The older generation always seems to rail about a decline in the quality of education today compared to when they were in school. Like all such observations, there’s an element of truth to it but usually not all that much. Until it comes home to roost when hiring or training people and you discover that some basics are unknown or misunderstood. Add to this a blind acceptance of something because a computer is part of it, or in the case of dimensional metrology, it uses a laser.

I’m reminded of this almost daily when shopping. The cashier enters the items and the cash register shows what I have to pay say, six dollars and thirty-five cents. When I offer a ten dollar bill plus five quarters and a dime in coins, I get a funny look which turns to amazement when the machine tells him to give me a five dollar bill as change. Adding and subtracting numbers without a calculator is somehow beyond the ‘new’ math.

Even the so-called experts leave me wondering at times. The largest newspaper in Canada recently published an article about Apple’s newly introduced watch or should I say, computer for your wrist. The author’s byline noted he was a staff ‘technical’ writer but I had my doubts after he described the watch as being 42mm ‘tall.’

My regional government sent homeowners a booklet describing the rules and regulations regarding what they will or won’t pick up for garbage or recycling. It included a drawing of some sticks tied together that could not be more than four feet long and the bundle could not exceed thirty inches ‘wide.’ I thought the description should have said ‘diameter.’

The same brain trust is promoting a series of what they call ‘carts’ so their new contractor can use a mechanical gadget to unload them. In describing the new wonders on their website, no physical dimensions of them were provided and in one case they noted it could hold so many ‘liters.’ We are not allowed to put liquids out for pickup, so this wasn’t very helpful. I was going to call them on it but decided I didn’t have the time to waste explaining what the word ‘volume’ meant. A drawing showing two half-full garbage bags as the capacity of another ‘cart’ wasn’t too enlightening either unless they are a new standard of volume I’m unaware of.

Fortunately I work in engineering where people know how to describe things properly. Okay, I used to believe that until I saw an email from an engineer asking for a quote on a 31mm ‘wide’ plug gage that turned out to be a cylindrical plug gage. I guess I’m not the first to notice this sort of thing as many companies produce drawings for simple items that could be described in one sentence in simple English. Maybe they don’t teach basic English any more.

Knowledge and skills are being replaced by technology in the trend to dumb everything down. An example of this is the digital display. Its many benefits are being lost when those reading them don’t understand what the numbers mean in practical terms. Since they are still able to sell rulers and tape measures, there may be hope for the future.

Educators seem to be letting the ‘basics’ go by the wayside in favor of weaving trendy causes as examples in their teaching. This is due to special interest group activists who hijack the curriculum to promote their cause when they can get away with it, crowding out the simple basics. Grades, marks, test scores, and other measures of understanding seem to mean less and less as time goes on. It seems the best you can say about many of today’s graduates is that they have attended school for so many years and then test them yourself to see what they’ve actually learned before you hire them.

 Maybe it’s time the folks in metrology take a page from activists that help bend education out of shape and start to get more of the basics back onto the agenda. When high school graduates ask me the time, I show them my watch and they repeat the question, I realize many can’t read an analog watch. In keeping with my reputation as a wide-eyed radical, I’m left wondering where the basics are ending up.