Vn129.1 Robby Computes a Tax 4/5/78
Robby caught on fire again today. He approached me inquiring,
“How much is half of 423?” Miriam responded to his question from the
other room, “2 hundred and 11 and a half.” I told her to stop butting
in and asked Robby how much was half of 400, then half of 22, then half
of 1. He came to his own conclusion of 2 hundred and 11 and a half.
But why this concern with the specific question? $423. was
the price of a swing set in a catalog the children had been perusing.
They had agreed to go halves on buying this much-desired super-toy.
I opposed their doing so and raised as an objection along the way the
observation that they hadn’t included the amount of tax they would
have to pay.
“Is there a tax on toys?” was the incredulous question. “If
food is taxed,” I responded, “should you not expect toys to be taxed
also?” When he asked how much it was, I explained to Robby that he
could think of the tax as a nickel for every dollar of the purchase
price. Here we got into complicated computations.
Robby tried to figure out how much money is 4 hundred nickels.
His confusion was great, even including such faux pas as “there are 200
nickels in a dollar.” Correcting to 20 to the dollar, he went on to
observe that $100. of the purchase price converted to $5. of tax. Here
he was stymied but began to add $5. and another. I complicated his
computation by suggesting he use the multiplication results he had
learned at school. He looked blankly at me. “How much is 4 times 5?”
I asked, and received an answer: “20.” “How much is 4 times 5 dollars?”
No answer was forthcoming. He came to $20. eventually (I believe by
adding). Robby then computed the tax for 20 dollars more (of the
original $423.), and with Gretchen’s reminder, added another 15¢ for
the last 3 dollars.
This incident required a surprising amount of time, as much
as 5 minutes, to develop.
This was a very exciting incident for Robby — his first
computation of a sales tax. He brought the idea of “a tax” under
control as a comprehensible percentage, thus eliminating that
mysteriousness which has troubled his world of money since
at least last summer (cf. Vignette 54).