After English, Maths has to be the most important subject in schools. I’ve got to admit, Maths and I were never really friends, not what you would call friends forever. Maths was not the first person I shared good and bad news with, it was not the one I trusted to keep my secrets or put me back on the right page when I was going wrong.
But initially in school it actually made sense. Adding and taking away were relevant skills and I got it. Then we had to learn times tables. Of course all the kids learn these parrot style. They are in the textbooks, hung up on the schoolroom walls, your parents, their friends, grandparents etc, everyone fires a ‘8 x 6″ at you when you’re shorter than the kitchen work top. Like all the other kids I was able to recite these and confident I had got the right answer. All was well.
But then something happened, something that changed this. Around 10 years old I was introduced to a scientific calculator. I’ll admit to this day I do not really see the point in these things. At work I have a regular calculator and already the currency and memory buttons are a waste of time for me, but the scientific calculator, that is something else! About four times as many buttons and each one serves at least two options. I have to say the day I left school and could bin this pointless little device, was great, I didn’t even want it in my school bag.
Why you ask? Because with the sum going beyond the times table, it meant putting everything into the calculator from the beginning. It was no longer ‘8×6,’ now it was extended out to take in other continuing figures that with the exception of Carol Vorderman, you couldn’t work through in your head. The main thing was, this scientific calculator made me lazy. We all now the saying ‘use it or lose it’ and this was certainly true here. No longer needing to recall the answer, the times tables started to fade and the uncertainty set in. Whereas before I would have said to your ‘8×6′ questions, ’48’ with confidence, after the scientific calculator my answer is ’48, I think, isn’t it? Or is it 46? I better check.’ The point is when you have to check, the confidence is gone, in which case it is pointless. I know that ‘525 – 50 is 475′ however, now I have to check, just to make sure. It’s too embarrassing to be wrong!
The thing I don’t understand about Maths in schools is two fold. I don’t really care how people come to the answer as long as it is the correct answer and they can consistently get it right, but Maths teacher say you have to work it out their way, or regardless of the answer being right or not, they would take a mark off you. It seems incredibly inflexible. I’ve met quite a few what I would call “Maths people”. They are just like this with life; there is one answer, one music taste, one political view, one way to go through life, otherwise its wrong. How limiting!
But my main gripe with Maths in school is its relevancy. Why does it matter if we can tell a hexagon from a pentagon, an equilateral triangle, and most of all algebra? I really struggled with algebra. I got to the point you do with learning a language when you are stuck somewhere between the nouns, verbs, irregular verbs, plural, past, present, future tense thing. I remember asking the Maths teacher to give me just one reason why outside of the school building, barring being a teacher or working for someone like Nasa, I would need to know this. Just one reason and I would try one more time with algebra. The conversation went along these lines:
“Say you want to have your kitchen re-tiled.” Teacher.
“How do you know how many tiles you need?”
This argument fell by the wayside. For a start between permanent kitchen fixtures like washing machines, units etc, you are never going to know exactly. No one’s kitchen is exactly square. You certainly can’t go into Homebase and say you want 17 full tiles and 3 bits of tiles for going round the fridge, to the sales assistant. Secondly, even if somehow algebra helped you work this out, you can’t head into the shop and ask for 19 tiles. They will come in set packs!
Moreover after the painting debacle in my house, I would never buy a full set of anything. The issue was when we decided light blue paint in the bedroom would be relaxing. When we finished the words “swimming pool effect” were frustratingly obvious. The room was hastily repainted white. But the final damning case on this flawed (or should that be floored!) example, is I wouldn’t do it myself. For someone who can’t cut straight, letting me lose on tiles would be a disaster! I’m happy to do things like painting, but I would get a chap in to re-tile my kitchen, in which case it’s his issue how many tiles are needed. I would ask him to lay a few, check it still went with the rest of the kitchen look and style, and let him continue. Sorry teacher, that was a rubbish example.
What I don’t get it why Maths in school isn’t more relevant. Why don’t they teach us the useful daily things like budgeting, tax, mortgages, borrowing, credit cards? Basic accountancy for tax returns would be good too. We get terrified at the end of year tax returns and we wouldn’t need to.
I’m not going to pretend I would be any good at this, but I would see the reason and importance of why I was being taught this. Anything I learnt would help in the post education world. It would also give kids the basis for wanting to know more and continue this into college and further.
As predicted I have still to this day not used the other skills I learnt in Maths class.