1 + 1 = 1

Math is a lot like drawing. Both disciplines involve pattern recognition. Both have simple approaches that lead to breathtaking complexity and both are ill-served by a mind numbing emphasis on formulaic techniques.

Recently, I was following a thread about math education in the U.S. and the debate about how best to teach it and I found the following essay. (link)

Brooklyn math teacher Paul Lockhart in 2008 wrote ‘A Mathematician’s Lament’, an angry diatribe aimed at the system of mathematics education used in elementary and high schools.

“… if I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child's natural curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn't possibly do as good a job as is currently being done — I simply wouldn't have the imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soul crushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education.”

He introduces his essay with a fictive ‘nightmare’ scenario involving music and then art as if they were taught as math is presently taught. He repeats the same story for music then art and I suspect his purpose is to link math to art and music as art ‘forms’. Lockhart believes math is ‘the purest of the arts’ and despite his passionate argument, the proof he provides is unconvincing and narrow.

 

I do agree with Lockhart’s opinions about math education, but I have my own lament to put forth about art education. This evening, my 12 year old son was working on a project that is forcing him to use a brush and paint, which he assured me he HATED. I watched as he scrabbled the brush in various directions to create a garbled mess of a line. He ranted at the brush and I encouraged him to keep going. Next, using it like his beloved ballpoint pen, he scraped it sideways creating a stuttered, broken line—definitely not what he wanted.

 

He HATES the brush because it isn’t a pen or a coloured pencil. If we take the colour mixing and paint viscosity out of the equation, we are left with the brush and the hand. The brush is a paint delivery device and one brush does not do it all. He actually started with a synthetic w/c brush and it was horrible, depositing the tempera paint in 2 gloppy ridges with a translucent middle. Switching to a flat bristle, the forked ends of the bristle acted as a trowel to load the line with paint—much better. Now the hand was more difficult. He draws with pens and pencils and uses a lot of pressure, which when you substitute a brush into this—no happiness ensues. So I showed him how to PULL the brush to help unload the paint in an even layer. But it is difficult to move the hand to keep the brush perpendicular to the line painted when you feel the familiar tug of the pen and the opposite movement of the hand.

 

Learning to use a brush is tough, but if we can learn to balance on 2 thin tires, gripping handlebars with white knuckles while pedaling like mad. Then maybe all we need is proof that this 'new thing' will actually take us somewhere.