Are Maths Teachers Disciples of Doom?

Posted by KK, Uncategorized on Feb 2, 2016

A lot has been written about how students find mathematics dull and boring, how irrelevant and ambiguous the subject can be, but no one has ever elaborated as clearly the reasons behind this hatred of the subject than Paul Lockhart’s paper on the current system of teaching mathematics. Now, I understand clearly why so many students, most of whom normally do quite well in other subjects, view mathematics as an alien subject and yet, it is just another form of art. I must admit that this is the first time I have heard the process of mathematics being described in this way, ART, and boy, what a revelation. All along most students, including myself, have been made to believe that mathematics is a form science, not art. Is it because art is perceived as a lower subject compared to the sciences? We tend to forget that when things are looked at with an artistic mind our inner creativeness comes alive, and that is what is lacking in mathematics classes everywhere. Therefore, is it not safe to say that the whole mathematics teaching system is based on false and wrong understanding of what it exactly is, resulting in poor and incoherent directions as to how the subject should be taught?

Paul Lockhart’s criticism of the methods of teaching mathematics is also vibrated by Sir Ken Robinson, both of whom are well respected in the academic field. So, why is nobody listening and start changing the way the subject is taught? It seems like most respected academics also share this same view, but still nothing to change the system is being done. As trainee teachers, we are still being told to know and follow the maths curriculum as our bible, and yet it is said to be the cause of all evils, as far as mathematics is concerned. So what does that make us, disciples of doom? As clear and precise the commentators are about mathematics classrooms, and how abhorrent it is to teach our kids in this manner, nobody has yet suggested that all maths teachers should walk out till the right changes are made. It seems nobody is bold enough to say enough is enough, including the very same respected academics. It’s surprising to see so many teachers unions around the world going on strikes due to poor remunerations, pension schemes and other self-interest issues, but never have I heard that maths teachers are on strike due to the inadequate way they are forced to teach the subject. Does it mean that teachers don’t care about how the subject is taught or that they are in agreement with the content of the curriculum and the authorities who come up with this shell of mathematics?

Although am in agreement with Paul Lockhart’s paper and Sir Ken Robinson Ted talk, just as I am with Dan Meyer’s views on the way mathematics should be taught, my criticism is that no one is directly advising the politicians and whoever is responsible for this travesty, to stop and re-think. It seems the same old ways of doing things based on appeasing industrialists, that has existed since the 17th century (Ken Robinson) will go on for another century.


  1. marcus
    7 February 2016

    Some interesting points have been made here, KK. I agree that there probably needs to be some sort of change to the national curriculum, however I think the trouble is, there are so many ideas and I’m not sure that there is a right or wrong? Do you think there is one clear cut way to teach mathematics?

  2. Dom
    7 February 2016

    KK, I believe if teachers went on strike demanding a better curriculum, they’d be told to to work more to improve results. It is like a dog biting his tail. I believe things can change for the better and it seems to me that there is already much more awareness about why maths education often fails. In my opinion it is also a matter of involving parents to understand what’s wrong. Probably in a few years we’ll be teaching an adequate curriculum.

  3. pepsmccrea
    8 February 2016

    Some great thoughts here (and Disciples of Doom is great!) as well as good comments!

    I suppose the questions you’ve got to figure out next are: why are things not changing? and why are politicians not listening? and what are you going to do about it?

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