Last week, I met a high school design teacher, who was describing the ups and downs of teaching print and design principles to teenagers.
I was appalled to hear of the ignorance of simple, basic math concepts that I’d mastered by the third grade (maybe because I went to Catholic school in the 50s). He laughed about asking students to cut a 20″ x 15″ board in half—one student whined, “Does 15 have a half?” He told them to use their rulers and measure the dimensions of the boards so they could figure out where to cut, and then had to explain that they needed to measure from the “1” end of the ruler, not the other end.
To combat this stunning ignorance, he’s instituted what he calls “Math Mondays,” during which he presents exercises intended to hone their primitive math skills so they’ll be able to function at a base level in a design position.
I’ve encountered similar math shortfalls in adults. I was contacted by a student from one of my public design classes, who (at least) remembered that she should add one-eighth of an inch bleed. “But,” she lamented, “there’s no place to put in fractions. It wants decimal numbers, and I have no idea how to do that.” I walked her through pulling out her calculator, entering “1,” then pressing “divided by,” typing “8,” then pressing Enter. I’d hoped for the sound of discovery, but heard only, “Huh, oh, OK.” If she ever has to specify 3/8, she’ll call me again, I’m sure.
That’s the sound of my forehead hitting the desk.
I explain the concept of short-fold panels in some classes, and impart my opinion on the amount of the shortening. I think one-eighth of an inch is too much, and one-sixteenth is too tight. “So,” I ask, “what is the ‘Goldilocks compromise value’ between 1/8 and 1/16?” Only once in the last 5 years has someone answered “3/32”—a guy who had done some carpentry work and had actually seen a ruler up close. In all other classes, I’ve been met with a sea of blank stares. I draw a stylized pie on the whiteboard, and divide it with the marker. Still nothing. There’s nothing in their heads for math concepts to ignite.
What the hell have they been teaching kids for the last 30 years?! Are they getting participation trophies for that, too? You’d think all that Sesame Street cuteness would have imparted some basic math, wouldn’t you?
Argh. You kids get off my lawn.