OK, so I didn’t make the title of this blog up, I took it from this article from the Guardian about maths exams and thought it was reasonably clever. The government’s current pet project (now that they’ve miraculously solved the next generation’s literacy problems) is to improve maths. Apparently there’s just too much innumeracy going on these days. And too many people are proud to say that they’re awful at maths.
Actually, I agree. I always hated maths at school, and despite getting an A in my GCSE I’m really not all that confident, especially in the mental arithmetic. I didn’t do very well here and I do worry about the maths exam that I’ll have to do in order to become a qualified teacher, as it involves mental maths, of the type I’ve never been that good at. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t consider myself innumerate, I just need a few tools to do maths, you know, a pen and some paper! Even without paper and a pen I’m fully capable of working out how much I’ve spent when out shopping and how much change to expect. I’d like to think that while I’m no maths whiz I can fairly consider myself functionally numerate. I don’t see why this is something I should be ashamed of, at least why should I be more ashamed to have a weakness (or at least a lack of interest) in maths, when many people declare proudly that they’re bad at French, or can’t read anything more challenging than the back of a cereal packet? How are the intelligent among us supposed to compete with the uneducated idiots (sorry, celebrities) held up as people to admire? (I think there’s another post coming about the damage the celebrity culture is doing to our young people’s educational opportunities).
The truth is that when it comes to academic matters we seem to be falling over ourselves to admit that we’re not good at something. It’s not cool to like to read, to speak a foreign language or be good at maths. Only geeks are good enough at maths to program a computer (never mind that the average cool kid’s life would be really dull if no one designed computer games) and only swots read a lot. If we want our kids to be functionally literate and numerate human beings we need to shake off this concept that educational achivement is somehow a negative thing.