole thingies (Munchkins, I think they're called). After the guy behind the counter clarified that she wanted "one five" and not "five oh" he told her she couldn't have that. "That not how we sell them," he said. "You can get 6, 12, 25 or 50."

"Well 12 isn't enough, so I guess I have to get 25."

Trying to be helpful, I interjected, "You could get 18. That's closer to what you wanted than 25 and it's enough."

She turned to the guy behind the counter to see if she could and he said, "No. You can get 6, 12, 25, or 50."

Still trying to be helpful, I said, "But if she gets an order of 6 and an order of 12, she'll have 18 and that's closer to what she wanted."

Ignoring me, he repeated, "You can get 6, 12, 25, or 50."

"I'll get 25 then," she said. "I'm sorry. I've never been here before; I didn't know."



ETA: Speaking of innumeracy, I'm often really dismayed to hear people - adult people, generally women - say in a totally offhand manner "Oh I never could do math" meaning by "math" basic number skills. They say it as if this were something of no importance whatsoever. I try each time (and fail) to imagine someone saying in that same "who cares" tone "Oh I never did learn how to read." Basic literacy and basic numbers skills are essential skills to be a functional adult. It's not a trivial matter to be missing either skill set.

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From:marag
Date:March 25th, 2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
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Oy. Did you actually bang your head against the nearest hard surface or did you just think about it?

I've had conversations just such as this and they make my head hurt.
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From:mofic
Date:March 25th, 2009 02:58 pm (UTC)
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Amazing how it can make your head hurt without even banging it, yk? To quote one of my own stories:

Scott contemplated banging his head against a nearby wall. After reflecting on the fact that he would probably have a perfectly adequate headache even without doing so, he decided against it.
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From:thinking_lotus
Date:March 25th, 2009 01:59 pm (UTC)
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apparently you can't combine orders, either ;-)
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From:executrix
Date:March 25th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
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It sounds like "Five Easy Pieces," but with munchkins instead of toast...
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From:mofic
Date:March 25th, 2009 02:48 pm (UTC)
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LOL! I assure you I was unfailingly (I almost wrote "unflailingly" LOL) polite throughout the whole encounter.
From:fantasyenabler
Date:March 25th, 2009 02:19 pm (UTC)
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"Hello. Could I speak to an actual human being? Your recorded message isn't being very helpful. It seemes to be lacking in both logic and math skills."

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From:mofic
Date:March 25th, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)
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But it's not just him. It's the customer, too. Not only couldn't she figure out that 6+12=18 but once I told her she checks with the counter guy to see if I'm right, instead of just saying "I'll have an order of 6 and an order of 12."
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From:barenakedrachel
Date:March 25th, 2009 03:16 pm (UTC)
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Wow... sometimes retail can be so robotic!
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From:mofic
Date:March 25th, 2009 03:19 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, but what about the customer who can't manage to ask for an order of 6 and an order of 12?

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From:taffimai
Date:March 25th, 2009 03:40 pm (UTC)
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Is it possible that the order of 25 was cheaper than an order of six and an order of 12 and that was why he reacted that way?
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From:mofic
Date:March 25th, 2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
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You know, that is possible and I didn't look at prices. But if that's the case, why wouldn't he say, "Well 25 is actually a better deal" rather than tell her that she can't get 18. I truly think he didn't get that 6+12=18 could be applied to this situation and neither did she.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 25th, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC)
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I totally take your point, but I think that his reaction, especially the way he pointedly ignored you, actually means that he was being unhelpful, not necessarily stupid.

Good service is not something that I expect as a matter of course, so I recognize and appreciate it when it is provided, and this strikes me more as an example of bad service than an example of someone truly unable to recognize that 6 + 12 = 18.

Intellectual laziness and refusing to consider creative options is how I earn a living, so I can testify as to how pervasive and widespread it is.

As for the 'I never could do math' throwaway line, you have another very good point... which I think is related to how many people despise themselves: it explains a lot about the life choices some people make and how they treat themselves and their bodies (of course, I mean people in a position to make these choices, not people who are so uneducated and beaten down that self-respect doesn't enter the equation).

It's lack of self-respect: which is why it's mostly women one hears saying such stuff. US society does have some serious problems, no doubt about it, because when I lived in Europe I never used to hear such trash on a regular basis. Then again, good service was a lot more rare. :|
From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 25th, 2009 04:18 pm (UTC)
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In case my wording doesn not make it obvious, I am not referring here to actual learning disabilities of any kind here, I am referring to how some people assume it is perfectly acceptable to say things like that, regardless of whether they are true or not, because most of the women I hear saying such things are accountants who do know how to add quite well with or without a calculator.

No I refer to the assumption that boasting about laziness or stupidity in public is acceptable or laudable or to be taken as a proof of false modesty.

Feh. There's a major difference between being aware of one's failings and boasting about one's laziness and the implicit insult to the listener in assuming we cannnot tell the difference is quite irritating I must say.
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From:talktooloose
Date:March 25th, 2009 05:06 pm (UTC)
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I told this story to three people at lunch. It travels well.
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From:mofic
Date:March 25th, 2009 08:08 pm (UTC)
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LOL! I live to serve.
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From:mofic
Date:March 25th, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC)

Re: Once again, you gave me something to think about...

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Does it bother you as much as me that it's not 6, 12, 24, or 48 instead of 25 and 50?

That's exactly what my colleague/work husband said!

See, your words do impact the world around you!

That's gratifying to hear. But explain the icon to me (or show it to me, or both). I don't know what "J2 Math I can follow" means.
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From:chimosa
Date:March 25th, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC)
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(Regarding the ETA)
Eeee well, that's a shame- I'm one of those who can't do math. Like, seriously, basic math is beyond me most days. I usually have to do the count on my fingers thing to multiply... which was really embarassing when I was tutoring third graders in math and hid my fingers in my pocket or under the table if I was doing their work with them. Though, I did recently pick up a pack of flash cards so maybe I can improve my situation somewhat...
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From:mofic
Date:March 25th, 2009 07:33 pm (UTC)
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I'm sure you can improve! I think the first step to correcting a deficiency like that is to recognize that it is a problem, which is why it bothers me when people act like it isn't.
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From:hitchhiker
Date:March 25th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)
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my head hurts!
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From:rae_1985
Date:March 25th, 2009 08:50 pm (UTC)
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I have a friend that started saying she 'can't do math' back when she was starting junior high. No one ever tried to prove her wrong, and she barely scraped by in high school. We all helped her and she got the minimum grade to pass because the teachers liked her. Luckily she decided to go to college for music, and they took her math grades with a grain of salt. Then she had to do a basic math course in college, and ended up failing it twice before she barely passed again. She still doesn't balance her own accounts, and struggles to make change. You can't help but wonder what would have happened if a teacher had sat her down when she started saying that when she was 12. She didn't need to be a math genius, but with some encouragement/self esteem she could have done the basics. Everyone should know the basics for everyday life.
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From:tarchannon
Date:March 26th, 2009 12:21 am (UTC)
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We have been unfortunately been trained to think being ignorant is ok. It used to be a source of great shame, but these days, 'math is hard', 'I could never spell', 'that's just a theory' seems to be an acceptible excuse for being fucntionally illiterate. It's sad.

I have been so very dishearted in the last week over the finael of Battlestar Galactica. Huge numbers of people that followed the show for several seasons were moaning an d groaning, saying that they hated the finale and sputteting on and on. For the most part, I looked at the comments in stark horror. Three things were so very obviously clear: 1) most of those people did not actually watch the show in a way that allowed them to actualy absorb basic plot points (like a splash screen of the fellt at the beginning of the finale that said there were only 10,081 people left); 2) these people had no ability whatsoever to follow character action and thematic development well enough to understand the fruition of four seasons of very careful and deliberate writing; and 3) during the epilogues, they had no ability to fill in any spaces between the dots if they weren't led like cattle. (I'll ignore 4) Americans are utterly scientifically illiterate, because we alredy know that). I really, really have no idea how we can fix this in less than fifty years of concerted effort. obviouly, the average Joe can't read well, comprehends less, and can't do math beyond balancing a checkbook. They don't know the difference between the scientific method and a cacheticism. I'm officially horrified.
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From:davidfcooper
Date:March 26th, 2009 12:50 am (UTC)
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I have dyscalculia, & even I could figure that out. I can do the math, but it takes me much longer. I have no problem with mathematical concepts, but crunching numbers is truly difficult.
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From:mofic
Date:March 27th, 2009 10:40 am (UTC)
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This was a case (if I read the situation correctly, see other comments wrt possibility I didn't) where I think there wasn't a need to crunch numbers, just a need to understand how they applied. I doubt that these people didn't know that 6+12=18; they seemed not to know how to take that fact and put it into a real world situation. And I think that's a lot of "can't do math" - not realizing how it applies to everyday life.
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From:lilacsigil
Date:March 26th, 2009 01:25 am (UTC)
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My basic arithmetic is perfectly good, and many people will STILL argue with me at the till and would rather pay more than admit that they were wrong, or change anything they buy. Especially teachers, which is alarming. One teacher corrected my maths (why yes, I can multiply 250 by 3), was wrong, and then went and bought the wrong product JUST TO SHOW ME.

And maths is a subject totally devalued for women, in particular - as if to be able to count is unfeminine. Men who can't count (and there's just as many) at least try to hide it, usually.
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