I’ll begin by quoting myself. If a national crisis/apocalypse occurs, the Prime Minister is not going to pick up the phone and call a dancer or a poet; he’s going to call someone who is damn good at maths. Why a maths person? Maths people are special: they are rational, logical, calm, direct, love a quandary and do not clutter their brains with bandwidth-wasting concerns about fashion, frouff* or celebrity gossip. When I say ‘Maths people’, I include all the coders, hackers, number-crunchers, quants, techies, CFOs, scientists, engineers, actually I don’t know how to end this list so you’ll just have to get the general drift of the people-Venn I’m trying to construct here. This blog post is about how I think maths people need to pipe up and promote their subject’s central importance in every child’s education not least because maths and maths people will probably save the world one day. It’s also a post that is meant to be tongue-in-cheek and quite light-hearted, just in case you didn’t twig that.
So, the first thing I read this morning on edu-media was another ‘Children aren’t studying enough art‘ type commentary. To be fair, I share similar concerns, but I don’t agree that there needs to be some kind of battle – all school leaders and educators want the children in their care to receive a well-balanced education and no parent is going to send their child to a secondary or a primary school that doesn’t do or promote music, sport, dance or drama. Further, the Ebacc covers 7-8 subjects which leaves space for another couple of subjects at least. However, what I am mostly concerned about in this case is the discourse that seems to imply that ‘The Future’ is going to be a place where ‘creative types’ will solve all the problems and in contrast all the ‘academic thinkers and number crunchers’ will be rendered redundant and generally looking a bit sheepish. Hey, I can play a mean violin, but even I know that being able to unleash an Irish Jig or The Four Seasons is not going to save the day and if push comes to shove in the most apocalyptic of situations my friends, those violin strings will be used for other purposes and those purposes will involves some serious maths. Also, just because someone can be creative with a minor pentatonic scale, doesn’t mean they can be creative with everything else in the universe like chemical engineering and whatnot.
Even if the apocalypse doesn’t occur and all the violins are safe (for now; some Vegan, sandal-wearing lefty-communist future PM may yet ban them for offending a minority group or something), maths people are still going to be really important. Why? Because the sorts of problems that are going to occur (or are already occurring) will need some serious maths, techie-wizardry or logic to solve them:
- Demographics: too many old, fat and sick people and not enough young, lithe and healthy people to support them**.
- Finance: NHS alone could bankrupt the country, never mind pensions etc (see above bullet point)
- Infrastructure: roads are clogged, the trains are late and too expensive
- Buildings: not enough of them and many of them are falling down or too inflammable/explosive
- People: many adults still cannot read, write or add up. People still think that winning X-Factor is a genuine career aspiration
- Energy: not enough of it to go round
- Water: not always in the right place at the right time
- Weather: extreme (and that’s putting it mildly)
No offence, but I don’t see how crochet or tap-dance could help with any of the above situations other than take people’s minds of it for a while.
I absolutely believe that being good at maths is something that most if not all students need to be and this is not just because the future involves lots of maths, but because mathematics is a discipline that develops certain character traits that future generations are definitely going to need when the economic or ecological shit hits the fan.
Who’s with me?
*This is a new word that I and my partner have created. It’s a noun and it encompasses all pointless and pointlessly frilly things like curtain pelmets, toilet dolls, commemorative crockery and wall-mounted, talking fish. Please feel free to adopt this word into your everyday vernacular.
**Solution: robots, obviously – we can’t just import young, lithe and healthy people because that would leave their home countries without enough young, lithe and healthy people!