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The Teaching of Arithmetic: Improvements in the Technique of Arithmetic


by David Eugene Smith - 1909

Nothing new goes into arithmetic without a protest, and so for what goes out. Nevertheless there has been an evolution here as everywhere else, and this evolution has made for the betterment of the subject. To take a concrete illustration, the first printed arithmetic had no symbols of operation. What we would write as "4 X 5" was then written "4 times 5," with the natural variation of the word "times" according to the language employed. It was half a century later, and after the symbols = and were invented, that = was suggested, and some eighty years after that before X was used, and a long time after that before appeared for division. It was several generations after these were first used before they came into our school arithmetics for the purposes that we use them to-day, and always with strong protest on the part of those who wish to "let well enough alone." It was argued that "4 X 5" was more abstract than "4 times 5," that it was hard because of the symbolism, and that it took arithmetic from the written language and the customs of the common people for whom it was of greatest use. Invented for algebra, the conservatives said that all the symbols ought to remain there and not seek to enter the field of arithmetic. This struggle of symbolism seems strange to us to-day, when a child in the first grade learns at least half a dozen signs of operation and relation, and few would be found to advocate going back to the old custom.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 10 Number 1, 1909, p. 25-35
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10013, Date Accessed: 10/24/2019 12:55:02 AM

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