Recently, the Chicago public school system decided to provide students in grades four through eight with calculators for use in math classes. 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.

Gordon Lewis, Supervising Director of Mathematics for D.C. Public Schools says, "I think the children from grades one through 12 should be able to use calculators and should have calculators, but the decision is up to the individual teachers" since the District has no official regulations governing the use of calculators.

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

Students in grade school should not be allowed to use calculators in math classes because most have not yet mastered the elementary skills and the continued use of such a tool could quite easily become a crutch for those weaker in math. The students may see it as a way to "get by," which will not only hinder their further development in mathematical operations, but may also lead to a decrease in their current mathematical ability. The most important reason for not allowing grade school children to use calculators is because it defeats the purpose of having math class. They would eventually come to the realization that any difficulties they have in math could be taken care of by a calculator. They would develop an attitude of "There's no need for me to learn any of that hard math; I'll just use my calculator." This would definitely add to the general decline in education and lowering of the standards set by teachers.

BRIAN DOWTIN St. John's

I think that the students should be able to use calculators because they might be able to pick up some computer skills and everything these days has something to do with computers. When you use a calculator, you have to push keys, but they also have to be the right keys. Students using calculators are getting a head start on everyone else because, besides the keys, they are getting to use a screen.

In a way, you can say a calculator is just a little computer. I think that not only should Chicago students have them, but all the students in the United States should have them.

ERIC BULLUCK Anacostia

If I had been given a calculator in the fourth grade and was told to use it during my studies in mathematics, I think all of my basic knowledge of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing would probably have been lost.

Now, I know that when I'm in school without my calculator, I turn into a hideous creature, always borrowing, begging and using other people's thinking machines. If this kind of dependency happened to me in just two years, then just think how the younger kids will be by the time they reach a more difficult stage in their education. They'll be transformed into "calculator creatures" before they're teens.

Use of calculators also limits the amount of thinking and the ability to learn from previous mistakes. Learning from mistakes is what makes people great and when you take that away, you're learning nothing.

DAMIEN RUSSELL Woodson

Computers are a wonderful asset to life in the '80s. They help us to make our ideas into something tangible. Learning to use a calculator is easy compared to comprehending the processes. How can you take a shortcut home when you don't know where you live?

It is ridiculous to imagine that a child still learning his times tables should be allowed to use a calculator for "instant answers." The young are already accustomed to lethargic patterns of living; this would be instilling in them a lethargic pattern of working. Giving the children a crutch like this would detract from the self-esteem of true accomplishment. The calculator should be a tool of time-saving, not problem-solving.

However high school and college students who battle long equations in trigonometry and calculus need calculators.

MICHAEL HILL Eastern

I think giving calculators to students in grades four through eight is an excellent idea. I totally disagree with people who think it will cause permanent damage by imparing the learning of fundamentals. I don't think a calculator impairs the learning process. If anything, it enhances it and makes it stronger.

By the fourth grade, students should have mastered the basic mathematical skills. If they haven't, there is something definitely wrong with the educational process. Once a child has mastered these skills, or is comfortable with them, he or she can explore and understand them better with a calculator.

A calculator, being a simple form of computer, is also good to use because of the ties it has with a true computer. Computers are important parts of our society and it helps to get familiar with them at an early age.

I think calculators would be an excellent addition to the learning process.

NICOLE ROSE School Without Walls

As a student, I would have to agree that using a computer is fun and fast; however the use of it can make one very lazy. I have experienced this myself.

I use a calculator quite often and I found myself multiplying "2 X 2" on it. I believe that students should be allowed to use a calculator only if they have mastered the basic skills of solving the problems.

ALEXIS MITCHELL Roosevelt

There is no just reason why a student in grades four through eight should be allowed to use calculators during class. True, calculators are useful devices that can make class more interesting, but the use of them will be at the expense of a child's knowledge.

Permitting a child to use a calculator will only hinder his ability to perform and acquire mathematics-related skills by placing an obstacle in the path of the learning process. Even today, students who use calculators may very easily become dependent on them simply because they are easy to operate and will produce correct answers if used properly.

Whatever happened to the "trial and error" method, in which students learned from their mistakes? In order to understand how an answer is formed, one must know the procedures. Calculators would only serve as crutches for young minds to lean on. By allowing this, we would create more damage than good.

It would be like preventing a spark from starting a flame. Calculators would prevent a child's mind from developing in its ingenious stages. Calculators are not necessarily disruptive to the learning process, but during those delicate years, a child needs to learn to use his mind, rather than a device. This way he can learn to tackle a task independently and know why his answers are correct!

ERICA BANKS Ballou

The use of calculators by the very young, I think, will hinder the learning process. In using the calculators for simple math, one misses out almost entirely on a much needed "trial and error" method. Calculators would be fine if they showed steps, but they don't.

Using calculators for basic math certainly cannot give young students that special sense of satisfaction we have all felt when we successfully learned our multiplication tables. Calculators should only be used after basic skills have been ingrained into our thinking, The effect of calculator use among those learning basic math skills may very well be generation of people with poor math skills.

SHERYL ANDERSON Wilson

For years, parents and educators have complained that television deadens the imaginations of children. Now, however, they have to worry that calculators may deaden the actual thought processes of children. A child simply punching numbers into a calculator, then sitting and waiting for the answer to appear, is not actively involved in learning. He or she may never be sure that "6 + 7" is not "19," or that there is a reason that there is only one answer to a specific problem.

Some educators believe that the use of calculators will enhance the learning of concepts in mathematics, but I believe that calculators do not allow students to understand fully the complex interrelationships among numbers. While some use of calculators might help advanced students, most fourth to sixth graders still need to sharpen basic skills and approaches to problem solving. Calculators would hinder, not help them.

LAURA BONNER Georgetown Visitation

The elementary mathematics classes are important to the development of the mind. The mind accepts a certain way of thinking as proper by repeated and continuous exposure to specific stimuli. This process has been known to society as "education." Solving mathematical problems is one stimulus used to exercise the mind. The way to stimulate the mind is by learning basic skills. Young minds are developed through repeated mental exercises in various subjects.

Now, the age of computer electronics is upon us. The time is rapidly approaching when the computer will be the most used machine in the world. Because of its tremendous effect on industry and society, it will be necessary for almost everyone to become familiar with computers and their uses.

Previous generations learned mathematics the old way. The "old way" means by hand, not by the aid of any machine. Using your brains to solve a problem. Exercising your mind to figure things out. This is the way people have learned math for years. If you notice, the skills you learn in math can be applied to everyday life. You can apply the skills you acquire in problem-solving to other areas of your life, such as furniture building, room decorating, construction, electronics, etc.

Should students use calculators in math class? If you say "yes," I respect your opinion. But aren't you depriving them of the opportunity to develop that part if the brain that enables us to analyze, modernize or invent machines such as calculators or computers? I would feel much more at ease if I were assured that the person handling my finances had at least learned to apply the basic skills of mathematics without relying on the use of a calculator to solve the simple problems.

ORLANDO ANDERSON Coolidge

There was a time when only three subjects were taught in school. The "three R's" were reading, writing and arithmetic. This particular trio of subjects lasted for many years. A strong foundation in mathematics was and is very important.

The use of calculators, in my opinion, is like using a crutch. I was taught that math problems should be worked out thoroughly, not simply showing the answer. If a problem is written out completely, two things happen: one, honesty is shown by the actual work; two, it is easy to check the answer by reversing the mathematical procedure. Calculators are good for home use and practice, but they should not replace actual brain power in the classroom.

STEPHANIE DIGGS Spingarn S.T.A.Y. "Speak Out" topic for February 18

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: Weekly High School Section The Washington Post 1150 15th St. NW Washington, D.C. 20071

Deadline for responses is Monday, Feb. 8.