Last week, for the first time in 30 years, I had to perform long division…with a pencil and paper. It took me a while, but I did get the correct answer (I checked my work when I returned home and found my phone).

Everyone has access to an electronic calculator these days. Whether it’s a promotional give-away from the local seed dealer or feed store, a $1.99 special at the local discount store, or the one that is on almost every cell phone in America; none of us have to be bothered with ciphering on the back of a piece of junk mail, anymore. I’m surprised teachers can still make students learn their times tables and, of course, show their work.

Anyone younger than 50 probably assumes the pocket calculator has been around forever, but, I can assure them, they have not. When I entered college in 1970, no one had a little “math machine,” but I did notice that all the math and engineering majors had a little holster on their belts that contained something called a “slide rule.” One engineer on our dorm floor attempted to show me how to use one, once. After an hour-long demonstration, I decided working the long math was less complicated than using his contraption, and continued with that philosophy for two more years.

As a junior, I was enrolled in an animal nutrition course that should have been titled Advanced Algebra for Aggies. It was kicking my rear, grade-wise, and my grade point average was already in need of help. The math was do-able for me, it just required huge amounts of my time, that was already consumed by working 30 hours a week at a job, my other classes and any hope of a social life. Luckily, I picked up a free flier on campus, that said Mr. J.C. Penny had a newly arrived shipment of something called a portable, pocket-sized, battery-operated, electronic calculator that could add, subtract, multiply and divide at the push of a button, for only $69.95. That was a lot of money in 1972 (my rent was $60/month), but I needed a “B” in the nutrition class in the worst way and my current grade was a “C” (a very low C).

I used two week’s pay to purchase the gadget, which operated on four AAA batteries. Keep in mind that the digital display was not LCD, but rather, lighted numbers that could drain the batteries after about one hour of use. My nutrition class was 50 minutes long, so by the end of each class, the lighted numbers began to flicker and fade.

When finals week rolled around, I precisely figured that I needed an “A” on the final to bring my grade for the course up to a low “B,” but now I had the secret weapon I needed. As the final test was handed out by the professor, I whipped out my pocket calculator, turned it on, and the numbers lit up as bright red as the comb on a nutritionally balanced leghorn rooster. I began punching numbers. Half way through the two-hour exam, the numbers began to dim, so I began to dig in my pocket for new batteries. At that point, my face faded to match the pale display on the calculator, when I realized the new batteries were still lying on the desk by my front door.

A grade of “C” is nothing for which to be ashamed.

Jerry Crownover is a farmer and former professor of Agriculture Education at Missouri State University. He is a native of Baxter County, Arkansas, and an author and professional speaker. To contact Jerry, go to and click on ‘Contact Us.’


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