So…I ran into my old friend Ted Nelson last week. That’s a real person. I’m not making any of this up. Ted is co-author of a very popular text (Mathematics for Elementary Teachers: A Conceptual Approach) now going into the 11th Edition.
I don’t know a lick about mathematics, but it is not easy to remember that when I am talking to Ted. His forte is eliciting what you do know and how you know it and he is really good at it.
He and I, in fact, devised a society to belong to. It doesn’t have any real substance yet and only a few members, but I have taken great pleasure in it for many years now. Every now and then on my travels, I meet a math teacher with a sense of humor and enroll him or her as a member of the society.
So why a Subtrahend Society? When I was in elementary school, they taught some things about arithmetic that I don’t believe they teach any more. One such was the names of the different parts of arithmetic problems. Of particular concern today is the elements of a subtraction problem. Here is an example.
Why there should be names for each of those elements, I am not certain. The top one is called the minuend, a Latin word that means that it is to be diminished or made smaller. The second one is called the subtrahend, which means (Lain again) pulled out from under. And the third term is called—drum roll, please—the difference.
So it is the subtrahend that makes the difference. Literally. That is what a subtrahend does. So it didn’t take all that long for me to think that everyone nowadays is talking about making a difference, so why not invent a society we can all belong to? So far, I have invented a page of stationery. It looks like this.
The Subtrahend Society
We’re here to make a difference
That is all we have done as a society to change the world in a positive way, but I am sure that each member has done things on his or her own to accomplish that and if there is ever a meeting of the society, I am sure those will be mentioned and put into the minutes.
That’s if we have a secretary by then. So far, we have only a President (that’s Ted) and a Membership Chair (that’s me).
Two members have been added since the last time I saw Ted Then I ran into him last week. I told him about the new members and said I would email him. Right. I don’t have his email address. I don’t have his phone number either.
So what does one do? Remember? One takes up the phone book and looks up ones’s friend and makes the call. Except…do you know what? There aren’t any phone books anymore. Maybe you can just google the person and come up with the number. Nope. There is whitepages.com and I could learn a good deal about my friend Ted for only $4 a month. I just want a phone number and and I would like it for free, please.
Why didn’t I ever notice the disappearance of the old phone book? So now I’m stuck. Two new members and no way to let the President of the Society know. And no phone books.
 Which seems odd, on a way. According to the recent Pew poll, 5% of Americans specifically mentioned wanting to make a difference. So the pool we could draw from as members is really large.