On education

This is not the second part of the two part series on creativity I promised earlier. You will have to wait for that. Do try to control your excitement.

As a maths teacher, the two questions I probably get asked most often by pupils are ‘Can we have a fun lesson Sir?’ and ‘When will we use this in our lives Sir?’.

The first is easily dealt with. ‘All maths lessons are fun. Now get on with Exercise 56’, normally does the trick.

Here is someone who thinks maths is fun. They have no nose. I say no more.

Here is someone who thinks maths is fun. They have no nose. I say no more.

The second is more subtle, and more ingrained not only within pupils but within society as a whole. One can hear the Daily Mail at the door shouting – “yea, go on, when, when are they going to use this“. It seems to miss the point so entirely it does not even deserve to be called a proper question.

Let’s leave aside the basics. Clearly we all need to be able to read, write, have some basic numeracy, etc. These are critically important, and I would not want to devalue them at all. But this is not what pupils means when they ask this question in a Trigonometry lesson, or while trying to draw an equilateral triangle with only a pencil, ruler and compass.

And surely such an excellent question. When, oh when, are they going to find themselves on a desert island, armed with a compass, pencil and ruler and needing – quickly, oh so quickly – to construct an accurate equilateral triangle to avoid a grisly fate. You, Sir, must help them be ready for the world of work. Be off with you and teach something useful. At once.

Well, this is depressing.

Well, this is depressing.

Well, the most obvious point is that how is anyone supposed to know what to teach them? Out there in the class are (say, in future) one chef, an airline pilot, a failed wrestler turned hotelier, two marketeers, a manager of McDonalds, a market gardener, three (three I tell you) school teachers, a candlestick maker, four shop assistants, a bicycle repair man, and a chick-sexer. Do they really think I can devise a maths lesson which will help them be successful in these roles that they don’t know they will have and neither do I. And of course many of them will have several roles; sales assistant, teacher, mother, author, carer, candlestick maker. Are they expecting to learn here and now the skills that will equip them through a lifetime?

Well, yes. That is my job. To equip them with the key skill which will get them through a lifetime. The skill of learning itself. Pupils are here, predominantly, to learn how to learn. Then, why they start that great role as Supplementary Products Marketing Manager (Europe, Middle East and Asia) they have some idea how to start, what questions to ask, what to do and what not to do, how to get their head round the complicated new set of issues they are facing for the first time. And learning how to D an ET with only a P, C and R is helping them learn how to get their heads round new, apparently pointless but challenging skills. This is a subtle point. I am not going to try to explain it further. Plus I, personally, think Maths is fun. Including Trigonometry.

This is all a bit rambly. But I don’t really care.