*“Can you do Division? Divide a loaf by a knife – what’s the answer to that?” –Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
*

If you are a baby boomer, you may remember more about eighth grade math than you think, and you can probably do it without a calculator.

You can figure percentage, solve long division problems and know what a remainder is. You can recite quite a few multiplication tables, recall a little something about “casting out nines”, and know “pi” (3.14) the number that goes on forever.

Ask your kids and grandkids to sit down with a piece of paper and pencil and try to solve a square root problem or even a long division one without their calculators. Well, let us just say I am betting on you.

Boomers, can you remember the eighth grade math definition of “square root”? Answer–the square root of a number is another number that when multiplied by itself gives you the first number.

I thought I forgot that definition, but once I pondered it awhile, there it was. Perhaps it was because in my era, memorizing math definitions was akin to learning the Preamble to the Constitution by heart.

Required, no exceptions granted.

Of course you will remember the dreaded 8th grade word problems, such as the quisentential classic: “A passenger train leaves the Philadelphia train depot 2 hours after a freight train from Boston leaves the same depot. The freight train is traveling 20 mph slower than the passenger train. Find the rate of each train, if the passenger train overtakes the freight train in three hours”.

Eventually, I learned that where the freight train originated had absolutely nothing to do with solving the problem.

Occasionally in 8th grade math some trick, fun questions were interspersed with the serious ones: “How many times can you subtract 7 from 83, and what is left afterwards?” Answer: “You can subtract it as many times as you want, and it leaves 76 every time.”

Do you feel like saying the Three Stooges famed line about now? “N’yuk, N’yuk, N’yuk.

It is Ok, go ahead.

Today, simple math just doesn’t seem the same to me—too high tech and too convoluted.

The Dilbert cartoon series I think agreed when it once noted that our (math) problems today are “similar to our automated sadistic phone system…for tech support, press the exact value of 22 divided by 7”.

Say again?

Never mind, grab a piece of paper and a pencil as I leave you with this problem to ponder. No calculators allowed.

Problem: 5.5 squared is between 16 and 25, less than 16, greater than 36, or between 25 and 36.

Answer: N’yuk, N’yuk, N’yuk.