Recently, the Chicago public school system decided to provide students in grades four through eight with calculators for use in math classes. In Prince George's County, calculators are permitted only after students have demonstrated proficiency in the basic arithmetic skills. Some experts fear that the use of calculators by the young will cause permanent damage by imparing the learning of fundamentals. Others believe that the calculators will make learning math more fun and interesting to students.

Is this a good idea? What effect do calculators have on learning the basics of math?

I believe that students in grades four through seven should not be supplied with calculators because they encourage students to be lazy and, therefore, to never learn the basics of math. In grades four through seven, the basics of math are begun and, ultimately, learned. These basics are later needed for success in advanced math courses such as algebra, trigonometry and calculus.

Generally I disagree with the distribution of calculators to students in the lower levels of math, but I do think that they should be distributed to the advanced students of the eighth grade who are beginning pre-algebra. In pre-algebra, a calculator is sometimes needed.

My overall opinion is that calculators in the lower grade levels are detrimental to the futures of these students. DONNA BARRY Central

If the Chicago public school system provides fourth through eighth graders with calculators, what is the point of teaching a math class at all? I believe that the Chicago school system has made a grave mistake with their decision, and it will prove to be highly detrimental to the students down the road.

During the fourth through eighth grade, the fundamentals of math are still being taught. Although very basic skills are covered in the previous grades, more skills are needed to be functional in math and the real world. Offering students calculators as a crutch to performing mathematical functions can do nothing to make skills learned and comprehended, but could only teach students how to push buttons on a machine.

Granted nobody really wants to take the "long way" to do something as monotonous as a math problem, but we must face facts. Imagine a student put through this program, forced into determining the tax on an article of clothing to see if they have enough money to buy it. There is no calculator there -- then what? Perhaps if he had not been provided with calculators so early in his education, he would be able to function in society a little better.

I don't think calculator-use in school is altogether bad. Upon entering high school, one finds more and more of a need for them, but at this point, the student knows basic skills. All in all, I believe that pacifying fourth through eighth graders in Chicago with calculators could prove to be devastating to the student in the future. KIM DILLON High Point

My personal experience has shown that calculators are definitely not necessary for students in grades four to eight. I am appalled that any adult would be in favor of such a ridiculous notion.

The only way for students to learn is to use their minds. To quote an ad, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste."

We are informed about the dangers of drugs in our school, but what we lack are cautions about the use of calculators. Like drugs, calculators, too, are addictive. Once there is a constant use of calculators, there no longer exists a reason for the brain to function. With the use of calculators, we will have students entering high school who will not know the sum of two and two. Calculators do not physically endanger our kids the way drugs do, but they are just as dangerous because they pose a risk to the existence of the mind. JOSIE BAUTISTA Crossland

The decision by the Chicago school system to provide calculators is not a wise one. When students are in these lower grades, the main objective of math is the learning and practicing of the basic skills. These skills will benefit students in higher math courses. And while calculators might make math more fun, they take away from the main objective of the math being taught.

Many students will get careless with their basic math skills when they use a calculator for too long a time. The main purpose of any math course is to promote thinking, and when a student uses a calculator, he is letting something else do the thinking for him. Consequently, the basic skills of math must be mastered before the shortcuts provided by modern technology can be used. MICHELLE MOLING Seton

I feel that allowing students of fourth through eighth grade to use calculators in class is a mistake.

Students will miss out on learning the fundamentals by their own will. The brain power of a child will be replaced by the brain of a calculator. You can't go through life with a calculator in your hand. What happens when SATs come around? The test doesn't permit the use of calculators.

The use of calculators isn't wrong, but I'm not sure it's necessary in the education of elementary and middle-junior high school students. The fundamentals learned in these schools are essential to later life. All math courses build on one another. If you don't know step one, you can't go on to step two.

My basic math skills aren't strong, and I never even used a calculator when I was learning them. I know many kids are like me -- weak in basic math skills. If they are given calculators to think for them, then they will never learn for themselves. Surviving could be hard if you can't add up a simple restaurant bill or check your change. LINDSEY WARREN Friendly

I believe that calculators can be useful in learning elementary mathematics; however I do not encourage their use. For junior high and high school students, I have no problem with calculators being used. Subjects like algebra, trigonometry and calculus require them for finishing problems efficiently. Since many scientists and mathematicians use computers (after all, it would be hard to hand-calculate a trajectory for a spacecraft heading for Mars), I see nothing wrong with using calculators in the more complex high school math courses.

When calculators are used by elementary school kids -- grades one through five -- many problems arise. I believe that the fundamental formulas (one and one are two, three times three is nine, etc.) should be recalled from memory. These formulas and the fundamental laws -- commutative, associative, etc. -- form all of the mathematics offered in elementary school, so they should be learned. I don't have problems with using calculators for complex problems, but I think the student should be trained in multiplication before using a calculator.

Calculators form shaky ground for learning math in elementary school. However, since educators want to make math more fun, I have another solution: put word problems back into math. Most people do not realize that the standard form for most elementary textbooks is a solid slate of simple addition problems. No wonder kids get bored with math -- it is boring! The real way to make math interesting is to ask questions like "What is the average of these test scores?" or "How much would it cost to buy three two-cent stamps and five three-cent stamps?" and so on.

By making problems more practical and showing when you add subtract, multiply and divide in real life, math would be more fun for kids. JOHN QUINTANILLA Grace Brethren

Calculators are an aid and should never be mistaken for anything more. They aid us in using large numbers, physics and trigonometry, yet are not a necessity. These math problems may be conquered with pencil and paper. As a whole, calculators save us time and headaches. Simple addition and subtraction require no mechanical aid.

The typical fourth grade student does not face the mathematical problems seen in advanced high school mathematics. At this point, they are being taught the basics they will need for the rest of their lives. A calculator, at this time, would eliminate this early learning process.

As a student reaches middle school and approaches higher mathematics, calculators should be incorporated into everyday learning. It is then that students should be taught not to abuse calculators. STACEY SPENCER Oxon Hill

2+2=5. In the future, this equation may become familiar. The policies of the Chicago public school system regarding calculators are outrageous and, I feel, are a crime against its students. Depriving the young students of the basic practice of arithmetic can only be detrimental to their math studies and their everyday lives. Math is a subject where small mistakes can prove costly. I would rather have students make these mistakes on their own than due to the slip of a finger.

Furthermore, teaching these students to take the easy way out using calculators may incline them to look for short cuts in everything they do. Do we want our future generations to grow up lazy, lacking the skills to perform even the most basic math functions? MICHAEL KAMMARMAN Laurel "Speak Out" topic for February 11

February is Black History month, a time when many will recognize the achievements of Afro-Americans. There are varied opinions concerning the progress made during the nearly 25 years since the March on Washington. How far have Afro-Americans progressed in the quest for civil rights? Are conditions improving for blacks, or are the gains of the past slipping away?

Responses should be no more than 150 words in length and typed or written legibly. Political-style cartoons on the topic are welcome and should be drawn on posterboard. A self-addressed envelope must be included with all art work to be returned. All submissions should include the student's name, school, age and grade.

Responses should be addressed to: Leonard Hall Weekly High School Section The Washington Post 1150 15th St. NW Washington, D.C. 20071 Deadline for responses is Monday, Feb. 11.