I’m SO conflicted…

You can tell Melbourne has a ‘day off’ can’t you? May those who like a flutter on the horses in this ‘race that stops a nation’ reap enjoyment. As an aside, I quite liked the spot of history – and Mark Twain – in today’s Age‘s editorial related to the Melbourne Cup: One Day, One Race

What I was really saddened by, however, was one of the letters to the editor in the same paper:

Doesn’t add up

If we decide to make maths compulsory, some students would be doing a subject they find useless.

English is used in day-to-day life. Analysing texts, grammar and spelling are essential for someone to get through this modern world.

However, all the maths an average person needs in their life stops, at the very latest, at the end of year 10.

When was the last time the people proposing these changes opened a year 10 maths textbook? Quadratic equations are not needed to do your tax return or calculate interest.

The National Curriculum Board must take into consideration that VCE maths is not essential, and they must trust us to make an informed choice about our future.

This was submitted by a 16 year old; probably a student.

What have we done? Why are some of our students so disconnected from the subject?

As I have stated in a previous post, if we continue to justify the existence of mathematics in the curriculum by its usefulness, we are not only undercutting its inherent cognitive framework of ideas, we are also promoting the fallacy that mathematics is merely a skills-based handmaiden to other disciplines. The National Curriculum is our chance to address this fallacy, which has been around since science and the rational creed took ascendancy in the academic world. Mathematics was originally a philosophy subject and taught as a system of ideas. When science took the world by storm, it began to be subjugated as a ‘servant of science’. Can we retain the best of the subject in schools’ curricula and yet teach it as it should be (in my opinion!!) – as a system of interconnecting ideas? As a disciplined imagining?

The other aspect of this letter that causes me some inner conflict is the notion of a compulsory mathematics done at senior levels of secondary schooling. I have a colleague who passionately believes that giving students choice increases their level of engagement and thus their capacity for learning, enjoyment in said learning and consequent success. I’m not so sure.

To mandate mathematics at senior levels has inherent problems but it might also have inherent benefits. Too many students don’t choose subjects that challenge them intellectually. What consequence will this have for a culture in the long term? Are students cutting themselves off from knowledge pathways too soon?

What do others think?

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About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
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