Does “our fixation with maths” add up?

(An almost “classic” 2011 parody video that was created in response to the actual question, “Should evolution be taught in schools?”, being asked in that year’s “Miss USA” competition. )

Does mathematics play an overly large role in school curriculae? At least for the country of Britain, this question was recently answered in the affirmative by journalist Simon Jenkins, who is apparently somewhat famous, in an article for “The Guardian”. After all, there is very little mathematics that the average person actually has to use in their lives, or even remembers. So why waste pupil’s time with linear equations and calculus, when that time could be used to instill in them “a knowledge of their history and geography, their environment, the working of their bodies, the upbringing of children, law, money, the economy and civil rights”, all of which seem more critically important?

Now, I studied maths, so I may be slightly biased. On the other hand, if Mr Jenkins’ proposals were widely implemented, it would significantly increase my own market value, so I hope you will indulge me when I explain why I think it’s his arguments that don’t add up.

One may immediately sense a slight contradiction in the inclusion of history on the above list of “important” skills – when was the last time you actually needed to apply your knowledge of the fall of the Roman Empire to the real world? And yet, I, too, have heard this point raised since I went to middle school in Germany: Classmates who rarely ever made such complaints about reading Goethe or Lessing (substitute two famous writers from your country if you like) asked, “What would I ever even need this for?”, right after getting a bad grade in a mathematical exam. But the immediate practical applicability of poetry or literature (and many or most other things taught in schools) seems actually much less clear than the one of math education.Read More »

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