It was a beautiful Saturday morning, so we flew our airplane up to Rutherford Airport in North Carolina for lunch – the “$100 hamburgers” you may have heard of – except that the owner of this little on-airport restaurant makes the best Mexican food you will find anywhere.
The meals – enchiladas for my wife, quesadillas for me – were as good as ever. Afterwards, we went to pay our bill. Business was good enough that he had a high school senior helping out. She took our bill; it was $14.96. I handed her a twenty-dollar bill – and she pulled out a calculator. I was shocked: it was really simple math; could she not do it in her head?
Was she headed to college, I asked? She was. I asked what her major would be.
Nursing, she said. I told her she better learn to do math in her head. I do not think I made a friend that day.
When someone is unexpectedly blunt with you, don’t get upset, especially if it is someone quite a bit older than you. Look for the grain of truth in what they said. It might be a gold nugget.
Ever notice how nurses take the rate of your heartbeat? They need to report that rate in beats per minute, but they only count the number of beats for fifteen seconds. You can guess what happens next: they multiply that number by four – in their head. It is easy to do; they will usually tell you your rate before they even write it down.
The girl at the cash register is going to have a problem. And I fear for her patients. Lives depend on nurses doing lots of math in their heads.
Most people need to do math in their head quite often.
Learning the multiplication tables is important; they should be second nature. Make sure your kids learn them. Practice with them; it is easy. Never rely on a calculator – even if the teacher allows it. A calculator will not always be handy.
Being able to do arithmetic in your head – as well as many other skills– are good training for your mind. Developing those skills when you are young is much easier than it would be later. The payoff is not only in making it easier for you to do your job, but also in the way it makes everything you do easier, too.
When Do We Learn?
The time periods vary from person to person, but for the first three years, your mind is simply learning how to connect with the outside world – how to make sense of the sensations coming in from your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin. These connections are not automatic; your mind has to learn how to make sense of the data being sent by your senses – sight, sound, taste, smell, touch.
As your mind begins to master sensations, it forms them into perceptions – that thing; this thing. Your mind starts to see patterns. That thing (the baby’s mother) is like this thing (the baby’s father); they are different from that thing (a sofa) or yet another thing (food).
Finally, in the second or third year, the human mind takes that gigantic leap that separates us from all the other animals: your mind begins to form concepts – things we think about that are not specific objects: “people”; “toys”; “clothes”; “family”; “freedom”.
That process can go smoothly or poorly. The same people who brought a child into the world – his parents – have also taken on the responsibility for that child’s learning; they can do a good job, or fail to do so. Parents are not perfect; they do not always know what to do; inevitably, they will make mistakes.
That is one big reason why love and caring are such an important part of being a parent: we overcome our shortcomings through effort, dedication, and determination to ultimately succeed. These and other similar ideas, like integrity, honesty, rationality, justice, and more – morals and ethics – are transmitted to the next generation by their parents’ actions, at least as much as by the explicit teaching that will come later.
From that beginning at three until 12 or 13 years of age, we learn about the world around us – facts. It is the time when parents teach their kids about those parts of the world which they progressively encounter. They teach us manners, and how to act with other people – good people and bad, family, friends, strangers. Parents give us our first schooling: learning the alphabet; how to read; how to count; very basic arithmetic. They teach us skills: how to ride a bicycle; how to swim; how to act in the car; how to be safe near traffic; how to earn money; how to budget, how to think for ourselves, and much more.
By the time we are five or six, formal schooling beings. We need a lot of training and understanding to be able to live in the world as adults. Whether teaching is by home-schooling, or public or private schools, the goal is the same: prepare that young mind, not only to be able to support itself in the world, but to reach its full capability. Each person’s success in life will be impacted by the quality of his parents’ efforts.
The most basic skills are the 3 Rs – reading, writing, and arithmetic. Without these, a person is cut off; he cannot see anything beyond the range of his own senses.
But life is more complex than that. From that foundation, children need to learn history, government, literature, science, and mathematics.
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is obvious. History is full of examples. We see it in the news every day – especially in news reporting the actions of some millennials.
It is disheartening to see so many millennials who know so little about history, and as a result, have been suckered into believing socialism is something good. History as well as theory shows us that socialism has never worked and cannot work – that socialism is inherently flawed and destructive.
But some teacher did not teach that; what was taught was likely the opposite. The damage will haunt their abilities on the job, until associates take them aside and set them straight. The damage can stretch on for many decades, if they continue voting for socialist candidates insisting that “just a little more” socialism will solve any problem.
The study of history and government saves us from making the same mistakes people have made in the past. It allows us to build on what is already known to work, and reject what does not work.
Children also need to learn how to express their ideas. That is why literature classes – the investigation and expression of ideas – are so important. Understanding and judging ideas is the foundation of the freedom we enjoy as Americans.
Science is also crucial: the better we understand the physical world around us, the more intelligently we can make use of what is available to build better lives.
Mathematics – algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and even calculus are crucial to doing a better job, as well as being qualified to get a better job.
Other areas of study – notably, the arts – are also important, but must never reduce or prevent the learning of history, government, literature, science, and mathematics. Those fields are not only crucial to one’s life and well-being, but are also foundational to everything further.
The years before reaching adulthood are all too few. There is time to teach children only a fraction of human knowledge. Teach the essentials, and all the rest is possible.
By the time we reach 13, we are beginning to have a pretty good grasp of how the world works. Teenagers often seem like “know-it-alls”. But they do not yet have the skills to know why they should do one thing and not another. For the most part, they have been taught morals and ethics implicitly up until that age.
Now that the child is old enough to understand them, he needs explanations. “But why?” seems to many parents to be an endlessly-repeated question that even with their best efforts, they cannot seem to answer fast enough. The early teens are when people want to learn the reasons for doing something.
Some parents miss this point: the early teens is the only time they have to teach their children the reasons for doing things. If parents fail, their children fail. That time-period is dictated by human nature. A person will have similar questions throughout his life, and will continue to look for answers. But those answers are built on what is learned – or not learned – in the early teens.
By the time we reach 18 or so, the massive bulk of our learning is complete. Advanced learning – college or technical training – continues on, for however many years required.
But a conscientious parent helps the young adult even then, teaching him how to write a resume, job ethics and etiquette, and how to dress. “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” What happens in those initial meetings is crucial, and can affect your progress in your career for years.
Learning never stops. Those who think they are done learning after college, and cease to make any real effort during their adult lives, eventually find themselves in the unemployment lines – victims of a “mid-life crisis”, and settling for a lower-paying job than what they had previously – victims of their own lack of effort. The world evolves. Improvements are constantly being developed. Change happens.
All that learning, throughout your whole life, is invigorating. It adds to what you can do, and to what you can enjoy; it keeps you happy, and it keeps you free. Learning keeps you alive.