I still don’t have the multiplication tables memorized

I read this on slashdot:

I have a PhD in math, and I still don’t have the multiplication tables memorized

Now I know I am not the only one!

In other news,

  • I still deduce my age from my birth date (takes me a minute or so each time);
  • I was identified as having a learning disability when I entered school (since I could not recite my phone number nor tie my shoes) and put in a special class;
  • I still don’t know my office phone number;
  • I don’t know my bank account number, nor how much money there is in it;
  • I don’t know my Social Insurance Number;
  • I get the birthdays of my sons mixed up.

But I know what a soliton is, I can solve nonlinear differential equations by multiscale methods, and I can program my very own bitmap index from scratch in C++. Oh! and I can grow coreopsis and echinacea from seeds.

Let us face it: the purpose of school should not be to teach specifics. And you should never judge kids by what you expect them to achieve. Let them surprise you!

18 thoughts on “I still don’t have the multiplication tables memorized”

  1. I’m with you on several of these items. There are very few things that I deliberately try to memorize. My reasoning is, if I use some fact often enough, eventually I’ll memorize it by sheer use. If I don’t use it often enough, then there’s no point in memorizing it.
    I confess this gets me into trouble in certain social situations. Names of new acquaintances are a problem.

  2. OMG! I’m not the only one who doesn’t know the multiplication table by heart? I feel so much better now.

  3. I do know my multiplication tables and my social security numbers, but everything else? Forget it! That said, I disagree with your statement that schools “should not be to teach specifics.” I understand the point you are trying to make, which is that we should not try to apply a uniform template to judge all children, but there needs to be a structure around learning and that requires teaching specifics.

    1. Does there need to be a structure around learning? Why? How much? Who or what provides the structure? Who deems it adequate: the learner or the instructor? Does a structure require teaching specifics? Who chooses the specifics? Based on what? It’s very easy to make statements that sound true and beyond debate.

  4. I’m a special education teacher and give support to all kinds of teenagers who have been identified as having some sort of learning disability.

    Of course people can learn how to get around their weaknesses and use their strengths to succeed in life. You obviously have. Congratulations. I mean that sincerely. But, it makes it much more difficult to succeed at school if you can’t learn the specifics that schools expect you to learn.

    I think it’s important to remember that succeeding at school doesn’t necessarily translate into succeeding in life. There’s more to it than that.

    To be honest, I wish my students could remember their times tables because it would make it easier for them to do the higher level math. I see them struggling with algebra because they don’t know their times tables even though they have a calculator at their finger tips.

    PS- my students don’t know their Roman Numerals either šŸ™‚

  5. I agree with Elona, but based on much less experience. When I was in high school, I tutored elementary school students. It was so frustrating to me that they understood fractions and other upper elementary concepts perfectly but got low grades and math anxiety because they didn’t know the mult. tables well enough to implement and solve problems.

    I think it’s awesome that you’re able to implement and be recognized for your high-level abilities, but I don’t want to see any kids suffer through what I saw if they don’t have to.

    (XIIX is not legal?)

  6. I’m a PhD student at Berkeley and I happily confess I don’t have it memorized either.

    PS. nor my father’s name

  7. im 15 and still dont know my time tables im good in every other subject but i just cant get this through my head i think if i tell my mom i have a problem she might think im just being lazy

  8. How happy am I to read this. I am a 58 year old woman and I have been trying all my life to memorize my times tables without success. In school we had to stand up when we had memorized a table and recite it to the class, it was purgatory for me as I would learn it and as soon as i stood up it would fly out of my head, resulting in class giggles and me being devastated.

  9. Hi there, I am 30 years old and can’t remember my tables. I can’t remember birthdates either or anything with numbers in them. I can’t even add 56 + 47 in my head but am doing a mechanical engineering degree and getting A’s. I must admit it would be a lot easier if I could somehow understand numbers as it really slows me down when I can’t factorize or do 3(9x). I feel I must have something wrong with me as I forget so quickly but I’m not sure what. It might be some grade of dyscalcula but I do “see” the numbers and can do say 20+ 29.

  10. I have tried so very hard to remember numbers but my brain always refused to keep a place where they could stay with that being said it is funny that I can remember many things from books that I read ,but it has stopped me from a high school diploma the sad story’s of our education system do not work for learning disability people.I’m not alone Thank you.

  11. I am 21 years old I learned the multiplication table back in my country and when I moved to America everyone used calculators therefor I never exercised my knowledge, before I knew it I was 21 and completely forgot the multiplication table šŸ˜“ I felt stupid but reading this honestly made me feel better. I am glad I am not the only one.

  12. I am 53 and with an accounting degree and an MBA and just scored 20% on a multiplication tables challenge. I have to admit it does really bother me that I can solve business problems but I am slow at mental maths. I have always felt although I am about to be found out as a fraud in my job. Yet I have held senior posts and worked successfully as a consultant. I have decided this year that I am going try to tackle this, an have embarked on brain training and numeracy challenges to see if I can get the times tables to stick finally.

    1. I am slow at mental maths

      Most processors today can execute billions of multiplications per second. I wrote “billions” not “thousands” or “millions”, but “billions”.

      No matter how hard you train, you are never going to get close to the accuracy and speed of a computer. Never.

  13. Interesting I am the same (cant remember tables) I also have the same with foreign languages.
    I have tried to learn them and found I can understand the words when spoken, but can’t recover to Speke them.

    Anybody else found this?

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